Ebbw Vale were left to confront some harsh realities as they were denied a place in next season's prestigious Heineken Cup by this end-of-season defeat at Bridgend.
This was a poor-quality match played in glorious sunshine, which was some compensation and made the afternoon bearable, but not for Vale, whose season of high promise has disintegrated in the closing months.
Defeat means they drop below Pontypridd and are consigned to playing in Europe's secondary tournament, the Shield, which not only carries less prestige and lower income, but makes retaining and attracting players a more painstaking task. This was the final blow following a Welsh Cup semi-final defeat and an unfortunate loss to London Irish in Europe.
For Bridgend, this was a welcome victory to close a difficult season and stoke up the home crowd's enthusiasm for the future. Their ambitions in recent times have appeared rather modest, mainly due to financial concerns, but they have managed to stabilise their course. While languishing at the wrong end of the table their main priority was to survive, both as a going concern and as a team in the Premier League. The support of local businessman Leighton Samuel has assured their financial security.
I suspect their horizons will be extended next season, and the push will be on to bring competitive rugby back to the Brewery Fields. It is rumoured they will shortly unveil new signings, including Vale's talented Siua Taumalolo, the Cardiff wing Simon Hill, Harlequins' scrum-half Hugh Harries and the Llanelli utility back Craig Warlow.
Bridgend's first-half performance belied their lowly standing, with centres John Devereux and John Funnell threatening in midfield and the scrum-half Andrew Jenkins snapping away at the heels of his forwards, for whom the flanker Jamie Ringer was outstanding. Five minutes in and Devereux was held back illegally; fly-half Paul Williams kicked the penalty. Jason Strange replied with a couple of penalties for the visitors.
Bridgend created difficulties throughout for the Ebbw Vale line-out and from one steal Devereux was again nearly over only for Williams to miss the easy penalty, although he made amends minutes later.
After failing miserably to breach the Ebbw Vale try-line from close range, Bridgend claimed the only try of the match spectacularly from their own goal-line. Ringer covered most of the distance, featuring twice in a move culminating in Devereux plunging over at the posts. Williams converted.
Ebbw Vale's cause was not helped when their international flanker Nathan Budgett was sent off for verbal abuse of the referee, but Bridgend failed to capitalise and were depleted themselves when the impressive Devereux hobbled off with a nasty knee injury. Strange in fact narrowed the gap with two penalties, but the Bridgend defence held out.
Bridgend: D Jones; G Jones, J Devereux (G Cull, 52), J Funnell, O Thomas; P Williams, A Jenkins; A Griffiths, C Ferris (A Joy, 47), T Tamapoea (O Ford, 68), P Clapham, C Stephens, M Molitika, J Ringer (D Hodges, 73), O Lloyd (capt).
Ebbw Vale: J Williams; R Shorney (S Conner, 70), S Taumalolo, J Hawker, A Wagstaff; J Strange, R Smith (G Easterby, 40); A Phillips (I Thomas, 64), L Phillips, D Penisini (A Metcalfe, 30), G Llewellyn (D Jones, 64), K Faletau, N Budgett, B Clark (G Green, 40), M Jones (capt).
Referee: N Whitehouse (Swansea).
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