Rugby Union: Vale's pace unequal to Hayward's match-winning genius

Ebbw Vale 23 Bridgend 20
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ebbw Vale 23 Bridgend 20

BYRON HAYWARD is very much in the running for the Welsh outside-half role this season and he did his chances of beating Neil Jenkins to the job by conjuring up a match-winning moment of genius three minutes into injury time.

Not that everything the acting home skipper did turned to gold. Moments before he snatched victory he had been guilty of a bad clearance that had been turned into a try by Bridgend.

However, he was quick to make amends. David Llewellyn, his half-back partner, led a last-gasp charge to the edge of the Bridgend 22, Richie Collins took over at scrum-half and Hayward called for a deep pass when the ball emerged.

The situation called for something special and the man who marked his Welsh debut as a replacement full-back with a hat-trick of tries against Zimbabwe in the summer found the perfect solution for his side with a wide-angled, 40-metre drop goal.

You could hear the sighs of relief from the home fans as the ball dropped over the bar. This was a game their side had dominated, yet looked destined not to win when Chris Stephens, the Bridgend captain, ran in his try five minutes from time.

Not that there was any great cause for celebration. Ebbw Vale might have been the most improved side in Wales last season, and they might boast an unprecedented seven internationals in their squad, but they are well off the pace that will confront them when they make their debut in the European Cup later this month.

On their last venture into Europe, in the secondary European Conference tournament, they were beaten by 90 points by Begles-Bordeaux. On 19 September they kick-off their Cup campaign at Toulouse. At least it will give everyone at the club a chance to assess the qualities of the side more accurately. In Wales, the real testing games are few and far between.

Bridgend, who just managed to stave off relegation last season, might have found themselves on top of the table after the opening round of matches, but they are very much one of the lower half of the eight clubs in the Premier Division.

They will play in the European Shield competition this season and kick- off at home against Agen.

They will not find the Frenchmen as obliging as Ebbw Vale were in this match and will need a huge improvement to avert disaster.

Ebbw Vale: Try Llewellyn; Penalties Hayward 5; Drop goal Hayward. Bridgend: Try Stephens; Penalties Cull 5.

Ebbw Vale: J Strange; A Harries, G Williams, J Funnell, L Woodard (D Manley, 52); B Hayward (capt), D Llewellyn; A Phillips, L Phillips, A Metcalfe (G Mason, 69), C Billen, K Faletau, M Spiller (G Green, 60), R Collins, M Jones.

Bridgend: G Cull; P Roberts, S Winn, G Jones, D Jones; A Durston, B Roach; L Manning, G Thomas (A Joy, 63), D Francis (J White, 51), S Ford, C Stephens (capt), C Davies, P Thomas, S Pearce (A Williams, 51).

Referee: G Simmonds (Cardiff).