NEWPORT?S TEST AT LEICESTER
The unbeaten Newport Fifteen will play at Leicester this afternoon in what - in some respects ? may be described as the club match of the season.
Unfortunately, this most serious trial of strength has come rather too late to be regarded as entirely decisive. The Leicester Club, of course, with its considerable enterprise and resources, may be expected to give Newport a tremendously hard game, but, although the latter?s back division cannot be compared with those of the still more famous old days, the forwards can, and if staleness and injuries have not handicapped them down, the Newport pack, with its five or six international players, may be relied upon to win the day.
The match is vividly described below as taken from Rugby Recollections by W. J. Townsend Collins (Dromio) published by R. H. Johns of Newport in 1948.
AN INVINCIBLE RECORD SAVED
How few are the club teams who have gone through a season without defeat! I have known several sides who, at their best, were so clever individually, so skilled in combination, so dis?tinctly superior to their contemporaries, that they seemed heading for invincibility; but almost invariably they experienced the tragedy of the off day. Either they fell badly below their accustomed level, or luck ran dead against them; perhaps a genius on the opposing side developed unexpected defensive tactics, or one or more of their own players failed at critical moments. In contrast, at Leicester on April 28th, 1923, a Newport team who had not been reckoned superlative came to the last match of the season unbeaten. As they took the field memories of other seasons arose. One remembered how in February, 1893, Cardiff ended Newport's long period of invincibility, through converting a try where Newport failed; how in 1893-4, under Arthur Gould's captaincy, the only match they lost (at Llanelly), was by the goal-kick. Right at the end, with the Llanelly defence beaten, a knock-on by a wing threequarter, who that day played his first and last game for the team, threw away the try which would have given Newport victory. And in 1923 the Newport team escaped defeat, and maintained invincibility, because the opposing left wing threequarter knocked on! Such is the luck of the game! Newport in 1922-3 had won 33 matches out of 37, and had drawn the other four; but they were not wonder-workers, as some of their predecessors had been, and, quite frankly, had never shaped like an invincible team. Yet, there they were, making their last throw for fortune. At first it seemed easy. With Newport's great forwards swarming on the Leicester line, a flying kick sent the ball to Fred Baker, the full-back. Drop for goal! yelled Newport's supporters. But he sent the ball to touch. Again the ball was kicked to him. Again the cry went up Drop for goal! This time he took a left-foot kick, the ball soared and sailed over the bar. Four points up in five minutes! Only another few minutes had passed when Leicester were penalised. Baker took the place kick from near the touch-line, at the 25, and again, helped by a fairly strong wind, the ball went over the bar. Seven points up in ten minutes! But there it ended. Do what they could, they could not add to their points. They had distinctly the better of the play, but their own defects and Leicester's defence prevented scores; and just before the interval H. L. V. Day, the English international threequarter, placed a penalty goal for Leicester. In the second half, in spite of an abnormal number of penalties given against them, Newport had the better of the general play, and forwards and backs thrust for the line; but score they could not, and with about twenty minutes to play Day placed his second penalty goal. So Leicester were only one point behind?a try would break the record. There came a moment when the hearts of Newport's supporters almost stopped beating. Leicester developed a combined attack to the left; G. Haselmere was clear; it only needed a good pass safely taken, and the deed was done. But it was not a good pass and it was not taken?Haselmere knocked on, and so invincibility turned on a Leicester defect. By seven points to six, Jack Wetter's Newport team of 1922-23 joined the elect?the lucky few who have avoided defeat throughout a strenuous season. Consistency and captaincy had pulled them through. They had beaten, among others, Blackheath, the Harlequins, Oxford University, Cambridge University, the Watsonians, Plymouth, Exeter, Northampton, Bristol, Bath, Olympique (Paris), Gloucester, London Welsh, Cardiff, Swansea, and other Welsh teams. It certainly could not be said that they had crept into the Hall of Fame by the side door. It will be noted that the game was won and lost without either line being crossed, and that for each side one man scored all the points. By the way, Fred Baker was the full-back for England and Wales in the Centenary Match at Rugby on November 2nd, 1923, but his greatest hour was when he scored the points which gave Newport invincibility.