Strange days indeed for victorious Vale

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The Independent Online

Llanelli MAY have lost the match but the referee, Nigel Williams, certainly lost the plot. A dire affair, where skill and entertainment were at a premium, degenerated into farce of Brian Rix dimensions. Scott Quinnell, the Wales No 8, had been on the field for only 15 minutes before Williams flashed him the red card. The offence? Nobody seemed to know, which was also the case two minutes later when the Ebbw Vale prop, Iestyn Thomas, was treated in a similar fashion. Apparently the referee, following meetings with officialdom during the week, was trying to stamp out professional fouls, but many more displays like this could surely stamp out professional rugby.

Llanelli MAY have lost the match but the referee, Nigel Williams, certainly lost the plot. A dire affair, where skill and entertainment were at a premium, degenerated into farce of Brian Rix dimensions. Scott Quinnell, the Wales No 8, had been on the field for only 15 minutes before Williams flashed him the red card. The offence? Nobody seemed to know, which was also the case two minutes later when the Ebbw Vale prop, Iestyn Thomas, was treated in a similar fashion. Apparently the referee, following meetings with officialdom during the week, was trying to stamp out professional fouls, but many more displays like this could surely stamp out professional rugby.

For the record, Jason Strange won the match for Ebbw Vale with a superb display of goal kicking in the second half, ending up with five penalty goals.

Llanelli, as usual, received a warm reception on a perishingly cold afternoon. Ebbw Vale, it is said, is an overcoat colder than the warmer sanctuary of the coastal belt of South Wales, but the welcome at Eugene Cross Park is always special. But that, perhaps, explains Ebbw Vale's unpredictability. Even their abject away performances appear to be on the mend, and their victory at Toulon in the European Shield last Saturday makes them favourites to progress in that competition.

Llanelli, of the more glamorous image, travelled eastwards, having made five changes following their triumph against French opposition last weekend. And they paid for their complacency, or perhaps, as Ebbw Vale would suggest, for their arrogance.

Ebbw Vale were quickly into their stride, due partly to their ferocious commitment at loose rucks, and to some degree because of Llanelli's poor communication and ball retention. They opened the scoring after 10 minutes, courtesy of an almighty blunder on the Llanelli put-in at a scrum on half way. Winger Stephen John pounced on the loose ball and sprinted an unchallenged 50 metres to score in the corner. Stephen Jones replied for Llanelli with a 30-metre penalty following Mark Jones's departure to the sin bin. If this was not deemed punishment enough, Llanelli, just before the Ebbw Vale captain's return, claimed a pushover try through their No 8, Hywel Jenkins. Flyhalf Jones converted.

Ebbw Vale's impressive start flattered to deceive, however, as apart from John's try, Llanelli were the only team looking able to create any chances behind the scrum. Neil Boobyer, Matt Cardey and Patrick Horgan probed for openings while there was a huge battle between both back rows.

Jones completed the first-half scoring with a 45 metre penalty, and added a similar score after the re-start. Strange answered for Ebbw with a pair of his own.

The game came to life in the second half - but not for rugby reasons, as cheap shots became more common than defence-breaking passes or sleight of hand. Strange's third penalty drew a response from the Llanelli management when internationals Quinnell, John Davies and prop Phil Booth warmed up ready to reinforce the troops. However, Strange spoilt that plan with another penalty to nudge the Vale ahead.

Quinnell charged with his first touch and won a penalty that regained Llanelli's lead, assuring an exciting finish. His arrival initially raised the tempo and also the quality of the play before the referee's reproach. Replacement Davies was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul and Strange slotted the penalty from four metres inside his own half to decide the match.

Ebbw Vale: J Williams; S John, S Taumalolo, J Hawker, A Wagstaff; J Strange, R Smith (G Easterby, 40); I Thomas, L Phillips, A Metcalfe, G Llewellyn, L Banks, N Budgett, B Clark, M Jones (capt).

Llanelli: M Cardey; W Proctor, N Boobyer, S Finau, G Evans; S Jones, P Horgan; S Emms (P Booth, 60), R McBryde (capt), M Madden (J Davies, 60), V Cooper, C Gillies, S Easterby, H Jenkins (S Quinnell, 60), I Boobyer.

Referee: N Williams (Bryncoch).

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