Newent secured their fifth promotion in six seasons in the most dramatic of fashions, a penalty goal kicked by skipper Ross Webb deep into stoppage time finally settling a compelling contest in which the lead changed hands eight times.
Newent went into the game with a near full strength side, leaving aside long term injuries, hooker Luke Williams and wing Dan Bubb-Sacklyn being the principal absentees. Their visitors from the South Hams of Devon proved to be a well organised outfit with a powerful pack -which asked difficult questions of the Green Army’s scrum and were very competitive at the breakdown, where young open-side Jack Ferguson was particularly effective- and hard running midfield backs. Newent’s defence had to be at its best to contain them and no-one demonstrated their commitment better than 17 year old Tom Webb, who several times brought down much bigger men with textbook tackles. If Newent’s scrum didn’t enjoy its customary dominance the lineout ran much more smoothly, Chris Steward’s long throws to Toby Freeman or Dan Fletcher at the back of the line being especially well executed.
Kingsbridge were penalised at the first scrum of the game –this was a match of few scrums but nearly all of them ended in a penalty award for one side or the other- but Ross Webb’s kick into the wind from 25m bounced back off an upright and the visitors were able to clear their lines. Webb had another opportunity on twelve minutes after Kingsbridge were penalised for illegally halting Newent’s driving maul just short of the line, resulting in a yellow card for their hooker James Westlake. This time he over-compensated for the wind and his kick drifted wide of the right hand upright, but the ball was spilled forward by the Kingsbridge catcher and the chasing Will Mansfield was quickest to touch down the loose ball for an opportunist try. Ross Webb made no mistake with the conversion to put his side ahead 7-0.
Kingsbridge were reduced to thirteen men when their blind-side flanker Dan Barlow was yellow carded for an off the ball infringement, but this didn’t stop their six man pack from making a horrible mess of the Newent scrum after twenty minutes play. Full back Tom Putt stepped up to kick the penalty goal from just inside the home half to put Kingsbridge on the scoreboard.
Two more penalties from Putt –one a prodigious effort from inside his own half which cleared the bar with ease- followed in quick succession as Newent began to get on the wrong side of the ref at the breakdown, giving Kingsbridge a lead of 7-9 despite the hosts’ territorial advantage.
Newent got their noses in front again on thirty-three minutes with a very well- constructed try. They built the pressure patiently through several phases before Toby Freeman made the key incision with a powerful surge from the back of a ruck. The young lock forward betrayed his origins as a centre threequarter with the deftest of one-handed offloads to Will Mansfield, who finished well with a run behind the posts for his second try. Ross Webb’s converted to put his side ahead 14-9.
Newent failed to deal with the restart, full back Brett Gardner being pinged for holding on and shown a yellow card by a ref who was very quick to reach for his back pocket. Tom Putt slotted the penalty to reduce the arrears to 14-12.
The end to end pattern continued as Newent launched another attack from their restart. A clever grubber from Ross Webb was fielded by full back Putt but he was tackled into touch by Reuben Goatley 15m out. Chris Steward’s throw to the back of the lineout was spot on, as it was all afternoon, and his pack produced an expertly executed maul to drive over the Kingsbridge line for No 8 Fred Nottingham to claim the touchdown. Ross Webb’s conversion from the touchline went narrowly wide.
Back came Kingsbridge, with their best set of attacking phases of the half. Newent’s fourteen man defence was outstanding but eventually it was stretched to breaking point and outside centre Alex Allen crossed wide on the right. The missed conversion was the final act of a pulsating first half which ended with the game very finely balanced.
Half time: Newent 19 Kingsbridge 17
Having played into the wind in the first half, Newent were hoping it would work in their favour in the second. However, as the game got underway again it soon became apparent that the wind had dropped significantly. What had increased was Kingsbridge’s intensity and they exerted all the early pressure. This brought a penalty opportunity for Tom Putt on six minutes which he duly kicked to put his side ahead 19-20. Five minutes later he had another chance, when Newent infringed again inside their 22, but on this occasion he pushed the kick wide to the surprise and relief of the home support.
Newent recovered some of their composure and the game settled into a tense, attritional pattern dominated by two totally committed defences in which incursions into either 22 were a rare event.
Brett Gardner required lengthy treatment to a leg injury and was helped from the field to be replaced by Charlie Gellert. When the dust had settled Ross Webb was left with a shot at the posts just 5m into the Kingsbridge half which he kicked with aplomb for 22-20.
Newent’s lead was all too brief as they made a mess of the restart again, giving Tom Putt another opportunity from the tee which he kicked from the touchline to put the visitors ahead again early in the final quarter.
Three minutes later Putt missed an easier opportunity, awarded against Newent at a scrum 25m out. Young fly half Tom Webb demonstrated a mature rugby brain by kicking long and deep from the resultant 22m drop-out. It was Kingsbridge’s turn to fail to deal with a clearance, giving Ross Webb another penalty chance. He slotted the kick from a wide angle, putting his side ahead 25-23 with twelve minutes of normal time left to play.
Newent negotiated those twelve minutes without further alarm, but as the game entered stoppage time Kingsbridge started to put together a concerted attack, patiently building through the phases with the aim of setting up a drop goal attempt for Tom Putt. This they did expertly and Putt played his role to perfection, splitting the posts with a superb kick from the 10m line to make the score Newent 25 Kingsbridge 26 after 41 minutes of the second half.
But the Green Army are nothing if not resilient and they have the priceless habit of finding ways of winning games when all seems lost. They put together one last attack, but the chance seemed to have gone when the ball went forward in a tackle. However, having been bossed in the tight all afternoon, the home pack chose the perfect moment to turn the tables and as the resultant scrum wheeled round the ref signalled a penalty to Newent on the 22m line. With 47 minutes played in the second half, Ross Webb demonstrated the calmest nerves of anyone on or off the pitch as he stepped up to put the kick between the posts and finally nail down a famous victory for his side – who will now face opponents from Devon and the rest of the south-west on a regular basis as they step up to play in South West 1 (West).
Quite an achievement for a small town team composed entirely of local lads without any facilities to call their own!
Full time: Newent 28 Kingsbridge 26
Tries: D Matthews, W Mansfield, F Nottingham.
Cons: R Webb (2).
Pens: R Webb (3).
Try: A Allen
Pens: T Putt (6)
Drop goal: T Putt
Newent team: Brett Gardner (Charlie Gellert, 58 min); Reuben Goatley, Will Mansfield, Ross Webb (cap.), Dominic Matthews; Tom Webb, James Dean; Morgan Morris, Lee Warren, Chris Steward; Luke Marriott, Toby Freeman; Dan Fletcher, George Phelps, Fred Nottingham. Reps not used: David Boon, Jamie Meek, Richard Merrett.
Report by Simon Barker