Swalec Cup quarter-final: Ebbw Vale 13 Llandovery 16
EBBW Vale will be replaying a catalogue of butchered chances in their minds until next season's return to the Premiership after being knocked out of the Swalec Cup by Llandovery.
The Championship champions-elect had the nudge on the Drovers up front for most of the afternoon yet it was the visitors that triumphed 16-13 at Eugene Cross Park to join Cross Keys, Aberavon and Pontypridd in the semi-finals.
There may have been some post-match grumblings about the officiating – and the Steelmen didn't quite get the reward that their scrummaging dominance deserved – but the game was not decided by Ben Whitehouse's whistle.
It was Ebbw's failure to take their chances and the frequency with which they turned over the ball in the Drovers' 22 that ensured a west Wales triumph.
Vale have won all 18 of their Championship games and if they reproduce Saturday's performance against Tata Steel then they will rack up plenty of tries and points.
But Premiership defences are not as porous; Llandovery stood firm against their driving lineout and were not crushed by the ball carrying of Damien Hudd, Ronny Kynes, Polu Uhi & Co.
It was only a consolation score by Lewis Young that prevented Jason Strange's men from being tryless for the first time since having to boot their way to victory against Cardiff Met in October 2012.
Defeat, something that the Steelmen have not experienced much of since their 2010 relegation from the top flight, will hurt and it is a third successive narrow cup disappointment.
But just like after losing to Keys on try count in 2012 and Ponty with the last kick in 2013, Strange felt that his charges could not have given any more.
"We executed our tactical approach but what we didn't do was take our chances," said the head coach. "We almost lost the game more than they won it.
"Three or four golden opportunities went begging, we should have been 15 points up at half-time and that came back to haunt us.
"The performance was decent and we weren't outplayed in any facet but we just have to be more clinical."
The Steelmen led 6-0 at the break but should have heading to their changing room with an even healthier advantage.
With the wind at their backs they bossed proceedings with the pack putting in a tremendous effort, forcing the Drovers to display admirable tenacity in defence.
Ebbw had their spells hammering away at the line and two gilt-edged chances – the first following a midfield burst by impressive flanker Gareth Rusby-Davies and the second after a dash down the left by Polu Uhi – but their finishers failed to finish.
A pair of penalties by fly-half Ian Smerdon was all that Vale could muster and their advantage was wiped out before the hour thanks to a penalty and drop goal by his opposite number James Garland.
The leveller came while the Drovers were down to 14 men after yet another scrummaging offence saw visiting hooker Luke Lewis yellow-carded for popping up.
But they made light of that disadvantage to take command thanks to a score that stemmed from yet another Ebbw turnover in Llandovery territory.
The ball was ripped from centre Carl Meyer and diminutive scrum-half Lee Rees started a 90-metre breakaway that was finished by replacement Tom Ball, who was only on because of the yellow card. Garland converted expertly and another penalty meant that the cup run was over.
However, there was still time for Ebbw to show spirit at the death with the charge led by replacement Spencer Gibson, a number eight from the Ben Morgan/Thomas Waldrom mould (and that's a complement) who shoulder perhaps have been introduced earlier.
They could have scrummed their way to a penalty try but instead it was replacement Young that finally crossed the whitewash from close range with the last play.
Ebbw Vale: T McAloon (W Hodnett 77), L Davies, D James, C Meyer (J Howells 77), P Uhi, I Smerdon, D Jones (C Thomas 77), R Jones (J Lavender 77), M Williams, R Sevenoaks, D Hudd (captain), A Sweet, G Rusby-Davies (L Young 77), R Kynes (S Gibson 76), C Regan.
Scorers: try – L Young; conversion – I Smerdon; penalties – I Smerdon (2).
Llandovery: M Evans, S Soul, R Jones, C Woodall, A Warren (L Evans 40), J Garland, L Rees, D Williams, L Lewis (T Ball 79), A Jones (D Howells 79), P Day, L Jones, R Bloomfield (R Catchpole 20), L Reynolds (T Ball 52-60), R Brooks.
Scorers: try – T Ball; conversion – J Garland; penalties – J Garland (3)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
Argus star man: Robert Sevenoaks
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