[icWales] IT IS fair to say that with his rugby experience, there is not much that still surprises Lynn Howells - but Newport's dramatic slump is one.
A meagre five wins in 17 games this season for last season's Welsh-Scottish League runners-up have been grounds for plenty of concern at Newport, as well as fuelling speculation over the fate of coaches Leigh Jones and Richard Hill.
But it appears that their sudden loss of form and confidence has caused plenty of raised eyebrows outside of Rodney Parade.
"I am very surprised that this Newport team are not doing better than they are this season," said Howells.
"They have got a couple of big names out injured like Andy Marinos, but they can still pick a strong team for tomorrow.
"If you look at other clubs who are not doing as well as usual, like Cardiff, it is because they haven't got enough strength in depth.
"But you cannot say that about Newport, they have got quality players in all positions and have plenty of internationals in their ranks.
"Last year they played some of the best rugby in Wales and on their day could have beaten anyone, so it is surprising to see them struggle now.
"It's always difficult when a new coach comes in, there are new ideas and new ways of thinking and it takes time to get everyone tuned in and thinking the same way.
"The problem Leigh had was that he had to go straight into some big competitions at the start of the season. He went immediately into the Celtic League and then the Heineken Cup without enough time to prepare and that is difficult.
"So I think, given time, Newport will prove what a strong side they are and could do well in the Premiership this season.
"They are ready to spring to life, but I just hope they don't do it against us tomorrow."
Howells and Pontypridd's case, however, has not been helped by a string of injuries over recent weeks with the midfield trio of Sonny Parker, Jon Bryant and Neil Jenkins among those laid low.
Several players will undergo late fitness tests before the team is named, but Wales prop Gethin Jenkins already looks set to miss the next few weeks with a shoulder injury.
"Newport is always a tough place to go especially when you haven't got a full team," added Howells.
"We really missed not having two ball carriers in the heavy conditions against Connacht last week."