Rugby Union: Ebbw Vale confident of a place in history

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The Independent Online
A SEASON of massive discontent for Welsh rugby will finally close at Bristol's Ashton Gate with Ebbw Vale trying to make it a hat-trick of wins over Llanelli to take the Swalec Cup for the first time today.

It is a classic case of the hungry underdogs against the club who have been there, done it all and are expected to win the trophy for the 10th time in 27 years.

But, just as nobody could have predicted the mayhem the game in Wales has had to suffer since the season kicked-off on 16 August, so picking a winner in the final is a difficult task.

One of the biggest bonuses for Llanelli should be their experience, yet only five of their side have played in a final before - Nigel Davies, Wayne Proctor, Rupert Moon, Neil Boobyer and Iwan Jones - and three players have represented Wales this season - Proctor, Boobyer and Mike Voyle.

As for Ebbw, they have three players who have reached the final before - Richie Collins, Mark Jones and Jon Funnell - and three who have played international rugby this season - the skipper Kingsley Jones for Wales and Siua Taumololo and Kuli Faletau with Tonga.

No wonder, then, that the ebullient Jones believes his side can pick up the biggest prize in their 100-year history. "I don't think there is anything Llanelli can do if we play to our potential. No one can beat Ebbw Vale if we are at our best," he said.

"We've reached the final by beating three Premier Division teams, including both of last season's finalists, and it would be awful if we threw it all away at the final hurdle. We have taken the tough route to this final and we know that on merit we deserve to win it. The players also know, though, that it is a one-off occasion and we still have to go out and play to our best.

"Every game we have lost this season we deserved to lose. We lost to Cardiff in the League because we thought we had arrived and we went down to Neath because our eyes were on the Cup final. This is no flash in the pan and I don't think there is a danger of us freezing on the big day. We have experienced players who have figured in Cup finals before, Tongan internationals who have played at Ellis Park and Loftus Versveldt in South Africa and players like myself, Byron Hayward and David Llewellyn who have been involved with Welsh teams this season."

It is a tough one to call and, heaven knows, the Welsh rugby public need a high-class, exciting spectacle to end their season. Winning the cup is one thing, but what Llanelli and Ebbw Vale are charged with doing is washing away the bitter taste of record-breaking Five Nations defeats, internecine wrangling between the leading clubs and the Welsh Rugby Union, the loss of one coach and the farcical non-appointment of another and the tragic injury to the Welsh captain Gwyn Jones.

It promises to be an intriguing match, but any feelgood factor promises to be shortlived as tomorrow the 221 Welsh clubs will be attending a Special General Meeting to discuss possibly excluding Cardiff from membership and what shape the lower divisions will take next season.