Wing/Fullback Alun Harries was another Ebbw fan favourite from the 90s side, playing outside halfbacks Dai Llewellyn (who joined us for the first ‘my favourite Ebbw games’ piece) and Byron Hayward.
Alun spoke to us this week about his favourite games in the famous red, green and white.
Neath v Ebbw Vale, 1996/97
In Harries’ first season at Eugene Cross Park, he picked up an injury early on, leaving him out of action without a run of games until October.
“The other wings were Ian “Jaffa” Jeffries and Shaun Marshall and they were playing well. I’d always preferred playing full back and said to the coaches that’s where I wanted to play. I was given the opportunity and it was an armchair ride with the then centres Jon Hawker and Mike Boys, who were outstanding in defence and great distributors with ball in hand, and it easy to run lines off them both,” he said.
Ebbw travelled to The Gnoll to face one of Harries’ former clubs, Neath. Driven by the desire to get one over on his old teammates, Harries was involved in everything in attack and although not particularly renowned for his tackling, put a big hit in on Neath wing Chris Higgs.
“Chris was very quick and had a great step of his right foot, but he had a ‘tell’ just before he would do so and the key was to get almost parallel to him and time the hit as he came off his right foot, my timing was spot on and caught him right in the ribs with my shoulder, think its the only time a player took a while to get up after being tackled by me!”
Harries also recalled one phase of play that nearly resulted in a fantastic length of the field try.
“We had a scrum on our own line. Byron Hayward was behind the scrum on the dead ball line ready for the clearing kick, and I was about 5-6 yards to his right. The dead ball area at The Gnoll is very small and the Neath back row were quickly on Byron for a charge down, so he threw me a hospital pass – on our own dead ball line! Fortunately the pass just about got me on the outside of Neath No.8 Steve Williams, and I got away from him and then stepped inside another Neath forward and the whole field opened up. I got to the half way line with Neath full back Alan Flower approaching, and a couple of other Neath backs coming across from mid field. I managed to stand him up and get a pass off to Ian Jeffries on my outside, but he just got scagged by the cover defence about 10 yards from the try line – it would have been dead ball line to try line score!
Kingsley said to me after, ‘That would have been the best try ever if Jaffa could keep up with you!’ – a bit unfair on Jaffa, as when I made the break he was in front of me so had to get himself on side and get in support from a standing start!”
“After the game, coach Leigh Jones said to me. ‘That’s the best game I’ve seen you play’ – praise indeed form someone who wasn’t my biggest fan!”
The game was massively important for the future of Ebbw Vale in the first season of professional rugby in Wales, with four teams set to be relegated from the Premier Division.
“That win at Neath gave us good momentum and resilience for the fight for pro rugby survival, and ensured that Ebbw had the great seasons to follow”.
Ebbw Vale v Swansea, 1997 Cup Semi–Final, Cardiff Arms Park
After overcoming Bridgend in the quarter-final thanks to a last minute lineout drive, Ebbw went into this Cup semi-final as massive underdogs against Swansea at Cardiff Arms Park.
“I missed the quarter final with a quad strain, scrum half Gareth Bisp had played full back! I hadn’t played since the week before that game and only trained the Thursday before the semi–final and must admit I nursed myself through that session. Kingsley had asked me that week if I was fit. I said ‘Yes, I’m 100%’ with a little bit of hope in my mind.”
“I was picked at full back and Robin Davey wrote in the Argus that my selection was a gamble, as I hadn’t played for a few weeks and I was a makeshift full back!”
Ebbw started slowly and took a while to get into the game but as the game progressed became more and more confident of causing a remarkable cup upset.
“One instance from early on though was a high ball Swansea outside half Aled Williams put up. I jumped to take it, landed, not a hand on me, and thought, ‘here we go‘ , big gap in front of me – as I went to run, ref Derek Bevan gave a big blast on his whistle. As I turned back, Swansea flanker Alan Reynolds was on the deck with Mark Jones stood over him. I thought to myself, ‘F’inghell Jonsey I was away then’ and just looked at him – we walked back to face the penalty, he took his mouth guard out and said to me, ‘Had to do that son, otherwise he’d have killed you!’ – good move Jonesy as the rest of the game went very well for me.”
