EBBW VALE 25 LLANDOVERY 17
Pre-match forecasts of a tight game between the top two sides in the Premiership were well founded writes Huw S Thomas.
It was just 14-14 at the break but then the Steelmen took the honours through their set piece dominance and particularly at the scrum where they forced the retreating Llandovery pack to concede a number of penalties.
This first defeat of the season sees the Drovers slip back to second place in the Premiership, just a point behind their conquerors and new leaders – Ebbw Vale.
The wet ball and pitch were not to Llandovery’s liking and the tight game that Ebbw played was better suited to the prevailing conditions.
“We are very disappointed to come away with nothing “said coach Euros Evans “after such a tight game which revolved around a few key moments and decisions.”
“But there were positives for us in seeing teenage players like centre Macs Page and hooker Harry Thomas perform well for a long period in the usual challenging Ebbw atmosphere.”
“The future is as important as the present and next year’s Elite Domestic Competition (EDC) demands that the focus in Welsh rugby at semi-professional level will be on preparation for the demands of life in professional rugby.”
The home forwards showed more zip in the open, were abrasive at the break down and with the slippery conditions hampering Llandovery efforts to handle, the writing was on the wall early on.
There were mistakes galore from both sides but the influence of the home half backs – Jon Evans and Evan Lloyd was also a crucial factor.
Ex-Dragon and Scarlet scrum half Evans invariably picked the right option and his young partner ran and kicked to good effect.
He made Ebbw’s first try by slipping markers to put wing Amir Jiwa-Walji over and also added five penalties, one from his own half – some feat in the persistent rain.
There were just two tries in the first half, Jiwa-Walji’s effort cancelled out by one from left wing Aaron Warren who picked up a difficult rolling ball to slide over wide out after good work from fly half Ioan Hughes.
Three penalties each from Lloyd and Llandovery full back Jack Maynard tied the scores 14-14.
Lloyd put his side ahead 17-14 before two yellow cards – one for each side – had an effect on the. game.
Ebbw lost full back Morgan Richards for not releasing in the tackle although it looked as if it had been wing Carrick McDonough who should have walked.
The home forwards not only resisted the ensuing Llandovery close range line out and drive that followed but they turned the ball over.
Maynard did draw the scores level again at 17-17 before the Drovers lost loose head prop Jamie Hughes to a harsh offside decision.
With replacement ex-Christ College back row Owen Conquer outstanding in the loose to add to the dynamism of Lewis Young and the Llandovery scrum replacements uncomfortable, the Steelmen took control in the latter stages.
Lloyd missed a sitter of a penalty but soon made amends with his fifth and a 20-17 lead
Maynard made a great cover tackle on McDonough but a five metre scrum gave the Ebbw forwards the chance to push for the line and let Conquer get the touchdown.
There were flashes of class from replacement centre Adam Warren but his breaks came to nothing and the game finished with the Drovers one point short of the losing bonus point that would have kept them top of the table.
The invariably wild, wet conditions at Eugene Cross Park, a big, aggressive pack of forwards with the soundest of set pieces and a good goal kicker posed their usual problems to Llandovery – “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
No excuses but Euros Evans’s men will be praying for fine weather come the return fixture on January 20!
*** The Drovers return to league action on October 21 when RGC are the visitors to Church Bank
Tries: A Jiwa-Walji, O Conquer
Pens:E Lloyd (5)
Tries: Aaron Warren
Pens: J Maynard (4)
Ebbw Vale: M Edwards; C McDonagh, E Phillips, D Franchi, A Jiwa-Walji; E Lloyd, J Evans; M Davies, R Francis (capt). H Drane, D Bartlett, J Malecki, C Regan, E Jenkins, L Young
Replacements: I Morris, L Darrett, A Court, C Gregory, O Conquer, R Harries, K Meek, G Williams, C Davies
Llandovery: J Maynard; H Doel, M Page, R Jones, Aaron Warren; I Hughes, L Rees (capt); J Hughes, H Thomas, B Watkins, J Jones (capt), J Powell, O Davies, J Evans, S Worrall
Replacements: W Caron-Lewis, L Phillips-Taylor, G Jones, C Long, N Hart, Adam Warren, J Davies, D Land