Connor's Vale of sunshine

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The Independent Online

In the week of Six Nations hysteria, this was Welsh club rugby at its brilliant best. It was also a case of Ebbw Vale scrum-half Richard Smith at his imperious best, ably backed up by half-back partner Shaun Connor, who notched 32 points.

If domestic English rugby appears intent on paddling its own little insular course, perhaps a sterner testing ground such as the hotbeds of Welsh rugby would prepare them more adequately in their search for greater international success.

The first half was riveting, played at energy-sapping pace, under a scorching sun, which perhaps explains why the best action and most of the points came during this period.

Ebbw Vale and Pontypridd may be separated by a valley or two, but neither team wants to be separated from the big boys of Welsh rugby, and neither will be content to be consigned as also-rans, struggling to retain players who they discover, nurture and develop.

The portents for both clubs this year were initially bleak, but with only a month of the season to go Ebbw Vale find themselves second in the table, hosting London Irish in the quarter-final of the European Shield and facing Llanelli in the semi-final of the Welsh Cup. Pontypridd are third in the league and have an appointment with Swansea in the other Welsh Cup semi. They've also helped the national cause with Geraint Lewis, Nathan Budgett, Richard Smith and Ian Gough.

Cardiff, at present with a stack of home games in hand, appear strong favourites for the Welsh/Scottish league title. Defeat here meant curtains for Pontypridd in their search for league glory.

The key to Ebbw's bright opening was international scrum-half Smith, as his break in the opening minute led to Connor's penalty, and from the restart his towering box-kick was expertly plucked from the air by wing Rhys Shorney who scored in the corner.

Pontypridd's response was immediate as fly-half Lee Jarvis, who had a miserable afternoon, led a sparkling counter-attack from his own line that resulted in the wing John Colderley sprinting in.

The action was compelling, if somewhat frenetic at times, and if Smith had been the creator early on he was soon to be finishing off a powerful drive by his forwards to cross at the posts for Connor to convert.

The usually reliable Jarvis had missed four kicks at goal and his misery increased when Connor charged down his attacking kick to regather and cross unopposed. Jarvis partly redeemed himself when he converted a Brett Davey score, and followed this up by squeezing over himself for a try. Shorney claimed his second try, brilliantly converted by Connor to bring the curtains down on a breathtaking first half.

The second period could not possibly match the first and Ebbw secured victory with a virtuoso scoring performance from Connor, who claimed two drop goals, a penalty goal and a converted try with Pontypridd's response a penalty try.

Ebbw Vale: J Williams; R Shorney, S Taumalolo, J Hawker, A Wagstaff (S John, 72); S Connor, R Smith (G Easterby, 76), I Thomas; L Phillips (A Peacock, 70), A Metcalfe (D Pencini, 62), G Llewellyn, K Faletau, N Budgett, B Clark (P Williams, 72), M Jones (capt).

Pontypridd: B Davey; G Wyatt, S Parker, J Lewis, J Colderley; L Jarvis, P John (capt); C Loader, A Lamerton, S Cronk (N Tau, 30), I Gough (W James, 66), R Sidoli, G Lewis, R Field, D McIntosh (J McAchek, 68).

Referee: R Davies (Swansea)