Harries once again praised Ebbw centre partnership of Jon Hawker and Mike Boys who faced an international duo of Scott Gibbs and Mark Taylor.
“Anyone there that day would testify that our centres Jon & Mike got the upper hand: nothing came through them and I benefited from their ball handling. Boysy stood Gibbs up to put me away for a try and Jon put me on the outside of Mark Taylor from the 1/2 way and we were just stopped short of the line to score again. Minutes later I managed to get away from the Swansea defence from a blindside scrum to put Jaffa over for a try.”
Unfortunately, Ebbw’s first-half left them with too much catching up to do as Swansea progressed to the final, but Ebbw and Harries in particular could be very proud of the performance they put in that day.
“We got close to Swansea but not quite good enough in the first half! Mike Ruddock was Swansea coach and came into our changing rooms after the game and said we’d given them a real fright.”
“I was walking back to the changing rooms after talking with some people straight after the game, and Kingsley was outside talking to the press, one of which was Robin Davey. As I walked passed, Kingsley said, ‘Look Robin, it’s Alun Harries, our man of the match!’”
Ebbw Vale v Cardiff, 3rd Round Cup, 1998
“This game was part of our S4C Saturday night run. We were on TV more than Terry Wogan!”
In the first year that the majority of the club were full time professionals, Ebbw Vale had a great season, regularly beating teams with bigger budgets and fanbases than themselves.
“We weren’t the most talented in the league but we were unified, organised and horrible to play against, so a cold Saturday night at EXP with a full terrace bank was not a great environment for the ‘City Slickers’!”
“In the build–up to the game, S4C pundit Brynmor Williams had written us off, saying Cardiff would be far to strong (unlike Brynmor to be negative towards anybody as he is one of rugby’s gents.)”
“Someone else had claimed that Gareth Thomas’s transfer fee from Bridgend to Cardiff was more than the salaries of all our back line put together.”
“So, with the TV pundits having given us a team talk, a cold EXP and a bank full of the Ebbw faithful, it was game on!”
“We got into Cardiff right from the off, Jon Hawker scored early on and our tails were up. Our pack were battering theirs with Mark Jones and Kuli Faletau man handling the Cardiff ‘boys’, and Richie Collins far too skillful and experienced for the international back row opposite him. Lenny Woodard had been on a barn storming 50m run bouncing players off him, and that was the tone for the whole game – it felt like we had 30 players on the pitch!”
Going into the last few minutes, with Ebbw in front, Lenny Woodard, Byron Hayward and Kingsley Jones combined to put Harries over the whitewash in front of the S4C studio containing Brynmor Williams to win the game.
“We were in front going into the last few minutes. Lenny made a break from our own half up the right–hand side in front of the bank and got a pass off to Byron. We were now behind the Cardiff defence about 40m out. I was trying to get to Byron from left field, then Kingsley appeared in mid–field. Byron passed to him as Cardiff tried to scramble so Kingsley, ball in hand, with Cardiff’s defence chasing, I go back towards the left field space, screaming, ‘Give it, give it’ as the gap between him and me gets bigger as I try to keep the space. He started to wind his pass up from about 15 yards away, on the run. I looked at the covering defence and thought, ‘It’s now or never Kings!’ Now, for all his playing and leadership attributes, Kingsley sparing 15m passes is not top of those attributes! But, fair play the pass came right into my bread basket with enough time and space to out strip the defence. The S4C match day studio was at the cricket end of the ground with Brynmor sat inside, so as I crossed the line for us to seal the game I couldn’t resist putting my hand to my ear and look at Brynmor as if to gesture, ‘What were you saying?”.
The cup run gained Ebbw massive publicity as well as qualification for the Heineken Cup the same year.
“That was a big factor in attracting future quality players for other successes in the following seasons.”