The Only Swalec Cup shock for Ebbw Vale after their success against Newport at Rodney Parade on Saturday was that the margin of victory was not even more convincing. The Division One East champions and leaders outscored their Premiership hosts by three tries to one and outplayed them in all facets of the game. It provided a new low for Newport. Only winless Tonmawr are beneath the Black and Ambers in the Premiership, and it has come to something when in January the only target remaining for them is to overhaul Gwent rivals Pontypool.
Meanwhile, Ebbw Vale are looking to retain their title and would love the chance to claim another big scalp at Eugene Cross Park in round three. They were superb on Saturday and played with guts, determination and pride in their jersey. When they carried the ball they did so with purpose and when they went into contact they looked after possession. Their pack did a sterling job while half-backs Gareth James and Dorian Jones controlled matters nicely, the latter easily winning the kicking battle.
There is a core of experience throughout the Ebbw line-up with a strong spine of hooker Mathew Williams, locks Damien Hudd and Ashley Sweet, back-rower Nicky Coughlin and centre Tristan Davies. They all played their part while Newport’s senior players simply didn’t perform. A big factor throughout the Black and Ambers’ woeful campaign has been the inability to get large numbers at training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The LV= Cup meant that Dragons call-ups disrupted them last week. It’s a worthy excuse but one that cannot mask some pretty serious shortcomings.
Sure, Ebbw Vale have grown as a team through continuity of selection and working together on the training paddock, but Newport seemed to lack desire and hunger. They went into contact as individuals, failed to finish off tackles, were beaten at the set piece and were a step behind from 1 to 15. Ebbw Vale were willing to fight for everything. The Steelmen led 11-6 at the break and they were good value for that advantage against their rudderless hosts.
Fly-half Dorian Jones booted the visitors into a fourth-minute lead and a raft of Newport mistakes – notably at a very shaky lineout – only served to increase the belief in the Vale ranks. Vale were not trying anything flash but they were also safe in the knowledge that they could handle what was thrown at them. The Steelmen just booted the ball long, saying ‘come on, then’ to Newport and in particular their former fly-half Gareth Bowen, who is minimal threat with ball in hand yet started at full-back.
Ebbw Vale were scenting blood and on 22 minutes turned down a very kickable shot at goal to go for the corner, a decision that was rewarded when prop Ross Jones was driven over from the lineout. Like a dog looking like their owner, it was a drive that a couple of years ago would have stemmed from a lineout take by their head coach Neil Edwards. Newport got on the scoreboard with a pair of Bowen penalties either side of another Jones three-pointer and the hosts were undoubtedly happy to be within a score as the teams headed to the changing-rooms after being outplayed.
Bowen and young fly-half Niall Martin switched positions at the break but there was no change in fortunes for the Black and Ambers. Just a minute had gone when yet more sloppy ball protection saw the ball find its way to impressive flanker Ronny Kynes, who put wing Wes Cunliffe clear. Jones added extras and was again on target with a 49th-minute penalty – at 21-6 the Vale addicts on the terrace were starting to believe a cup upset was imminent. And they didn’t have to wait long until their side struck another blow with superb interlinking releasing James down the right.
A neat converted try by Elliot Frewen after good hands by Scott Williams and Martin gave Newport hope but a familiar problem was to blight their late push. The raucous singing of Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough was booming out of the away changing-room afterwards. This season the Newport faithful have just about had enough.