As we continue our review of the year, today ANDY RUTHERFORD takes a look back at the events of March and April 2012.
Grand Slam glory in a great season for sport
THE Wales rugby team tasted Six Nations Grand Slam glory for the third time in eight years – and there was plenty to enthuse about on the football and rugby fronts in Gwent, despite testing seasons for Newport County and Newport Gwent Dragons.
A 16-9 victory over France at a jubilant Millennium Stadium confirmed the promise of the previous autumn’s Rugby World Cup campaign for Wales, despite this being the team’s least convincing performance of the tournament.
But with Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate once again outstanding, and securing the Player of the Tournament title for his efforts, Wales scrapped their way to a famous victory.
The contributions of Lydiate and fellow Dragon Toby Faletau to the Welsh cause added spice to the celebrations in Gwent, and came against the backdrop of another poor season for the regional outfit, which despite some notable victories endured a torrid time in the RaboDirect Pro12 League.
But there was notable rugby success from an unexpected quarter, with Cross Keys, without an appearance in a major final in the club’s 127-year history, lining up two in one season with fabulous semi-final victories in a matter of days.
First, Keys reached the final of the British and Irish Cup with a thrilling 20-16 semi-final victory over Cornish Pirates at Pandy Park on April 7.
And just a week later they were at it again, reaching the Swalec Cup final on try count by outscoring Gwent neighbours Ebbw Vale by two tries to one in a terrific 19-19 semi-final draw at Rodney Parade.
Sadly, Keys could not lift the British and Irish Cup, going down 31-12 to Munster A in the final in Cork on April 27.
But head coach Greg Woods hailed his players, semi-professionals who had beaten professional teams on the way to the final.
“What a journey these boys have been on in this tournament!” he said.
“I could not have asked any more of them. They are hurting now but they will be able to look back with great pride at what they achieved.”
And that journey was not over yet, Woods having eight days to raise his players’ spirits for the Swalec Cup final the following week against Pontypridd at the Millennium Stadium.
On the football front, Newport County spent 2011/12 in a relegation scrap in the Blue Square Bet Premier Division.
It was a battle the club won in the final weeks of the season, but it was exploits in the FA Trophy that captured the imagination.
County reached the final after a two-legged semi-final victory over Wealdstone in March, and in April fans caught Wembley fever, more than 11,000 snapping up tickets in one weekend as the prospect loomed of a trip along the M4 to meet York City.
March 5: THE elderly mum of a Gwent private eye killed 25 years ago told the Argus she feared she may die before she gets justice for her son.
The government indicated it may hold a judicial inquiry into the 1987 killing – with an axe in a London pub car park – of Daniel Morgan from Cwmbran.
But Isobel Hulsman, 84, in an exclusive interview with the Argus, said she feared time is running out for her.
Five separate inquiries failed to lead to a conviction, amid allegations of police corruption, and a further inquiry was being considered after more were made during the Leveson Inquiry into media standards.
March 6: A MAN who set fire to the Fourteen Locks Canal Centre at Rogerstone in November 2011 just because he wanted to burn something, was locked up for two years.
Benjamin Jones, 20, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to arson after the fire he set caused £66,000 worth of damage.
He set fire to two outside vents with a lighter and watched the blaze for several minutes, telling police later how nice he thought the flames had looked.
The centre had to be closed for three weeks after the fire, and was only partially reopened at the time of Jones’ conviction. Repair work was finally completed in April.
March 12: HAZEL Hunt from Abergavenny, whose 21-year-old son Richard was the 200th British serviceman to lose his life in the Afghanistan campaign, in 2009, renewed her calls for troops to be brought home.
In an exclusive interview with the Argus Mrs Hunt said she had thought the British Army’s job had been to bring some form of democracy to a troubled land – but she now believed the situation was “just going round in circles”.
She made her comment after hearing that Afghan president Hamid Karzai did not want to give women rights.
“I don’t see how we’re any further forward. Apparently he wants to keep women underfoot,” said Mrs Hunt.
March 14: SMOKING was banned in all hospital grounds in Gwent from today – No Smoking Day – the habit condemned by a public health chief as “not acceptable in a place of healing”.
Shelters where patients, visitors and staff could smoke at the Royal Gwent, Nevill Hall and St Woolos Hospitals were ripped out, the three sites joining other hospital grounds in Gwent where the practice had already been banned.
Anyone wishing to light up was now expected to do so outside the hospital grounds. Dr Gill Richardson, Aneurin Bevan Health Board’s director of public health, said the board would be seen as inconsistent if it continued to allow smoking in hospital grounds when it was banned in rugby grounds, pubs and other places.
March 22: LONG awaited plans to redevelop Newport’s city centre looked set to be approved, according to the Argus, three years after an earlier scheme fell victim to the credit crunch.
The revised Friars Walk scheme, set to transform John Frost Square and create more than 1,100 new jobs, was recommended for approval by city planners.
