Narberth 31 pts.
Last Saturday, Narberth played their last game of the 2016/17 season having already guaranteed their second place in the Championship League.
The visitors in this rearranged fixture were Newbridge, who arrived needing at least a single point to remain in the Championship. A large crowd gathered in sunny, but cold conditions.
When the teams were announced, there were many changes to the advertised Newbridge team sheet. It was clear as the game progressed that they had brought players with Premiership know how.
Newbridge played towards the Otters’ clubhouse in the first half and were first on the scoreboard. On five minutes they were awarded a penalty and their number 10, Simon Veal placed the ball into touch on the 22. Newbridge took their lineout and immediately set up a rolling maul and were soon over the line, the Otters being unable to hold the opposition eight, with prop Jamie Edwards touching down for an unconverted try.
It was obvious that Newbridge were fielding several experienced players and the warning signs were there that that a major challenge was ahead for the Otters.
However, the next score came from Narberth. Newbridge had a lineout on the Otters’ 22, but either the additions to their pack misunderstood the call or it was a definite error, as the ball was thrown long and landed in the arms of Tom Slate at the rear of the lineout. The Otters surged forward and after two successful rucks, the ball was moved wide to wing Liam Hutchings, who raced over for an unconverted try, which levelled the score.
The next try again came from Newbridge who, gaining a scrum, heeled the ball quickly and proceeded towards the posts, but with the defence holding firm, they moved left toward the clubhouse corner for second row Anthony Symons to crash over for another unconverted try.
Narberth responded immediately, but numerous handling errors nullified their efforts.
Then another move from an Alex Jenkins clean catch saw Ianto Griffiths moving forward, but unfortunately he came into contact with one of his own players and the possible try chance was gone.
Further carelessness by the Otters saw a try go begging with a knock-on the line, but they again hit back when retrieving possession in midfield, the ever-alert Liam Hutchings saw a gap and raced through, outpacing the Newbridge defenders to the line for a try, which Ianto Griffiths converted to give his side the lead at 12-10.
Four minutes later, Newbridge regained the lead themselves, with their third try by Wes Cunnliffe, which Simon Veale converted.
Responding, the Otters attacked strongly and from another Alex Jenkins catch at a lineout in the Newbridge half, livewire Liam Hutchings sped towards the line. When challenged, he passed inside to Ollie Reyland, who forced his way forward and passed to his left. The ball then passed through a number of supporting players before reaching Bradley Davies, who, with the defence stretched, enjoyed the rare opportunity of scoring an unconverted try, bringing the scores level at 17-17 at half-time.
It was announced to the crowd during the interval that Newbridge, having scored three tries, only needed a further touchdown to give them a bonus point and relative safety from relegation.
This was achieved on 43 minutes when fly-half Simon Veale forced his way over for their fourth try, which he also converted.
The Otters had a strong bench and immediately brought on Jonathan Rogers for Ianto Griffiths, Rhys Lane for young Lewys Gibby and Berian Watkins for Tom Slater.
However, Newbridge were back attacking after the Otters were penalised at a scrum. Their right wing broke away, racing downfield 50 metres, before being brought down on the line by Ollie Reyland, who was able to minor the ball. This resulted in a five-metre scrum, which Newbridge heeled and moved quickly to enable fullback Tom Watkins to touch down in the bottom far corner. Simon Veale converted, taking the score to 29-17.
Then the Otters made further replacements, with Jake Simm coming on for Adam Clarke in the second row and Pat Roberts replacing Steffan Phillips at number eight.
On 61 minutes, Newbridge went further ahead. When they were awarded a penalty on their 22, Simon Veal kicked high and long, with the ball landing in touch on the Otters’ 22. From their lineout, Newbridge moved the ball in field and set up a rolling maul and walked the ball to the line for scrum-half Jack Bennet to touch down and Simon Veal to convert.
Then, with the Otters attempting to attack, a long pass was telegraphed and in a flash, centre James Howells intercepted on halfway to sprint away and touch down under the posts for Simon Veal to convert.
Cajoled by their supporters, the Otters played with renewed spirit after this.
On 70 minutes, they were held up on the line. Newbridge kicked out, the Otters fielded and were awarded a penalty for an infringement. Ollie Reyland, with another forceful attack, reached the 22 and a series of rucks resulted in another penalty. The Otters chose a scrum and after two resets, the referee awarded a penalty try, which Jonathan Rogers converted.
Five minutes later, with the try line begging, the Otters knocked-on yet again.
Then finally, the Otters, continuing their foraging in the Newbridge 22, won the ball, before being awarded a scrum on the five-metre line. The pack heeled, outside flanker Richard Rees took the ball, moved diagonally, feeding inside flanker Sean Jenkins who was able to provide wing Gethin Gibby with the final unconverted try.
The referee blew for time, with the final score 43-31.
For the Otters it was a disappointing end to a really most successful season, even though they gained a bonus point. However, the streetwise Premiership players in the Newbridge team made the most of their opportunities, whilst the second placed Otters wasted at least four certain tries.
Summing up, head coach Sean Gale stated: “This was a disappointing way to finish the season; we’ve had a fantastic season and developed so many youngsters. Many of the older heads stood up during the season and our centre partnership has been the heartbeat of the team with their physicality. We will certainly miss them next season.
“In fairness to Newbridge they had a lot of permit players in from the Premiership. They were desperate for one point or even a win. It is so tight in the league at the moment, if they did not get a point, they would have gone down. The win has moved them to sixth place, so there was a lot on the game for them, whereas there was nothing on our game, but it was disappointing in terms of attitude and performance.
“However, we cannot take away from this season’s fantastic achievement. Yes, we had a blip, but Newbridge thoroughly deserved their win.
“There were some good performances, Liam Hutchings’s attitude was superb, Ollie Reyland carried very hard, but could not finish things off. We had plenty of chances, but the last passes were not happening. There were some big defensive lapses in the second half which lost us the game. We were a better team in the last 20 minutes but in fairness to Newbridge they were good value for their win.”
Narberth fielded: Jake Jenkins, Liam Hutchings, Jack Price, Ollie Reyland, Gethin Gibby, Ianto Griffiths (Jonathan Rogers), Lewys Gibby (Rhys Lane), Bradley Davies, Dan Smith, Tom Slater (Berian Watkins), Adam Clarke (Jake Simm), Alex Jenkins, Sean Jenkins, Steffan Phillips (Tom Roberts), Richard Rees. Sub not used - Kyle Hamer.
The sponsors’ man of the match was winger Liam Hutchings.