LLANDOVERY 17 EBBW VALE 15
This top of the table clash went narrowly the way of Premiership leaders Llandovery who exacted revenge for their one sole defeat of the campaign, a 25-17 loss to the Steelmen back in October writes Huw S Thomas.
The Drovers racked up a 14th won from 15 games to maintain their momentum in the face of a resolute challenge from second placed Ebbw.
They are now five points ahead of the Gwent side but have two games in hand as the season goes into its exciting stage.
They had to fight for their lives as Ebbw enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and territory, only to be thwarted by a combination of great Llandovery defence to a man and an inability to finish off a multitude of chances.
The Ebbw forwards drove for the home line on a number of occasions in the first half only to be inaccurate in their finishing and although the pack forced a penalty try after the break, victory slipped from their grasp in the last 10 minutes.
Fly half Ethan Lloyd will have nightmares with his goal kicking in the frenetic and often fractious finale when referee Gareth Newman had his hands full in keeping the peace.
He had given four yellows, two to the Llandovery duo of props Jamie Hughes and Berian Watkins and two to Ebbw – lock Dylan Bartlett and full back Morgan Richards and it could have been more in the midst of a number of flare ups between the packs.
Hughes late tackled Lloyd, Watkins brought a maul down, Bartlett stopped a tap penalty by Lee Rees and Richards conceded a penalty try for holding back Aaron Warren in a tale of foul play.
Lloyd’s first chance to win the game was a straight penalty from 22 metres which came back off the upright and then the fly half was wide with a 40 metre penalty near the end.
There was anguish on the face of Jason Strange, joy on that of winning coach Euros Evans.
“We were under the pump for long periods in sticky conditions that did not suit us but we won without playing well.” said Evans.
“They gave us little room to play and we had to grind out a win which will do much for us psychologically before we meet them again in the semi final of the WRU Cup on March 2 at Aberavon.”
“And we could well see each other in the end of season play offs!”
Despite being under pressure in tight and loose, Llandovery led 14-3 at the break thanks to a close range try from hooker Craig Thomas and a penalty try for an illegal tackle on wing Aaron Warren.
Thomas smuggled through after a trade mark close range line out surge and Warren was favourite to win a kick chase when hampered by full back Morgan Richards.
Full back Jack Maynard’s penalty – to bring up his century of points in Cup and league – stretched the lead and that they were14 points clear with limited possession says a lot about Llandovery commitment and fighting spirit against a well drilled and tough pack.
Lock Jack Jones’s leadership was key and he had huge support from the back row of Osian Davies, Joe Powell and Stuart Worrall whilst combative lock Chris Long had his best game for the Drovers since signing from Llanelli.
60th minute replacement Simon Hart also proved his footballing skills and worth at No 8 with some vital runs and close range work.
Behind the scrum too, there was bravery and continuing industry from little Lee Rees, Rhodri Jones and Jack Maynard as the pressure on the Drovers increased.
The Steelmen rallied with a penalty try of their own after Llandovery had pulled down a driving maul and then a touchdown from lock Dylan Bartlett after his pack had forced defenders over the try line.
Crucially, Lloyd who had kicked an early first half penalty failed with the conversion to tie the scores 17-17 and then failed to convert the pack’s dominance into winning points.
With abrasive skipper Jack Jones driving his forwards on, the Drovers held off the persistent Ebbw challenge to gain the hardest earned victory of the season.
The Drovers do not have an easy run in as seven of their remaining nine games are away from home,
They host Swansea and Bridgend but must travel to RGC, Swansea, Cardiff, Pontypool, Neath, Newport and Aberavon,
Their position at the top of the table is healthy but Newport, Cardiff and Pontypool will really test their mettle to the full in the race for the play off spots.
*** The Drovers make the long trip to Colwyn Bay on Saturday to take on RGC at Stadiwm CSM
Tries: C Thomas, pen try
Con: J Maynard
Pen: J Maynard
Tries: Pen try, D Bartlett
Pen: E Lloyd
Llandovery: J Maynard; J Davies, I Phillips, R Jones, Aaron Warren; I Hughes, L Rees; J Hughes, C Thomas, B Watkins, J Jones (capt), C Long , O Davies, J Powell, S Worrall
Replacements: D Dallavalle, T Davies, L Green, N Hart, J Evans, R Harris, K Abraham, D Land
Ebbw Vale: M Richards;E Bowden, E Phillips, D Franchi,J Thomas; E Lloyd, J Evans; M Davies, R Francis (capt), A Court, D Bartlett, , C Gregory, K McIntyre, A Howes, B Main
Replacements: I Morris, L Garrett, H Drone, C Regan, R Harries, K Meek, A Jiwa-Waji