The proposal includes a shopping centre, with flagship department store Debenhams confirmed, eight restaurants and cafes, a six-screen cinema, and a 360-space car park.
Building work was pencilled in to begin in 2013, with a fouryear timescale for overall completion.
The proposals also included a radical reworking of bus station and taxi rank arrangements.
Developer Queensberry Real Estate said the development would improve the viability, vitality and attractiveness of Newport as a shopping destination.
March 26: SHOPKEEPER Shahbaz Ahmad told the Argus how he feared for his life while bravely fighting off an armed robber who pistol-whipped him.
The 31-year-old, from Newport, was cashing up with a colleague at The Fallows newsagents, in Fallowfield Drive, Newport, four days earlier, when a man came in wielding a knife in one hand and a gun in the other.
He said his colleague had at first thought it was a prank, but he knew it was for real. He picked up a wine bottle and tried to scare the man off, but he was attacked and beaten with the pistol.
Mr Ahmad, who blacked out, suffered head and hand injuries. The man attacked the till and was believed to have escaped with cash.
April 2: A BOY’S dream of walking unaided came closer to reality after Argus readers helped raise an incredible £56,000 to send him to the USA for pioneering treatment.
Bayli Lippiett, three, of Fleur-de-Lys has cerebral palsy and could only walk short distances with the help of a walking frame.
Parents Darren and Katherine launched a campaign called A Dream To Walk, to raise £60,000 for selective dorsal rhizotomy, surgery only performed in St Louis, Missouri. A fantastic response to their story in the Argus meant they reached April just £4,000 short – with more fundraising events to come – just seven months after launching the campaign.
“The support has been amazing.
There has been so much generosity,” said Mrs Lippiett.
April 9: MORE than £200,000 worth of scrap metal was recovered, 630 people arrested, and 14,000 vehicles stopped in the previous year, as part of a Gwent Police operation targeting metal theft.
Operation Ignite had been launched in spring 2011 in response to increasing numbers of such thefts – and Chief Inspector Glyn Fernquest told the Argus: “It’s basically got a life of its own now.”
“What started off as a six – or seven-week operation is now daily business,” he said.
An average 76 offences a week had been halved as a result.
April 13: THE London 2012 Olympics were still around 100 days away – but artist Nathan Wyburn was already cooking up a celebration of sporting excellence.
Mr Wyburn, from Ebbw Vale, produced portraits of diver TomDaley and previous gold medallists Fatima Whitbread and Sir Steve Redgrave using toast and Marmite.
Produced for an exhibition at Bournemouth Arts College, and called Toast to British Olympians, the work earned national coverage for Mr Wyburn, who later in the year created similar portraits of Girls Aloud.
April 13: A MASSIVE 15 tonnes of rubbish was pulled from the River Usk as part of efforts to improve the appearance of Newport.
The rubbish, due to be recycled, was collected from between Town Bridge and George Street Bridge and included 15 mobile phones, 15 bicycles, tyres, chairs, wheelbarrows and fencing.
A 15-metre tug for storage, and a trawler were used in the operation.
April 17: THE Argus reported that five years after part of a Newport street was devastated by fire, new homes could be built there.
The city council was reported as being in the process of buying the remaining fireaffected properties in Marlborough Road, Maindee, in a bid to redevelop a site that had become overgrown and neglected.
The council had reached an agreement with affordable housing provider Fairlake to build family homes to replace the 13 destroyed in the blaze in August 2007.
April 20: A NEWPORT bomb disposal expert died after being critically wounded in an explosion in Afghanistan on the eve of his 21st birthday.
Sapper Connor Ray, from 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), had been attempting to clear a compound previously used by insurgents in a district of central Helmand province, to allow local people to use the area.
He was past pupil of St Julians School, whose family lived in Caerleon Road, Newport. He died nine days after the explosion, having been evacuated to hospital in Birmingham.
April 26: HUNDREDS of residents around the M4 in Newport were faced with the possibility of having their homes demolished as part of controversial proposals to try to solve the roads problem around the city.
An option to widen the motorway near the Brynglas Tunnels would see up to 300 properties bulldozed. Many residents were resigned to the possibility of having to move, while others warned of years of disruption and increased pollution.
The proposal was among several being consulted upon by the Welsh Government, to ease congestion around the city. Two others involved improvements to the Southern Distributor Road, and one involved building a dual carriageway south of Newport, in effect, a revived M4 Relief Road plan, but not with motorway status.
April 30: METAL sheeting and insulation was torn off the roof of Newport’s £35 million university campus in 60mph winds – the second time it had been damaged in a year.
Usk Way was closed to traffic for several hours as the debris was cleared and the roof made safe.
The weather, also including heavy rain, forced the cancellation of several events across Gwent, in an early indication of what was to come during much of the summer.
● Tomorrow, we look at the news from May and June this year.