Neath and Newport have been playing each other since 1878/79 and there has been many an epic battle in that time.
As early as 1878/79, the two famous old clubs – Black and Black and Amber – met in the final of the old South Wales Challenge Cup and did so again in 1883/84 with the Usk-siders winning both at Rodney Parade.
Newport were the standard-bearers for the Welsh game in those early days and, along with Cardiff, Llanelly and Swansea, became established as the ‘Big Four’ but by 1909/10 Neath were ready to ‘break the mould’ and put their name in the record books.
The Welsh Championship hinged on the Neath-Newport clash at The Gnoll on April 16th, 1910 and this is how the “Evening Express” of the day reported the game :-
“Evening Express” – April 16th, 1910
DROP GOAL TO A TRY
Neath Defeat Newport
A VIGOROUS GAME
A CROWD OF 12,000 SEE AN EXCITING FINISH UNPARALLELED ENTHUSIASM
Final Score: G. T. Pts. Neath 1 0 4 Newport 0 1 3
To Newport and Neath fell the distinction of being the finalists for the Welsh Championship, and the long-expected contest between these teams came off on the Gnoll at Neath, this afternoon.
In Welsh football circles nothing else has been talked about for the past week or more, and it is a long time since a club match in which Neath was concerned has excited so much public interest.
According to the championship table, which is made up of a system of percentages, Neath has been about two points higher than the Usksiders, and in the event of Newport winning to-day, Neath would full back to second place and lose the coveted honour of being the championship club of South Wales.
A win for Neath, on the other hand, would make their position secure at the top of the table. There being only one more match on the card, and that in a home fixture with Plymouth next Saturday.
Neath are in the fortunate position of being able to turn out their very strongest side, but Newport had cause for regret at the absence of J.P. Jones from the centre. Otherwise they had a full side in the field.
Neath had only lost two matches – the first to Leicester while the second was a most unexpected loss at the hands of the London Welsh in London. Newport, on the other hand, had only lost one match, but what weakened their relative position was the fact that they had played no fewer than eight drawn fixtures. Their only conquerors for the season Cardiff on March 5 by a narrow margin.
Neath have laid great store on their ground record, which has not been tarnished for two years, and it is not necessary to say that they were never more determined to keep that record intact than to-day.
They had neglected nothing in the way of training, and every man expected to turn out in perfect fettle. The Newportonians also realised the importance of the occasion, and in no game of the season have they turned out in better condition. After the heavy rain which had fallen overnight, the ground was on the soft side, and there were some treacherous patches just in front of the grand stand. Expectations of a record gate were fully realised, thousands of people coming into Neath from Newport, Cardiff, and Swansea by excursion trains.
The previous best record was last year when Swansea were the visitors to The Gnoll and when the sum of £207 was taken at the gate.
The teams took the field in the following order:-
Neath: Tit Davies; Edgar Thomas, Frank Rees (capt), Dai Parry, Trevor John; Shon Evans, Jack Brennan; Joe Pullman, D.H. Davies, Fred David, Will Perry, Howell Davies, Bob Green, T. C. Lloyd, Tom Reason
Newport: S. Williams; R.G.S. Plummer, F.W. Birt, Perry, A.M. Baker; T.H. Vile, W.J. Martin; C.M. Pritchard, Beddoe Thomas, E. Jenkins, P. Coldrick, P. Waller, Dr. Smythe, H. Uzzell, H. Jarman
Referee, Mr. Vaughan Reynolds, Treorchy.
A Record Crowd
The crowd on the ground was one of the biggest ever at Neath there being no less than 12,000 spectators present. Indeed the scene is aptly described by a gentleman on the grandstand: “the onlookers were packed like herrings in a barrel, no room for salt.”
It was five minutes to four when the teams filed into the enclosure, with Vile leading the way in front of the black and amber brigade. Pritchard kicked off, and Tit Davies failed to take the ball on his own line, with the result that the first scrum was formed about five yards from the home line.
The ball was passed out from Vile to Martin, and then to Birt, who dropped for goal but failed badly. Neath kicked out, and, breaking up a scrum in the centre, rushed down to the Newport 25. but were driven back toy Plummer picking up smartly, and kicked up to Tit Davies, who found touch in neutral ground.
