IF it had to end like this, it could hardly have been a better way to go out for Newport and a host of leading players.

It was Newport's finale at the top level, and it was the farewell Rodney Parade appearance for Shane Howarth, skipper Simon Raiwalui, Mike Voyle and others.

The air was charged with emotion and a crowd of nearly 6,000 defied dreadful weather and the counter-attraction of the FA Cup final to turn out when rival clubs are struggling to attract 2,000 fans.

And the team rewarded them with their biggest win of the season, running in eight tries and romping to victory against the team they are supposed to be merging with.

The orders had gone out from on high for Newport to make sure of a big victory, such is the rift between the rival clubs.

Anything less would have been a failure, but Newport failed no-one as they put 60 points on their rivals, though the victory couldn't quite match the record 65-11 in 1991.

And then there was Percy Montgomery. At one stage he wasn't going to play, such was his torment after being sent off for pushing a touch judge over at Swansea last Tuesday.

But play he did, and what a world- class performance he turned in!

Far from allowing outside pressures to get to him, he ran in two tries and kicked five conversions and three penalties for an amazing 29-point haul.

When he was replaced 15 minutes from the end, the reception he got was fit to take the roof off the stand.

And no author could have written the final words better. For Matt Mostyn, another departing player, grabbed the final try in injury time and with the very last kick in a top match at Rodney Parade, Raiwalui, of all people, landed the conversion for a real fairytale ending.

There was hardly a dry eye in the house as the captain, Howarth, and the rest of the team were saluted by the fans on a worthy lap of honour.

Raiwalui was very close to tears, and I saw men from 30 to 60 crying as 128 years of tradition came to an end and leading players said their farewells.

Howarth and Raiwalui played as they have throughout the last four years, with 100% effort, giving their all for the cause.

Howarth's sheer determination, especially when going in for the high ball after switching to full back when Monty departed, was quite remarkable.

Newport's so-called foreign legion have been attacked from all quarters in Wales, but it has been through resentment, from people unwilling or unable to see what these players have brought to the Welsh game.

And while other regions like Bridgend-Pontypridd and stand-alone Cardiff have been re-signing non-Welsh players when the limit was supposed to be two, Gwent have let a player like Raiwalui go. It doesn't make sense.

The opening to Saturday's finale was quiet enough, with Montgomery kicking two penalties for Newport and Byron Hayward one for Vale, but then the floodgates opened, literally almost as the heavens opened as well.

But they made light of the conditions as Gareth Gravell was heaved over the line for the first try in a mass Newport assault, and then Rod Snow added a hugely popular second after Howarth and Montgomery handled beautifully.

Monty converted both and added a third penalty before Ebbw Vale's one bright moment when Hayward kicked his second penalty to break the all-time Welsh points-scoring record, though most of his points were scored for Pontypool.

From the high point to the low when, after Ofisa Tonu'u scrambled another try, Vale scrum-half Gareth Betts was sent off in the 32nd minute for a dangerous tackle on Newport centre Nathan Brew.

Vale were already 28-6 down, and there was obviously no hope after that.

Alex Cadwallader nabbed another try before the interval after a booming Tonu'u pass and a chip through by Monty.

Hayward kicked his third penalty for Vale early in the second half, but that was the end of their scoring as Newport took charge again and rattled in another four tries.

Monty got two in a row, the first after Ian Gough stormed away from a line-out and the second after a half-break by replacement Jonathan Pritchard.

Gravell was driven over for his second and then came the copybook ending with Mostyn's try and that conversion by Raiwalui.

It was a dream finish, and it was the end of a dream.

Or was it? Given the complete breakdown in Gwent, similar problems in another region and the argument over total financing re-surfacing, could Newport yet stand alone?

* Pictured: Departing Newport stars Simon Raiwalui and Shane Howarth