Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Steelmen looking to rekindle that 90s spirit

EBBW Vale, Newbridge and UWIC fly the flag for clubs outside the Premiership in this weekend’s Swalec Cup quarter-finals, with at least one guaranteed of a place in the last four.

All three of the Division One sides will fancy their chances of reaching the semi-finals and, who knows, an appearance in the final at the Millennium Stadium in May.

For Ebbw Vale, their encounter with Swansea on Saturday will be an 11th cup meeting against the All Whites, 14 years after the Steelmen recorded their one and only victory in the fixture.

That came at the same stage of the competition during the 1997/98 season when Ebbw Vale eventually went on to finish as runners-up to Llanelli at Ashton Gate in Bristol.

Having already beaten Aberavon and Newport in the cup this season, Ebbw Vale will go into the clash with Jason Hyatt’s men confident of matching that 27-13 success in the late 90s.

Swansea will be desperate to avoid a shock result although with their opponents riding high at the top of Division One East some wouldn’t consider a win for the Eugene Cross Park outfit too much of a surprise.

Meanwhile, Newbridge and UWIC face each other at the Welfare Ground which perhaps gives the hosts a slight edge – something Ebbw Vale will be keen to use to their advantage too.

Newbridge are third in Division One East while the visitors are fifth in One West and face a third away tie in succession following previous victories at Llangennech and Ammanford.

While the Steelmen have their attention on the cup, Bargoed will try to close the gap on them in the league. A bonus point triumph at lowly Tredegar would put them two points behind the leaders.

Three first-team players at Bargoed recently represented the Welsh Charitables in a fixture against an Irish Exiles Development side in Ealing. They couldn't quite clinch victory in a hard-fought encounter but Luke Harwood, John Lavender and Gareth Dare all acquitted themselves well.

There were also two Bargoed products in the Wales under-20 side that were beaten by France last weekend with Jonathon Evans and Ieuan Jones both figuring in the starting line-up.

Blues player Dafydd Carter was back in training last week at Bargoed Park after a long lay-off with a serious knee injury and the club has heard that Jordan Purcell has settled well out in New Zealand as he looks to develop his rugby with Heriots RFC in Otago.

Merthyr, who host Mountain Ash this weekend, have been busy making room in their clubhouse for a special memento which will be heading up the A470.

That’s because Ben Morgan, who played for the club during the 2008/09 season, has promised the Ironmen one of his England shirts from the Six Nations where he made his international debut and went on to play in four of his country’s matches.

“It’s easy to forget that Ben was extremely young when he came here but he handled it incredibly well, and when you saw him carrying the ball you knew there was something unusual about him,” said Merthyr second row Darren Lynch.

Morgan is fondly remembered by his old Merthyr team-mates, who played a big part in his rugby education before he moved to Llanelli in 2009.

Just 18 at the time, Morgan came to play for Merthyr through then coach Martyn Fowler, who is also director of rugby at Cardiff University. “One of my students was from the Gloucester area and told me he knew this lad at Cinderford who I should look at, so I went to watch him,” he said.

“He was an almost Jonah Lomu-esque figure, as quick as any of the backs but clearly overweight. I immediately saw him as a No 8 and offered him the chance to come to Merthyr.

“I put him up with a student in Cardiff and drove him down every day. On the first morning he had a bag of six croissants, a Snickers bar and a pint of milk. By the time we had got as far as the Bridgend turn-off on the M4 he’d downed the lot!

“But that’s Ben, he has an amazing appetite, and an amazing appetite for life in general. He’s a great lad and that’s why you’ll find so many people around here are pleased for him.”

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