For the first few minutes play was wholly monopolised by the forwards, and the first free-kick was given against Vile for kicking the ball back into the scrimmage. Twenty yards was gained by the kick, and for a time the Neath men were aggressive, but lost the advantage gained through Shon Evans being penalised for off-side play.
Smart Following Up
Baker was hard pressed through smart following up by the Neath men, who handled him into touch just as he was receiving the ball in has own 25. Dr. Smythe broke away with a powerful run, but his pass to Coldrick was given forward.
So far play had been in Neath’s flavour. Newport woke up, and rushed smartly to the Neath 25 and all but scored.
The visitors were again driven back to the centre, and Phil Waller, after taking the ball in the open, put in a long run and passed to Birt, but his transfer to Plummer was not taken, and the movement broke down near the Neath 25 line.
Vile was penalised for picking the ball out of the scrum. Brennan again gained a lot of ground with a fine kick, which found touch on the Newport side of the meridian.
A Vigorous Game
Play was vigorous to a degree, every man going all out. So far Newport only had shaped like a scoring team, Neath’s plan of campaign being to depend upon the strength of their forwards rather than on the strength of their back division.
Some pretty play was put in by the home backs, the ball going from hand to hand until it finally went to Frank Bees, who showed judgement in trying to break through when he found his wing covered by Baker.
Neath Drop a Goal
It was a near thing, and quite the best bit of play by Neath so far. Neath had several shots at goal in quick succession, but they ail fell considerably short of the mark.
Neath continued to be strongly on the aggressive, and play had been taken by a terrific forward rush to the mouth of the Newport goal, when Plummer, in order to save the situation, kicked into the open, and “Tit” Davies, taking the ball in splendid style, dropped a magnificent goal.
This success was hailed with tremendous enthusiasm, but the Newport men were not dismayed, and went off with a bang from the kick off, and were not stopped until they had reached the home 25.
Relief was brought by an exceedingly clever dribble by Bob Green, who controlled the ball with all the skill of a first-class soccer player and went fully 25 yards. Fred David broke with the ball at his feet and dribbled past Stanley Williams, but was prevented making further progress through being badly fouled.
The incident however, escaped the notice of the referee, and Neath had to suffer as a consequence. Three penalties were awarded against Neath in as many minutes, but little or no ground was gained through failing to find touch.
Vile was next penalised through kicking the ball back into the scrum. Again the touchline was not found, and Stanley Williams was able to gain ground for his side through his greater skill in this direction.
A long kick by Vile was the means of transferring operations to the home 25, and Baker, after picking up a loose pass by Vile, kicked into touch within ten yards off the Neath goal line.
Newport tried hard to break through with a round of passing, but the tackling was too good, and Plummer was brought down with the ball on the Neath 25 line. Vile next tried reverse pass manoeuvres, but it didn’t come off.
Half-time score: G. T. Pts. Neath 1 0 4 Newport 0 0 0
D.H. Davies re-started for Neath and Birt replied with a lovely punt to touch, dead on the centre line. Another useful kick by Stanley Williams placed his side on the aggressive but the Neath forwards again got away in a bunch and dribbled to the, centre.
Melville Baker had a capital chance of putting in what might have been a scoring run, but just as be was getting into his stride he was splendidly tackled by Edgar Thomas.
Neath made a desperate effort to pierce the defence, and it was only a heroic tackle by Stanley Williams which prevented them from succeeding after Fred David had made a strong burst for the line.
The Neath forwards were now improving in their heeling out, but the subsequent play of the backs left much to be desired. Brennan had a glorious chance to drop a, goal from short range, but the ball shot high off his toe and fell many yards short of the goal.
Newport gained relief for a few minutes, and now Shon Evans, beating Vile for possession in his own side of the scrum, ran to within a few yards of the Newport line before he was tackled, and then dropped the ball at the feet of his oncoming forwards.
Stanley Williams saved the situation by kicking the ball out of bounds. The Neath forwards were now showing tremendous dash, and Newport, though playing pluckily, showed lack of discipline and restraint.
They had hard luck in being wrongly impeded when making a strong attack, and the penalty kick given against Neath did not compensate Newport for the advantage they had lost. Martin broke away in his best style, and passed to Burt, but the latter’s transfer to Plummer was given too high to be taken.
