Ebbw played some of their best rugby of the season so far in this rousing defeat of the Welsh All Blacks. After a week of snow and frost, the milder air of Friday and the magnificent efforts of the ground staff meant that the sides were treated to an excellent surface – a little soft on top but perfect for running rugby.
Ebbw kicked off towards the clubhouse, 15 minutes late as Mr Williams, the referee, had been caught up in traffic following accidents on the M4. After a brief episode of aerial ping-pong, Neath set up an excellent driving maul that took them into the Ebbw half and wing Alec Jenkins sped over to give his side the lead. Rhodri Cole converted. Ebbw hit back quickly, with Wes Cunliffe steaming through midfield, leaving would-be tacklers flailing. Although he was eventually stopped on the 22, his fellow backs moved the ball quickly left and Dan Haymond finished for the 5 points.
If the backs took the praise for Haymond’s try, it was the forwards who earned the second with a patient, well-marshalled Catch’n’Kynes, converted by Iain Smerdon, to make it 12-7.
Neath had been just about matching Ebbw in the scrums, but the Steelmen took firm control once ex-Ebbw tighthead Marc Jones limped off. It was scrum pressure that won Ebbw their third try just before half time when Neath buckled, Ebbw’s back row swooped and Owen WIlliams raced home. Smerdon converted superbly from wide out to make the score 19-7 at half time.
Neath were first on the board after the break when Rhodri Cole put over a penalty, and they kept the game in Vale territory, but another episode of scrummaging disruption set Carl Meyer off on a superb break that saw him burst tackles and power into Neath’s 22. When he was hauled down short, Neath infringed to kill the momentum (and might well have seen yellow another day) but Rhys Downes quickly tapped and went, feeding on to Wes Cunliffe who scored his team’s fourth, securing the bonus point.
As the game went on, Neath tried to pick themselves up and they put together some excellent passages of play; they certainly didn’t look like a team struggling at the wrong end of the table. After a series of rucks, with the forwards picking and driving, flanker Alun Jones scored their second try. Dafydd Howells converted and the visitors were on to a losing bonus and within a converted try of levelling the tie.
Ebbw were in no mood to cede supremacy though, and injected deadly pace into their game. Replacement tighthead Rob Sevenoaks forced his way over for a score to take it to 29-17, then came the try of the match as Carl Meyer made another scintillating break followng great work by Spencer Gibson, to free Wes Cunliffe who raced in and touched down between the posts. Debutant Dai Langdon converted and the Steelmen went back to the top of the table, with a 5-point, 36-17 win and the double over Neath.
Ebbw’s team was: Dan Haymond, Wes Cunliffe, Nathan Preece, Carl Meyer, Owen Williams; Iain Smerdon, Rhys Downes; John Lavender, Rhys Francis, Gethin Robinson; Damien Hudd (capt), Ashley Sweet; Cameron Regan, Ronny Kynes, Harrison Keddie. Replacements: Ross Jones, Mathew Williams, Rob Sevenoaks, Rhys Clarke, Spencer Gibson, Chris Thomas, David Langdon, Adam Jones.
- Ebbw – Tries: Dan Haymond, Ronny Kynes, Owen Williams, Wes Cunliffe (2), Rob Sevenoaks
- Cons: Iain Smerdon (2), Dai Langdon
- Neath – Tries: Alec Jenkins, Alun Jones
- Cons: Rhodri Cole, Dafydd Howells
- Pen: Rhodri Cole
Man of the Match: Rhys Francis