It seems unthinkable that a clear, one-sided victory over one of the Premiership’s traditional giants should be greeted with anything other than rapturous delight, but, at the end of Ebbw’s comprehensive 22-0 win over Neath, there was an element of disappointment. Some complained about late opportunities squandered, that would have brought a fourth try and a bonus point, but that was harsh because, with probably 80% of the possession and territory throughout, Ebbw should have put it all to bed much sooner.
From the off, Ebbw’s superb pack put the Blacks under huge forward pressure but it took 20 minutes before this was converted to points as a combination of errors and infringements took the pace and momentum away from the Steelmen. Eventually, though, right winger Steffan Jones was on hand to finish a cross field move, and Iain Smerdon’s conversion made the score 8-0, which is how it stayed until the interval. This was scant reward for all Ebbw’s dominance, though all praise to Neath who defended the driving lineout better than anyone has managed in recent years.
The second half was very similar, with Ebbw pressing and Neath tiring and conceding a string of penalties. After several warnings. Mr Hennessy’s patience snapped and Dean Howells went to the bin. Shortly afterwards, Ebbw opted for a penalty kick at goal, probably mindful that they were only a score ahead. Smerdon’s effort, from fully 45 metres, fell just short. Three minutes later, Ebbw’s backs sparked into life and a brilliant move saw Man of the Match Steffan Jones give and take the ball to cross for his second. Smerdon converted for 16-0.
With Ebbw now throwing everything at Neath, the visitors conceded another yellow card. This was followed by the arrival of the curse of the modern game, passive scrums. It appeared that the Blacks had only two front row forwards on their bench. Anyway, Ebbw opted to go for the catch’n’drive, and replacement Joe Franchi played a key part, hitting his jumper then claiming the touchdown as the Steelmen’s driving lineout finally worked. There were minutes only left, and Ebbw tried hard for the bonus point try. Twice there was an overlap, twice it was spurned but, in reality, it should have been settled long before that.
So, 3 from 3; 3rd in the league; 14 points and 2 tries conceded so far; the forwards dominant; but such are the expectations at Ebbw these days that nobody will be under any illusions that a much better performance will be essential at Llandovery next Saturday.