Thomas the engine to drive Vale into last eight

Ebbw Vale 20 Neath 10
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The Independent Online

In the only all Premier Division encounyter of the seventh round of the Principality Cup, Ebbw Vale, with the greater cohesion, direction and a well thought-out game plan, out-manoeuvred Neath to progress into the quarter-finals.

The home front row of Iestyn Thomas, Leyton Phillips and Martin Jones were effervescent and outstanding with ball in hand and laid the foundation for victory along with a superb performance at No 8 from the talented Will Thomas. They also made more effective use of the gale-force wind, with a miserly defence not allowing the visitors any scope to produce their normal brand of free-flowing rugby.

These two proud valley clubs have felt the hurt this season of being marginalised by the so-called glamour clubs of the Welsh scene. The "gang of six", spread along close to the M4 corridor, have vociferously called for the dumping of Ebbw Vale and Neath on to the professional scrap heap. Indeed, neither clubare in a position to be profligate with their scant resources and, in relative terms to their wealthier – or should that be bigger-spending clubs – they appear to be quite lean and mean, both in their business dealings and in the way they play.

So this encounter up in the chilly Heads of the Valleys was never going to be a pretty affair, and both sides were prepared for a physical afternoon. Physical and fair it was for the most, apart from on the hour when Neath lost their flanker Alfie Moceleutu for reckless stamping, and effectively lost any chance of victory.

The line-out served as the launch pad for the majority of Neath's attacks and a well-orchestrated drive from the first throw-in gave the visitors the early penalty which their fly-half Lee Jarvis slotted.

On a sticky surface Ebbw Vale also adopted the driving maul as the favourite option, but 20 minutes in it was Neath's centre Dave Tiueti who broke through midfield, with flanker Richard Francis providing the link for scrum-half Patrick Horgan to crash over. Jarvis converted.

Vale persevered with their rousing game plan with the front-row trio revelling in the all-action contest. A concerted drive from them supported by the outstanding Thomas gave their fly-half Mark Meenan some space on the blind- side, which he used to nudge through a teasing kick to the corner. Neath's full-back Shaun Connor mistimed his kick and winger Aaron Takarangi pounced to open the home account. Gareth Cull converted superbly from the touchline and added a simple penalty just before the interval to level the scores and round off a workmanlike and useful 40 minutes.

Confident Vale took the lead for the first time eight minutes into the second half, again through the efforts of their rampaging forwards, when the industrious flanker Tyron Morris pounced for the try which Cull converted.

Ebbw's defence held firm after some late Neath pressure, and in the closing minutes a powerful 30-metre forward drive, encapsulating their efficient performance, gave Meenan the time and opportunity to calmly slot the decisive drop goal that confirmed and clinched Ebbw Vale's place in the last eight.

Ebbw Vale: M James; G Cull, R Shorney, P Matthews, A Takarangi; M Meenan, L Lane; I Thomas, L Phillips (capt), M Jones, O Booyse, N Edwards, K Tuiplilotu, W Thomas, T Morris. Replacements: C Billen for Booyse, 70; R Williams for Tuiplilotu, 59.

Neath: S Connor; A Bateman, J Storey, D Tiueti, S Williams; L Jarvis, P Horgan; D Jones, B Williams, A Millward, S Martin, G Llewellyn (capt), R Francis, A Moceleutu, B Sinkinson. Replacements: D Pugh for Connor, 77; S Jones for Williams, 48; J Flade for Llewellyn, 25; N Bonner-Evans for Francis, 40.

Referee: N Whitehouse.

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