Steelmen a step closer to being crowned champions – Newbridge 7 Ebbw Vale 42
EBBW Vale took a giant step towards securing the inaugural Swalec Championship with victory against Newbridge at the Welfare Ground last night.
The Steelmen, who were back-to-back winners of Division One East, moved ten points clear at the top of the table thanks to a bonus point victory against their Gwent rivals.
The March 30 clash with second-placed Bargoed at Eugene Cross Park still promises to be a humdinger but Ebbw safely negotiated a banana skin last night.
Given that they have slipped up just once this season – at Whitland in October – it will be tough to reel the Steelmen in.
They will make all the right noises about taking each week as it comes and not getting ahead of themselves but they have too much firepower for the rest of the division and silverware is in sight even though they have nine games left to play.
Not that they had it all their own way last night.
In fact, the scoreboard didn’t do justice to a plucky performance by the hosts.
Matches between the ‘Bridge and Vale have been tight tussles in recent seasons, notably when the Pigs prevented Ebbw from winning the title on their own patch with an abrasive performance last season.
But this campaign has been a different story with ‘Bridge beaten home and away in the Championship and falling at the first hurdle when the sides, both beaten semi-finalists in 2011/12, met in the Swalec Cup. Last night their woes were down to being outmuscled by a beefy Vale side that possessed too many dangerous strike runners.
An open game saw Ebbw stretch away thanks to a pair of converted tries scored by their fly-half and inside centre – yet the 14-0 lead was earned by grunt up front.
The Steelmen are a well-drilled side that do the nuts and bolts well and their impressive set piece allowed Josh Lewis to go over following a pair of lineout drives that had made 50 metres and then Adam Jones finished off a lovely move following a powerful scrum.
One feared for ‘Bridge but they responded with some nice rugby only to be let down by some white line fever and frustratingly high error count in the Vale 22.
A 14-0 scoreline would have been harsh at half-time but instead it was a cruel 21-0 thanks to a powerful finish by centre Polu Uhi.
And it was job done for the leaders just three minutes into the second half when Jones went over for his second after the hosts were unable to live with Uhi. Further scores came from wing Wes Cunliffe and Charlie Simpson but it was far from the perfect performance from the Steelmen.
But with Bargoed and a Swalec quarter-final with Premiership top dogs Pontypridd to come this month, head coach Jason Strange will relish drumming home the need to find a few more gears.
As for ‘Bridge, ignore a scoreboard that didn’t give a fair reflection of the game despite flanker Josh Skinner’s late try; they will enjoy a good run-in if they reproduce last night’s performance against lesser opponents.
Newbridge scorers: try – J Skinner, N Burnett.
Ebbw Vale scorers: tries – J Lewis, A Jones (2), P Uhi, C Simpson; conversions – J Lewis (4), D Haymond, C Simpson.