Agen demolition gives valiant Vale a glimmer

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The Independent Online

Plucky Ebbw Vale kept alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the Parker Pen Shield with an astonising 59-10 demolition of once-mighty Agen at Eugene Cross Park yesterday.

Plucky Ebbw Vale kept alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the Parker Pen Shield with an astonising 59-10 demolition of once-mighty Agen at Eugene Cross Park yesterday.

The unfashionable Welsh side, who reached the last eight in the competition two seasons ago, ran in a total of nine tries after blowing away their French opponents with a 44-0 first-half blitz. The star of the show for the home team was their dependable full-back Gareth Cull, who claimed two of his side's tries as well as kicking four conversions and two penalties.

Despite their last-ditch heroics, Ebbw Vale look likely to be pipped by another French side, Montauban, for the quarter-final spot which is available to the winner of Pool One. Montauban, who entertained the Italian minnows Rovigo later yesterday, only needed to win that match to pull level and would then go through by virtue of outscoring Vale by two tries to one across the two games between the sides.

Ironically, if the determining factor had been the aggre-gate points scored by the sides in the two games, then Vale would have prevailed 31-24.

Sale confirmed that they would play their quarter-final at home when they thrashed Roma 62-17 in the Eternal City to make it six victories out of six in Pool Four.

Mel Deane, Apollo Perelini and Chris Jones each went over twice as the men from Cheshire helped themselves to 10 touchdowns in all.

Neath's hopes of overhauling Bristol in Pool Five nosedived unexpectedly in Italy as Viadana chalked up a 33-26 success, thanks to major contributions from their overseas players. Ryan Pickering crossed twice and also landed a penalty while Raymond McDonald contributed 15 points with his boot.

Caerphilly, who had no chyance of progressing from Pool Seven, restored Welsh pride in Italy with a thrilling 31-30 victory away to GRAN Parma. Their fly-half Luke Richards had a full house with a try, two cnversions, three penalties and a drop goal while their other two tries came from their Tongan scrum-half Sione Tuipulotu.

The Romanian fly-half Neculai Nichitean turned the tables on his visiting countrymen from Dinamo Bucharest in Pool Eight with a try, conversion and seven penalties as Bologna cruised to a 33-0 win.

Harlequins' limp Heineken Cup campaign ended on a hgh note as they edged Bridgend 29-25 in Pool Four at The Stoop. Tries from Ron Jewell, David Slemen, Chris Bell and Matt Moore were augmented by three Mark Mapletoft penalties for the hosts while Bridgend's scorers were Maama Molitika, Gareth Thjomas and Cerith Rees, who also kicked two conversions and a penalty.

Tony Gilbert, the All Blacks' former assistant coach, has been appointed as head coach of the new Scottish Borders team. The 58-year-old New Zealander has signed until May 2004 and will take charge of Scotland's third professional side from next season.

England faced a daunting quarter-final meeting with the favourites New Zealand in the IRB World Series Sevens tournament in Mar del Plata, Argentina, last night. Earlier, England beat Paraguay 45-0 and Chile 43-0 before losing their final group match against Australia, 12-7.

The South African prop Toks van der Linde, who made his international debut against Italy in 1995, may miss this year's Super 12 series because of a neck injury. The 32-year-old, who sees a specialist tomorrow, is the third Stormers (Western Province) loose-head to be injured at their pre-season camp in George, joining Robbie Kempson and Morne van der Merwe on the front row casualty list.