The Newport team of 1905-06 did not have an outstanding season. Of the 31 games played 15 were won, 4 drawn and 12 lost. The team scored 276pts and their opponents 161. During this season of reverses the elected captain, Wyatt Gould, played only five matches and in the games leading up to the All Blacks clash Newport had beaten Lydney (H), Old Merchant Taylors (H), Llanelli (H), Bristol (H), Swansea (H) but lost to Cardiff (H), Penarth (H), Swansea (A), Cardiff (A) and drawn the games with Blackheath and Exeter.
On a grey December day, led by Charlie Pritchard in the absence of the captain, and also without the outstanding full-back D.J. Boots, the Newport team produced an inspired display. The ground had been under straw for a fortnight and when it was cleared on the Saturday morning the turf was in good condition. Surprisingly there was not the enormous attendance which had been expected and at first the crowd of some 12,000 (some reports say as many as 17,000) was very quiet considering the character of the game.
Newport, and especially full-back R.B. Griffiths, came under great pressure from the kick-off. The replacement for D.J. Boots was sadly at fault during the early exchanges with poor line kicking and shaky defence. However, the three-quarters, especially Cliff Pritchard and Sid Adams the centres, tackled like demons and the Newport line held despite the continuous pressure.
At full-back the New Zealanders had W.J. 'Billy' Wallace, who was to become an all-time great, and any Newport attacks were repelled by his magnificent kicking and fearless tackling. It came as no surprise when the All Blacks scored their first try. Scrum-half Fred Roberts served five-eighth Billy Stead from a scrum and he broke cleverly before linking with Bob Deans. On to winger Eric Harper who beat Griffiths easily and scored near the posts. Much to everyone's surprise Wallace missed the conversion, but he made amends later when he drop-kicked a superb penalty goal.
At this stage in the match Newport were looking a beaten side and although Willie Thomas, the wing, and W.H. Dowell, an oustanding forward, put in some strong individual runs the half-time deficit of 6pts flattered the Usksiders.
The second half, however, was a different ball-game. Charlie Pritchard roused his forwards and, supported zealously by Jehoida Hodges (a Risca boy), George Boots, Beddoe Thomas and the tireless Dowell, the Newport pack dominated the second half. Time and time again they were baulked by Wallace who brought off try-saving tackles on Willie Thomas and Cliff Pritchard. Tommy Vile and Walter Martin impressed at half-back and at last the crowd had something to cheer about.
A score was bound to come and after G.A. Gillett was penalised Griffiths drop-kicked an excellent penalty from near half-way. Now only three points separated the teams and amidst great excitement Newport hammered at the All Blacks line. Alby Davies, Tommy Vile and Cliff Pritchard were almost over and George Boots made a great run from a line-out. A last desperate effort was thwarted by a knock-on at a crucial moment and the whistle sounded with the All Blacks hanging on to their slender lead.
After the game the New Zealand Manager, George Dixon, praised the Newport team and thought they were "one of the finest club sides anywhere". Referee Gil Evans (Birmingham) commented, "With a little bit of luck Newport would have won". What is irrefutable is that Newport had responded superbly to the challenge. The 1905 All Blacks' record . . . Played 35, Won 34, Drawn 0, Lost 1, Points for 976, Points against 59 speaks volumes. The only defeat was against Wales in the historic "Was it a try game" at Cardiff. This superb team beat Scotland 12-7, Ireland 15-0, England 15-0, France 38-8.
NEWPORT- R.B. Griffiths; Willie Thomas, Cliff Pritchard, Sid Adams, Alby Davies; W.J. Martin, T.H. Vile; Gus Jones, J.J. Hodges, W.H. Williams, W.H. Dowell, Charlie Pritchard (Capt.), George Boots, E. Beddoe Thomas, Ernie Jenkins.
NEW ZEALAND- W.J. Wallace; E.T. Harper, R.G. Deans, H.D. Thomson, J.W. Stead; H.Y. Mynott, F. Roberts; G.A. Gillett, W.S. Glenn, S. Lasey, G.A. Tyler, W. Cunningham, A.J. MacDonald, J.J. O'Sullivan, C. Seeling.
REFEREE- Gil Evans (Birmingham)
Tommy Vile later spoke of his huge admiration for the 1905 All Blacks as they had the ability to play whatever type of rugby was needed to combat the weather conditions. Whether it was a wet day or a dry day they could adapt their style. Similarly they were equally at home playing a forceful forward orientated game or alternative opening up the game to utilise their free-flowing backs.
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The Times of 25th December 1905 reported the game as follows:-
"RUGBY UNION RULES."
"NEWPORT v. THE NEW ZEALANDERS."
"This match, at Newport on Saturday, was witnessed by nearly 17,000 people, and produced a fast and exciting game,which the New Zealanders were decidedly lucky to win by the narrow margin of three points, the final score being the New Zealanders' one penalty goal and one try to Newport's one penalty goal. The conditions were all in favour of a fast game, and the general expectations before the match were that the New Zealanders would prove victorious. For the first 20 minutes these expectations seemed certain to be realized. The New Zealanders' forwards played with great dash in the loose, while they generally secured possession of the ball in the tight scrummages. The passing of the backs was of moderate quality, however; and it was not until play had been in progress for 20 minutes that E. Harper's great pace enabled him to run in wide on the right. Wallace failed at goal. From this point onwards Newport had the better of the game, their forwards showing such improved form that the New Zealanders' defence was severely taxed. Once Griffiths by a strong run nearly sent Williams in, but he passed just too soon. Other chances were not turned to the best account by the Newport backs, the wing three-quarters in particular showing rather poor judgement in not running straight after the defence had been drawn. Towards the end of the first half the New Zealanders invaded Newport territory, and Wallace dropped a fine goal from a penalty for off-side. At the interval the New Zealanders led by six points. After crossing over Griffiths dropped a fine goal from the centre from a penalty for "legs up," and the game afterwards became very fast and exciting. The Newport forwards played so finely and showed such marked ability in keeping the game going that the New Zealanders were kept mostly on the defensive, while such attacks as they were able to indulge in took the form of high kicks and fast following up. The Newport backs had many chances of scoring, and their passing was at times admirable. The wings again showed moderate judgment, however, and ran too much across. Even as it was the defence was three times beaten, but the final pass in each case was knocked on. Once Pritchard got clear after the New Zealanders had knocked on, but the whistle was blown for the infringement of the rule, which was unfortunate for Newport. The finish of the match was very exciting, but Newport, although they had all the better of the play, could not score, and the New Zealanders retained their three points' lead to the end. Newport were unlucky to lose, and should, on the run of play, at least have made a draw."