Newport now did most of the attacking work. and Birt, receiving from Vile on the Neath 25 line, dropped for goal, but the ball went many yards wide, and “Tit” Davies touched down.
The Usksiders were showing much improved play at this period of the game that they looked like scoring every moment. A penalty was given against Shon Evans for offside, and Birt took a shot for goal, which did not come off.
Neath played a stubborn defensive game, and finding that they could not hold the Newportonians went in for rushing tactics, which gained them ha!f the length of the field, and which took the ball right up to the Newport line.
A scrum was formed five yards out, and the visiting forwards wheeling dribbled to the 25. Bob Green again put in one of his clever dribbles, and play was taken back to the Newport citadel.
Brennan had the ball placed for him at an awkward angle, but found the kick too difficult. “Tit” Davies deservedly won a round of applause for his smartness in taking the ball and screw-kicking into touch when hard pressed.
Newport Score a Try
Frank Rees next came into the picture with a pretty run and punt into touch. Play had been taken down to the Neath 25. when Melville Baker picked up from a loose kick and passed to Coldrick, who ran over with an unconverted try.
Birt took the kick for goal amid the breathless silence of the 12,000 spectators, and to the relief of the home partisans the ball fell short. Excitement was now at its highest pitch, and it was entirely a question as to whether the Neath defence would be strong enough to keep out the Newport men.
It was a desperately hard struggle, and Baker, after receiving from Martin, looked like getting over until he was pushed into touch by “Tit” Davies, the home custodian. Then the game ended amid a scene of unparalleled enthusiasm.
Final score: G. T. Pts. Neath. 1 0 4 Newport. 0 1 3
Newport’s luck deserted them to-day, and had they been blessed with a little more of it in the final stages of a truly great struggle they would have been champions of Wales to-day.
As it is, however, that honour now belongs to Neath, and, taking an impartial review of all the circumstances, no one can gainsay the fact that the distinction had been well won.
It was in to-day’s game the balance of merit was in Neath’s favour in the first-half, but in the second portion of the game the Newportonians were decidedly the superior team. Neath deserved their victory more by virtue of their pluck and doggedness than by their cleverness and skill, and one could not help admiring specially the terrific rushes of the Neath forwards.
There were periods when they were absolutely irresistible, and it was only by inches on two or three occasions that they fell short of scoring after taking the ball at their feet to the Newport line.
The Usksiders made the mistake of leaving a it too late before bringing their passing machinery into full swing, and had they shown the same determination, coupled with skill and dexterity earlier in the game they would undoubtedly have won.
They had the Neath men fairly and squarely beaten in the last quarter of how, and there is no question that had the time been extended for a few minutes longer the Newport attack would have succeeded.
The referee did not make allowances tor stoppages, and thus Newport suffered a similar misfortune as that which robbed the Harlequins of victory last Saturday, and gave the Usksiders a win which they hardly deserved, so that matters have balanced themselves equitably, and Newport have no just cause for complaint.
The play on both sides reached a high standard, and the only blemish was the inclination to be wild and excessively vigorous at odd moments.
Newport’s back play did not. develop itself until the last final effort was made in the closing stages of the game, and then we saw the Newport men at their very best.
HOME SIDE’S TACTICS
On the other hand, the Neath tactics and defensive play were really superb, and in no game played this season has a more stubborn and resolute defence been shown by any team when pressed in a tight corner.
Among the Neath forwards the outstanding figure was Bob Green, whose footwork was quite a feature of the match. The play of the Neath men was wonderfully even in character, especially in the back division, every man contributing a fair share to his side’s victory, and particularly the plucky full back, T. Davies.
WALLER’S FINE PLAY
Waller was the hero of the Newport forwards, and was continually conspicuous for clever play in the line-out, and in the loose generally. Martin, at outside half, displayed much of his talent in the last quarter of an hour, and it was certainly rough luck on him that the game should have been stopped for a penalty against Neath when he was clear of everyone.
Apart from this incident there was nothing in the game over which there need be any regret, and the signal triumph of Neath in beating Newport and winning the championship is as fine an achievement as could possibly have been attained, especially among those followers of the game who can carry their minds back to the old cup days, when Neath was a power in the land.
They don’t report them like that any more !