Rugby Union: Maullin power forces safe passage

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Swansea 42

Ebbw Vale 14

IT WAS more a matter of pride than revenge in the end. Sure, Swansea had been hurt, literally, during their Swalec Cup defeat at Ebbw Vale last season, but on the day that some semblance of order appeared to be creeping back into club rugby in the northern hemisphere with the return of the English clubs to the European fold, losing this match would have been little short of a disaster for the home side.

With the news that Wales will have five teams in next season's fully- integrated European Rugby Cup still doing the rounds in the stands, Swansea had to put on a good show against one of Welsh rugby's "official" top four. Even though it is good news for all that the English clubs have agreed to return to Europe next season, the mathematics involved in Wales finding five teams without another round of bitter battles will be tricky.

Swansea, along with Cardiff, have still to settle their differences with the Welsh Rugby Union after deciding this season to opt out of the domestic league programme and instead play the highly controversial friendlies against English clubs. A meeting with WRU officials in Cardiff tomorrow should finally bring about peace within the game in Wales, yet still the arguments will rage about how to make up the five teams for Europe next season.

Swansea and Cardiff believe they should be among those teams, yet the WRU has promised four places to the top four teams in the Premier Division. By winning the Swalec Cup, either Swansea or Cardiff could strengthen their hand.

That's why victory was vital in this game, although the little matter of settling a score following last season's 27-13 defeat by Vale at the same stage of last year's competition was also an influence on Scott Gibbs' pre-match team talk.

Vale arrived with a rugged pack that made life difficult for their hosts from start to finish. Away from their beloved Eugene Cross Park, they lacked the same conviction as last year. Three penalties from the ever reliable boot of Arwel Thomas got Swansea off to a solid start in the opening quarter and then he added the conversion to a try on the stroke of half-time by the giant South African lock Tyrone Maullin.

It was a well-worked move that created the space for Maullin to show off his sprinting prowess as Garin Jenkins and Colin Charvis peeled around the tail of a line-out to create a hole in the Vale defence for Maullin to exploit.

It was that man Maullin who grabbed the second try 11 minutes after the break, this time from a metre out, and when Richard Rees sprinted clear three minutes later for a third try Swansea's passage into the semi- finals had been secured.

To their credit, Vale never gave up and their response to that Rees score was immediate. They secured the ball from the kick-off, created some space out wide for the full-back, Jonathan Williams, to exploit and he cleverly set the wing, Layton Olsen, clear on the outside of his opposite number to score a well-worked try.

Suitably hurt by Olsen's strike, his opposite number, the recently discarded Wales wing Matthew Robinson, quickly made amends. He struck twice in as many minutes to fudge any thoughts of a Vale revival and show the on-looking Wales team manager, David Pickering, that he still has something to offer.

It may not have been a vintage display by Swansea, but they have all the qualities and personnel needed to win the Cup again this season.

Swansea: D Weatherley; R Rees, M Taylor, S Gibbs (capt) (C Van Rensburg, 74), M Robinson; A Thomas (L Davies, 76), R Jones; D Morris, G Jenkins (C Wells, 76), B Evans (C Anthony, 71), T Maullin, P Arnold (J Griffiths, 63), P Moriarty, C Charvis (D Thomas, 71), L Jones.

Ebbw Vale: J Williams (R Jones, 77); A Harries, J Hawker, J Funnell, L Olsen; J Strange, D Llewellyn; A Phillips (I Thomas, 63), L Phillips (A Peacock, 74), A Metcalfe, L Banks (C Billen, 41), K Faletau (G Green, 50), N Budgett, R Collins, M Jones (capt).

Referee: N Williams (Bryncoch).