Rugby Union: Sun rises on bright new Newport era: Newport 18 Cardiff 13

Cardiff's blues lifted by magical attacking talent of teenage Welsh wizard Williams
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The Independent Online
TONY BROWN is a hands-on kind of club owner, a touchy-feely sporting patriarch who not only flashes sufficient quantities of the folding stuff to lure the Gary Teichmanns and Shane Howarths of this world to the banks of the Usk, but puts in a full working week as chief executive, helps erect the advertising hoardings on match day, sells programmes on street corners, and sweet-talks paying customers into the nearest beer tent. He could not conceivably contribute more to Newport RFC, short of filling in at hooker during an injury crisis. When Gwent rugby went in search of a saviour, they found one of biblical stature.

And the miracles keep on coming. Close to 7,000 people watched Newport beat their nearest and not-so-dearest from Cardiff on Saturday - the biggest Rodney Parade audience since Wayne Shelford's All Blacks scared the living daylights out of the Black and Ambers in 1989 - and there would have been more, but for live television and its 5.30 kick-off. There was even some sunshine for the bewildered townsfolk, who are so unused to the big yellow thing in the sky that they think photosynthesis is a make of camera.

Unsurprisingly, given the amount of physical and emotional energy he had just contributed to his pet cause, Brown cut an exhausted figure as he held court outside a jubilant home dressing-room. "I suppose I sound like a silly old bugger, but I'm quite overcome," he sighed. "You talk of a return on my investment? The only return I'm interested in is getting the local people behind their team. This town has been good to my company [Brown made his money, close on pounds 50m of it, in the office equipment business] and I have a huge regard for those who live and work here. That's all I can say, really. I don't express these things very well."

Actually, he talked a good deal of sense, particularly when casting a knowing commercial eye over the shell-scarred trenches of Britain's professional rugby landscape. "We can make things happen here in Newport because the wider population has a huge rugby awareness. You can set up in, say, Newcastle with the best team in the United Kingdom, but unless your locals know their rugby, it's a hell of a job getting them along to watch you play. People here want to turn up, they want a team to support. I'm confident that we can achieve locally what Graham Henry has achieved nationally. I want to see Newport back where it was 20 years ago."

In a sense, he has achieved that already. On Saturday, Newport played a style of rugby last seen in the days of Bill Beaumont, Sir Keith Joseph and the Sex Pistols. They kicked for position from outside-half, challenged manfully for Cardiff's own line-out ball (real dark age stuff, that) and set out their stall to accumulate points through penalties rather than tries. Graham Cull, the former Bridgend full-back asked to fill in for Howarth until the end of the World Cup, proved himself comfortably up to the task by slotting six goals from seven attempts, one of them a magisterial effort from half-way.

It was not thrilling, but, then, the thrill merchants have yet to ride into town. Howarth, Franco Smith and Andy Marinos will add a certain something to the Black and Amber back division when they finally arrive, while Peter Rogers and Rod Snow should stop the Newport scrummage creaking as loudly as it did at the weekend. And then there is Teichmann. Assuming the erstwhile Springbok captain still has some drive and desire to go with his undoubted technical mastery, his back-row partnership with Jason Forster and the high-class teenager Alix Popham will be the most combustible in Wales.

Forster worked his way deep under Cardiff's collective skin on Saturday, both in attack and defence. Whenever the visitors launched drives up the middle through Emyr Lewis or the even more mountainous Greg Kacala, he repeatedly cut them off in their prime. Whenever there was some driving to be done by his own side, the recently appointed skipper was the man who drove. At Bedford last season, Forster performed magnificently in the face of financial chaos - all too often, indeed, in the absence of a wage packet. This season, he should at least get his money on time.

For all the heroic huffing and puffing dispensed by the captain, Cardiff might easily have prevailed. They had the scrummagers, they had the possession, they had the territory and, in Rhys Williams, they had at their disposal the most natural attacking talent to surface in Wales - or anywhere else in Britain for that matter - for aeons.

He looks very much like the teenager he is; fresh-faced, spindly-legged and worryingly slight of build, he is not so much a cog as a sprog in the Cardiff machine. But my, how the boy can run. It is far too soon to label him the Christian Cullen of Wales, but what the hell. He's the Christian Cullen of Wales.

One blast of the turbocharger earned him the first of his side's two tries after 34 minutes of rough and tumble, and he would have claimed a second just after the interval had Cull not ended a 60-metre rampage with the most desperate of straw-clutching cover tackles.

Had Williams come off his left foot at the crucial moment, he would have been in under the posts for sure. But, in fairness, the sidestep is not the easiest of manoeuvres when you are running like a biriani-propelled Maurice Greene.

"He's quite a prospect, young Rhys," agreed Lyn Howells, the Cardiff coach. "Apart from anything else, he hung on to the ball out there. I wish everyone else had." Howells was justified in his criticism after watching his side concede 16 turnovers, but it is the forthcoming turnover of staff that will encourage him.

From Rob Howley to Craig Quinnell, Cardiff had a dozen World Cup men missing on Saturday. When the showpiece tournament is done and dusted and everyone is back on Arms Park duty, they will take an awful lot of beating.

Newport: Penalties Cull 6. Cardiff: Tries Williams, Geraghty; Penalty Botham.

Newport: G Cull; J Thomas, M Watkins, J Pritchard, M Llewellyn; S Mitchell, S Moore; C Jones, D Cummins, L Fortey (C Donahue, 79), G Taylor, P Jones (M Workman, 79), J Powell, A Popham, J Forster (capt).

Cardiff: R Williams; L Botham, G Esterhuizen, M Wintle, S Hill; M Rayer (capt), K Ellis; S John, D Geraghty (K Dunn, 76), A Yates (G Powell, 59), S Williams, M Morgan (B Barrett, 78), G Kacala, E Lewis (O Williams, 70), J Ringer.

Referee: C Thomas (Neath).