Newport 18 Connacht Eagles 14
THE SIGNIFICANCE of this victory could be a major one for Newport after they deservedly beat their full-time professional opponents from the west of Ireland.
An entertaining game culminated in a heart-stopping and frantic finale where English referee Greg MacDonald seemed to have found some ‘Fergie time’ that would have had Sir Alex Ferguson beaming.
The Black and Ambers have enjoyed some famous wins in the British & Irish Cup since its inception in 2009.
Leinster A have been beaten in Dublin, while the pros of Exeter and the Cornish Pirates were humbled at Rodney Parade.
Newport added another scalp in a game that could really kick-start their season after a faltering opening to their Premiership campaign.
With a big Gwent derby coming up at Pandy Park against this year’s beaten finalists Cross Keys, it will give the city slickers a great deal of confidence for the next stage of the B&I Cup after securing their first home win of the season.
The hosts had conceded an alarming average of 40 points a game in their previous six encounters before facing the Eagles.
It was heartening for the home fans that their side worked valiantly in defence, only conceding 14 points this time and just one try, a magnificent effort by wing Matt Healy.
And in attack the Black and Ambers are often capable of some sublime rugby with wing Elliott Frewen a real handful.
The Eagles shaded the opening stages but some poor handling and execution meant all they had to show for their efforts in the first half were two penalties from centre Tadgh Leader.
Newport led 10-6 at the interval thanks to a well- taken try by openside flanker and captain Craig Attwell, who scored in the corner in the 34th minute after a quick tap penalty, outside-half Tom Hancock beautifully converting from the touchline after slotting over an earlier penalty.
Newport Gwent Dragons’ popular wing Tonderai Chavhanga made his first appearance since sustaining a serious injury playing for the region against the Ospreys in April.
Making his Black and Ambers debut, he started the match but was replaced by Frewen after 22 minutes, the former Springboks flyer given a run out but precious few chances to show off his devastating speed.
Marking him was Welshman James Loxton who is controversially not allowed to switch his allegiance to Ireland after representing Wales Under-20s.
Leader brought the score back to within a point with his third penalty early in the second half before Healy scored his remarkable try, conjured out of nothing in the 59th minute.
Newport’s scrum, which had failed to create much of an impression up to that point despite containing two Newport Gwent Dragons in loosehead Nathan Williams and tighthead Tim Ryan, got an excellent shove on against the Eagles just five metres from the visitors’ line.
Just as it looked as if they might create a try of their own, the ball shot out and found its way to Healy. The wing tore up the touchline, kicked ahead before the ball bounced into his arms as he scored an amazing length-of-the-field try.
Despite the somewhat fortuitous nature of this score, Newport showed great character to force themselves back into the game.
A Hancock penalty after 63 minutes reduced the Eagles’ lead to 14-13.
With time ticking away, Frewen caused pandemonium in the Irish side’s defence before centre Will Richards powered over for what proved to be the winning try with just three minutes to go.
In an amazing climax Newport nearly scored two more tries after a superb break by full back James Leadbeater and a barnstorming run by replacement wing Alan Awcock.
There was even time for the Eagles to mount one last desperate attack before MacDonald ended the frenzied excitement when he blew the final whistle.
A delighted Newport head coach Sven Cronk said he was always confident his team would prevail: "I didn’t doubt it at all and full credit to the boys – I think it was the first time this season we’d played like a team.
"It was really pleasing and we played some good stuff against a very good, well-organised, full-time squad.
"It was a really good win that will hopefully put us on to better things."
Newport continue to have problems in the front row with props Dai Pattison banned for six weeks after being sent off against Llanelli last month, Gethin Robinson out for two and a half months with a torn bicep sustained against Cardiff and James Jones forced to retire after a back injury.