“2-0, I can’t quite get used to that as a scoreline,” one spectator commented, just after Ethan Davies’s early penalty gave Cross Keys the lead. Nobody could have known then just how vital that kick was to prove to his team.
Mathew Williams, playing his 250th game for the Steelmen, led them out at the start of the game to a huge round of applause. To be honest, it was virtually the only thing the home supporters had to applaud until 5 minutes before half time, as Keys dominated every aspect of play, and should probably have been out of sight. That they were only 10-0 up – a try by the ever prominent Scott Andrews, converted by Davies to add to that penalty – was largely because of some resolute defending by Ebbw but also because Keys made some mistakes. One such led to Ebbw’s try; the impressive Leon Brown lost the ball in the Ebbw 22 and the Steelmen went wide, with Adam Jones, David Williams and Ryan Gardner combining slickly for Gardner to finish a 90m move. Iain Smerdon converted and, just before half time, saw a long penalty fall short, meaning that Ebbw went in just two points behind Keys at 8-10.
The start of the second period belonged to Keys, as former Ebbw fly half Ethan Davies, in the unaccustomed 15 jersey, added 16 points to his team’s total with two converted tries. The second came from an attacking position for Ebbw just outside the Keys 22 but, as happened all too frequently, the Steelmen failed to win their own lineout and Keys broke out through hooker Darren Hughes. Davies ran good support to cross and his extras made the score 26-8.
All credit to Ebbw, the fresh legs off the bench started to attack Keys as their big pack tired. Ryan Gardner scored his second, showing lovely change of direction and genuine pace, and Chris Levesley got his first touchdown for the club after excellent work in midfield by Luke Crocker and Iain Smerdon. Smerdon’s accurate conversions took the score to 24-26, but time ran out and it was the visitors who took the spoils, deservedly so, and thanks to that 2-pointer at the start of the match.
There were some plus points for Ebbw: the return of Adam Jones, the performance of Ethan Doyle, Ryan Gardner’s brace of tries and all round work ethic. Mention too of David Williams and Polu Uhi’s mid-air collision – it’s not often Polu comes off second (thankfully he was back on his feet pretty quickly!) There are things to work on, too, like running the line-out in the absence of Ashley Sweet, and bossing the breakdown. We know the players can do it, and we’ve seen them bounce back before… Parc-y-Scarlets will be a great place for them, and its prodigal son Nigel Davies, to show they can do it again.