Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ebbw Vale 34 Pontypridd 8, Principality Premiership, 12/03/16

In one of the best home wins seen in many a year, Ebbw Vale sent Premiership table toppers Pontypridd packing with a superb bonus point victory, where a dominant pack was, for once, supported by a great display behind the scrum.

There's no doubting that Pontypridd have been the best team in Welsh club rugby since (so-called) regional rugby was introduced (foisted upon us) in 2003, and it could be added that they have built a club structure upon which Ebbw have somewhat modeled themselves, but on this balmy March afternoon, there was little doubt as to whom was the best side.

Last Halloween, it was Ponty who got a fright at home when Ebbw ran out 26-18 winners, but there was to be no revenge mission for the self styled Valleys Commandos as their depleted resources (no Chris Dicomidis, Rhys Shellard nor Lewis Williams) were well and truly beaten, as they were graciously the first to admit afterwards.

In all honesty, Ponty ran the show in the first 20 minutes, and, quite frankly, should have been more than 8-0 up following sustained pressure.

Thankfully, Ebbw weathered most of the storm, and hit back through a superb handling movement finished by Chris Levesley. An Iain Smerdon conversion and penalty put the home side 10-8 up at the interval. In fairness, it was a lead that they scarcely deserved.

The second half was a completely different story. Ebbw Vale dominated in all phases, and not just up front. The backs looked the best they've been all season and maybe Nigel Davies's (and Nick Wakely's) coaching is starting to rub off.

Then it was time for the replacements, and Ponty's threadbare bench compared most unfavourably to an Ebbw substitute front 3 of Ian George, Joe Franchi and Rob Sevenoaks. A huge forward effort resulted in Franchi going over, which was also converted. By now it was all Ebbw and a 'sort of' catch'n'Kynes duly followed. At 26-8, it was now a matter of whether the bonus point could be gained, as Ponty had nothing in the tank.

A series of close range drives led to a scrummage and there was only going to be a plan A. One more big effort yielded a Ponty infringement and the referee had no hesitation in going right under the posts for a penalty try.

I said after the game that it was one of the best 2nd half displays I've seen at Eugene Cross Park in 40+ years of spectating and I stick by that (and what an honour it is to be quoted on the club website :) !). Against top opposition, it was a complete performance both in attack and defence, up front and behind.

With 4 league games to go, it's all to play for.

Are you sure that's straight ref?

The players salute the fans after the game

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ebbw Vale 36 Llanelli 8, Principality Premiership, 05/03/16

Even though the first Saturday in March is officially 'Spring', it felt far from that on a bitterly cold afternoon at Ebbw Vale. With snow flurries on nearby Llangynidr moors, and frequent sleet and hail showers during the game, it was down to the Steelmen's power pack to warm the hands and feet of the ever loyal home crowd.

In all honesty the first half was something of a disappointment, with a picky referee and aimless kicking by Ebbw's backs spoiling the flow of the game. To be honest, Ebbw were fortunate to lead 14-8 at the break, through tries by Ashley Sweet and David Williams, as they has failed to make the most of the biting northerly draft blowing down from Beaufort.

The second half saw a significant improvement as Gethin Robinson returned from a harsh sin binning, and Ebbw's dominant scrum yielded a yellow card from the visitors. This turned the match as two quick tries followed. A classic Catch'n'Kynes followed by a snipe from Chris Thomas gave the home side a cushion which they had now earned.

The lively Chris Levesley added a 5th touchdown which together with 2 conversions from Iain Smerdon made the game out of reach of the visitors from the West.

In fairness, Llanelli tried to play rugby to the end but the Ebbw defence held firm, even after all of the bench had been used.

The win takes Ebbw to 2nd in the table with a home clash versus league leaders Pontypridd being the main course next Saturday before the mere dessert of England v Wales on TV.