Ebbw Vale became the very first club to get into the last 16 of the Principality Cup when they overcame the determined, albeit fitful, challenge of the First Division Drovers at Church Bank. “Without playing particularly well we won,” said Ebbw Vale coach Mike Ruddock. “And winning brings confidence. I am still hopeful that Ebbw Vale will climb the league table in the near future. We were well in control in the first half only to let our foot off the pedal in the second half but full credit to Llandovery, I thought their commitment was huge after the break.”
The Welsh-Scottish League team underlined the difference in class that exists between the two divisions. They controlled the forward exchanges in the first half with a weightier aggression and ran behind with a crispness and sharpness that the home crowd could but not admire.
The return after injury of fly-half Shaun Connor considerably helped the Ebbw Vale cause. Connor has not yet found full fitness but his confident decision-making and swift distribution made him stand out, but he will be the first to thank the good early work of his pack. Skipper and veteran No 8 Mark Jones, prop Alun Phillips and lock Chay Billen always had that little bit of extra know-how that comes from playing professional rugby. And as hard as the Drovers pack tried in the shape of No 8 Dai Giles, and flankers Andy Powell and Chris Davies, they were never really able to impose their will on proceedings until a worthy last 10 minutes.
A crowd of 1,500 came with hopes of a cup upset but once Connor had steadied nerves with two penalties in the first quarter of an hour, there was only one side going to win. Lock Billen repeatedly punched holes in the midfield and it was the pace of wing Andrew Wagstaff that created a try for centre Rhys Shorney, converted by Connor. Ebbw Vale played with greater freedom with Connor and half-back partner Gareth Betts, a late replacement for flu victim Richard Smith, moving the ball quickly into space. Wagstaff appeared on the other wing to crash over for Vale’s second try which, with Connor’s wide out conversion, put the visitors into a 20-0 lead.
Llandovery were nothing but brave and although their line-out was never consistent, they did exert a lot of pressure just before half-time, and a magnificent individual run from broken play by the veteran Giles got the Drovers a deserved try.
After the break Llandovery changed scrum-halves and the speed of Jamie Roberts began to give their game more fluidity. Connor, however, kept sniping and probing and although he missed a straight penalty Ebbw Vale increased their lead when Wagstaff intercepted a pass to race in from 50 yards for a converted try.
Llandovery simply would not give in and their forwards managed to find an extra gear, much to the surprise of Ebbw Vale. Wing Tracy Lewis went on a long gallop before being hauled down deep inside the Vale 22. To their credit the Drovers’ pack dominated the late exchanges without being able to get over the line for the try that their efforts deserved.