Ebbw Vale found the full time professionals of London Welsh just too hot to handle at Eugene Cross Park on Friday night, in the first match between the clubs in 46 years. Although they were relegated from the English Premiership at the end of last season, the Exiles proved that bit quicker, slicker and stronger than the Steelmen who, despite the 22-7 score line, were in no way disgraced. In fact, the first half was extremely tight, and Welsh’s greater share of the possession was negated by excellent first-up tackling, Dom Franchi, Jordan Howells and Damien Hudd being particularly prominent. The only score came on 33 minutes when prop Nathan Trevett burrowed over for a try from a line out drive when Ebbw were down to 14 men.
Although billed as a ‘friendly’, there were several incidents of tetchiness amongst the forwards and the half ended with an extended wrestling match that the referee felt best dealt with by blowing for the interval.
Both sides made changes at, or just after, half time and, as often happens, this seemed to open the game up. It suited the visitors’ attacking style and they ran in excellent tries from Nic Reynolds and Alan Awcock to race to a 17-0 lead. Ebbw’s new-look pack found new resolve and the home side were able to keep Welsh under sustained pressure, resulting – at long last, some felt – in a yellow card. This was capitalised on when Ethan Doyle, who put in a great shift at number 8, scored. Dai Langdon converted and it was 17-7. Unfortunately, it was Doyle who, attempting to attack from the base of the scrum, had his pass intercepted by speedster Nic Reynolds who had an easy run in from 55m, so that the game finished 22-7 to London Welsh.
The Steelmen’s new coaching team will have learned a great deal from this experience and will be keen to see some of last season’s key performers returning from injury as soon as possible. The next big challenge will come at Bridgend next Saturday afternoon when it’ll be all about Premiership points and the start of the fight for the title!