Vale wary of ‘improving’ Pontypool insists Jason Strange
IT WAS a scrap for Premiership survival the last time that Ebbw Vale headed to Pontypool Park.
The hero on December 5, 2009, was Newport Gwent Dragons fly-half Shaun Connor, who scored the only try of a dour tussle in the mud to take the spoils for Pooler.
It gave them a lifeline and set them on their road to survival with the Steelmen the victims of their late season charge.
Since dropping out of the top flight, Ebbw have enjoyed happier times and are well placed to add the Championship crown to their back-to-back Division One East titles.
They are two behind fellow high-fliers Bargoed with a game in hand and head into today’s game on the back of a six-try drubbing of Division One West champs Tata Steel.
“It was a really good performance, especially as we hadn’t played for four weeks,” said head coach Jason Strange.
“We played some terrific rugby and scored some superb tries but our main aim is to improve week on week and that’s exactly what we are going to try and do at Pontypool. It will be tough and I don’t think that the league table is a fair reflection on them because they are an improving side.
“Pontypool have recruited well recently and will be determined to do well in front of what should be a big crowd making a great atmosphere.”
While Ebbw Vale were dispatching Tata with ease, Pooler were doing them a favour by pushing Bargoed hard.
They may have gone down to a 26-16 defeat but they denied their hosts a four-try bonus point and gave head coach Mike Hook plenty of encouragement.
“It was much better,” he said. “We got demolished in the scrum in the home game against them and that stood up this time. It was only at the end of the game where we ran out of steam.” With just one win this season, Pooler are suffering the effects of a summer of disruption.
Their removal from the Premiership after a High Court showdown with the Welsh Rugby Union saw a mass migration of players and a struggle to attract new blood.
It’s only now that Hook believes they are in a position to challenge their Championship rivals.
He said: “We’re a lot more settled with better competition and we are starting to get that team ethos that sides like Ebbw Vale, who’ve been together a long time, have got.”
Both Newbridge and Blackwood travel west this afternoon, the former heading to Tata Steel and the latter visiting Narberth.
‘Bridge, who sneaked a 18-13 when the sides met at the Welfare Ground, sit in third thanks to last weekend’s nervy 25-23 home victory over Narberth.
Blackwood were also successful on their own patch last week, notching their fifth win of the season by edging out Glamorgan Wanderers 20-16.
They face a stiff test at Narberth, who have won six of their seven home fixtures and triumphed 35-32 at Glan-yr-Afon Park in September.
Other fixtures: Bridgend Athletic v Bargoed, Cardiff Met v Beddau, Glamorgan W v Bonymaen, Llanharan v Whitland, Narberth v Blackwood, Tata v Newbridge.