Ebbw Vale 14

Glasgow Caley 10

FRUSTRATED Glasgow Caledonians captain Andy Nicol yesterday reflected on one of his side's most disappointing results of their Celtic League campaign, and had little hesitation in summing up the performance at Eugene Cross Park as naive.

Nicol and his team had travelled south with an air of controlled confidence in the wake of their recent victories on Welsh soil over Llanelli and Cross Keys.

On paper, Ebbw Vale should have been another scalp for the taking - but the display of the Reds just about matched the wretched weather in the valleys.

Observers were left with little option but to wonder if the minds of the highest profile participants might have been thinking forward a week to the Six Nations encounter against Wales at Murrayfield, such was the poor standard of the Reds' performance.

''We are very unhappy with the way we played. There is no doubt that we were naive at times,'' confessed Nicol.

''We tried to make too many little passes when the conditions just didn't allow for that.

''I'd like to think that some of our away performances in recent months have given us a measure of credibility.

''However, there is no doubt that some of what we had achieved has been undone after this result. Putting it bluntly, our tactics were all wrong.''

Nicol insisted that the outcome would have no bearing on the build-up to the international. He declared: ''That will be a different scenario altogether.

''There is no comparison whatsoever.''

Life has always been tough at Ebbw Vale, all the more so in the past week or two after the news of yet another steelworks closure.

Their rugby team, however, displayed a never-say-die attitude which provided a welcome diversion for the locals - and delivered a dent to Caley's championship aspirations.

The Reds, with their powerful pack dominant, enjoyed plenty of possession and territory in the opening exchanges, but they never really looked like turning pressure into precious points on the muddy surface.

Vale also seldom looked threatening in attack, but stand-off Shaun Connor provided a hint of what was to come when he broke clear to launch a chip-and-chase move.

The ball trundled into the Reds' danger zone, but Connor had no colleagues up in support to capitalise on the promising position.

Glasgow weathered the immediate storm - but suddenly found themselves adrift in the twentieth minute, against the run of play.

Again, the alert Connor was in the thick of things as he made a dart for the line, only to be blocked a couple of paces short of the target.

Hooker Leighton Phillips was, however, perfectly stationed on his shoulder to accept the pop pass and flop across for the try.

Connor ignored the elements to land the conversion.

Caley responded positively to mount another series of raids at the other end, but all too often they spoiled the good lead-up work by committing basic handling errors.

They managed to break their duck in the thirty-first minute with a simple Tommy Hayes penalty after the home forwards piled over the top at a ruck virtually underneath their own crossbar.

The Reds maintained the initiative in the approach to the interval, but couldn't reduce the leeway further before the turnaround.

It was Vale who made most of the running in the initial stages of the second half, only for Glasgow to seize back the advantage with a straightforward try from James McLaren, the Scotland international centre.

It was basic route-one rugby as the ball was shipped out to the centre from a ruck, and the powerful McLaren brushed aside a handful of would-be challengers to reach the line.

Hayes confidently added the extra points to set up a Caley platform.

Vale's determination in defence was still making it hard for a Caley outfit packed with Test players.

And it proved to be that doggedness which paved the way for the score which dented Caley's hopes.

Substitute Jason Strange sent a grubber kick into the 22-metre zone, forcing Hayes to run the ball into touch. The first attempt to barge through was thwarted.

However, they kept their patience and strung together several phases before wing Rhys Shorney found the gap.

Strange converted to set up a tense finale, but the Reds could not mount a salvage act and the game was disappointingly beyond them.

Ebbw Vale - P Matthews; S John, R Shorney, J Hawker, A Wagstaff; S Connor (J Strange, 68min), R Smith (G Betts, 74); I Thomas, L Phillips (B Morris, 55), D Penisini, D Jones, C Billen, N Budgett, T Morris, G Green (M Jones, 55).

Glasgow Caledonians - G Metcalfe (R Shepherd, 75); J Steel, A Bulloch, J McLaren (J Stuart, 74), J Craig; T Hayes, A Nicol (capt), D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, S Griffiths, J White (C Stewart, 73), G Simpson, D Macfadyen (R Reid, 60), J Petrie.

Referee: T Rowlands (WRU).

Scoring sequence (Ebbw Vale first): 7-0, 7-3 (half-time); 7-10, 14-10.

Scorers: Ebbw Vale: Tries - L Phillips (20), Shorney (72); Conversions - Connor (20), Strange (72).

Glasgow Caledonians: Try - McLaren (49); Conversion - Hayes (49); Penalty - Hayes (31).