Ebbw Vale came up with the victory that puts them in with a chance of sneaking into the quarter-finals of the PARKER PEN SHIELD for the second time.
Despite icy conditions and a rock hard pitch, the Ebbw pack dominated the
day and set up a winning platform that means Saturday's home game against
Agen will be vital.
The French side travel to Eugene Cross Park this week for the sixth and final
round. If Ebbw can overturn their 20-9 defeat at Agen in September then they
could match the current table toppers with eight points.
But that is where the fun starts. Current second placed side Montauban could also finish with eight points if they beat Rovigo in their final fixture, leaving a possible three way tie at the top.
In that case, it will be try count that will make the crucial difference,
both in the games between the clubs and overall, and Agen currently have a
3-0 lead from their earlier win over the Steelmen and an 18 try lead in all
"It was a good workmanlike performance in pretty difficult conditions. It
was touch and go whether or not the game would be played because the pitch
was so hard," said Ruddock.
"It was good to win away from home and the young players who are in their
first season at this level have really impressed me with the way they have
approached our games in france and Italy.
"That has been one of the real bonuses for me this season. Now we have got
a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals and, by my reckoning, we will have to beat Agen by 12 points or more and outsocre them by three tries.
"At least we have got a chance, although winning the game will be the first priority."
Another bonus for Ruddock and his side was the return of Welsh international
loose head prop Iestyn Thomas. He was solid as ever at the scrum and played
a big role in Ebbw's highly impressive driving line-out.
Having beaten Rovigo 28-26 at home, with three tries apiece, Mike Ruddock's
men knew they were in for a tough test at the Battaglini Stadium.
Rovigo rocked their visitors with an early strike as full back Norman Di Maura
ran in a first minute try. Di Maura had an eventful time at the start of the game because he had to be replaced after only four minutes.
"We got caught cold with that try," admitted Ruddock. "Paul Matthews cut
them to pieces down the middle with a great run and he was just bundled into
touch near the corner.
"Then they won the line-out and their full back ran the length of the field
for his try. It took a good team effort to come back from that."
The fight back began with three penalties from the familiar boot of Gareth Cull
and his hat-trick edged the Welsh side ahead and gave them a 9-5 interval lead.
After the break the tactical kicking of outside half Scott Mitchell and the
driving line-out marshalled by skipper Chay Billen ensured Ebbw remained on
Cull extended the lead with his fourth penalty in the first minute after
the restart and then wing Andrew Wagstaff ran in a try which Cull converted.
That try put slome real daylight between the scores, but a try by Italian international flanker David Dal Maso soon followed to add to the tension.
But full back Matthew James rounded off the victory with a second try seven
minutes from time and Cull's conversion took his match tally to 16 points.
Scorers: Rovigo: Tries: N Di Maura, D Dal Maso. Ebbw Vale: Tries: A
Wagstaff, M James; Cons: G Cull 2; Pens: G Cull 4.
Rovigo: N Di Maura (M Cavaglieri 4); M Boldrin (D Pisani 74), C Kruger, A
Cavecchia, U Re (C Sauan 68); E Pegoraro, F Dalla Nora; A Tellarini, F
Boraso (M Socaciu 68), E Brancalion (G Baratella 74), M David (captain, L
Marchetto 60), M Vella, D Dal Maso, F Boraso (M Barlon 60), A Pavanello.
Ebbw Vale: M James; G Cull, R Shorney, P Matthews, A Wagstaff; S Mitchell,
K Ellis, I Thomas (D Penisini 77), J Evans, M Jones (L Phillips 74), C
Billen (captain), N Edwards (G Evans 79), K Tuipolotu, T Morris (R Williams
60), W Thomas.
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.