Following a week of rain, the Cross Keys ground staff produced as good a surface as possible for the two Heads of the Valleys clubs to play out an intense, enthralling encounter that could easily have gone either way.
After a cagey start with the packs testing each other out, Merthyr’s Nathan Trevett conceded a penalty that Dai Langdon sent wide, before winning one for Merthyr as Ebbw held on on the ground. Matthew Jarvis made no mistake to put the Ironmen 3-0 up.
Langdon made amends with his second attempt after Lance Randall was pulled down at a line out.
Merthyr began to threaten but Ebbw’s defence was impenetrable and great work at the breakdown by Lance Randall won a penalty to give the Steelmen relief.
A deliberate knock-on after 25 minutes gave Langdon a long shot that bounced over off the cross bar.
A kick through from what appeared to be a knock on gave Merthyr a chance to attack but superb cover by Dom Franchi led to an infringement that gave Langdon the opportunity to clear again. Back came Merthyr, but Jarvis missed the penalty opportunity that his captain Craig Locke had won with good work at the ruck. The half time score was 6-3 to the Steelmen, and both sides knew the game was there to be taken.
Playing down the slope, Merthyr had the option of pinning Ebbw back through the big kicking of Richard Powell and Matthew Jarvis, but they did not play the tactic as successfully as Langdon and Haymond had done in the first half. Powell’s replacement, Gareth Davies, looked to vary the game and his clean break split Ebbw’s defence only for the wonderful Cameron Reagan to pick off his pass to Osian Davies and clear the ball 40 metres to touch.
Merthyr took the lead with 10 minutes to go. Dan Haymond, superb all game, executed a brilliant one-handed pick up to thwart an attack, but his inside pass was chased down by Justin James who touched down. Davies’s conversion gave Merthyr a 10-6 lead.
There was one final chance for Ebbw as Toby Fricker raced out of his own 22 over the half way line before kicking ahead, only to be penalised for not allowing the covering defender to get to his feet.
It ended at 10-6, with Ebbw’s players taking the plaudits from their massive support, and Merthyr’s players and coaches looking relieved and obviously delighted to be heading to the final.
There’s no point in trying to single out Ebbw star performers because all 16 who took to the field played their hearts out in what was a thrilling, heavy weight contest.
Dan Haymond, Toby Fricker, James Lewis, Dom Franchi, Steff Thomas; Dai Langdon, Dai Jones; Ross Jones, Rhys Francis, Rob Sevenoaks; Kristian Parker, Lance Randall; Cameron Reagan, Ronny Kynes (capt), Lewis Young.
Bench: Mathew Williams, Joel Harries, Curtis Hicks, Jonathan Davies, Joe Franchi, Sam Ireland, Srdan Makjic, Lewis Dennett.