NEWPORT opened their Premiership season with a hard fought 29-23 victory over Ebbw Vale in a ferocious Gwent derby at Eugene Cross Park, writes Steffan Thomas.

A late comeback from the Steelmen earnt them a losing bonus point but Newport were far more clinical when it counted.

A brace of tries from David Richards, along with a penalty try and a touchdown from Ryan Gardner was enough to get the Black and Ambers over the line.

Ebbw Vale scored two tries of their own courtesy of Ashley Sweet and Stephen Ireland while Matt O’Brien kicked 13 points.

The hosts started strongly with full back Haymond converting two early penalties to give them an early lead. But it didn’t last long with Newport touching down in what was their first foray into the home sides 22.

The ball was won cleanly at the lineout and put through the hands with full back Richards slicing through the home defence before drawing his man to put Gardner over at the far right-hand corner.

Ebbw Vale looked comfortable until scrum-half Matthew Flanagan had his clearance kick charged down which allowed Richards to touch down for a try which O’Brien converted.

Things went from bad to worse for the hosts when they conceded a penalty try for illegally bringing down a driving lineout which was galloping towards the try line with ease.

Not only did they concede seven points but hooker Joe Franchi was sent to the sin bin meaning Newport led 22-6 at the interval.

Greg Woods’ side came out fighting in the early stages of the second-half and were given hope when Newport centre Adam Jones received a yellow card for taking out a man without the ball. Sweet then crashed over from the resulting lineout.

But their comeback was short lived as Richards sliced through their defence for his second try of the evening.

However, Ebbw Vale refused to throw in the towel and lay siege to the Newport line during the last 10 minutes after Newport blindside Josh Skinner was sent to the sin bin for preventing Sam Ireland taking a quick tap.

And the hosts set up a grandstand finish when replacement scrum-half Ireland touched down with Haymond converting. And they secured a losing bonus point with a last gasp penalty from Haymond.