Ebbw Vale ............. 26

Glasgow Caley ..... 18

GLASGOW Caley yesterday suffered the festive season hangover they had badly wanted to avoid when they were floored by a pre-European double-whammy at storm-lashed Eugene Cross Park.

Hopes of a morale-boosting win in the build-up to their make-or-break Heineken Cup trip to Dublin were shattered - and their injury problems worsened as several players joined the casualty list.

Richie Dixon's bedraggled brigade return north today - and immediately resume training for Friday's vital encounter with Leinster. The coach admitted: ''It was a pretty miserable time all round for us. The conditions were awful, but that is not an excuse.

''We simply didn't put enough points on the board when we had the upper hand in the first half - and we were again guilty of trying to play too much fancy rugby at the wrong times.''

To add to Dixon's woes, lock Steve Griffiths was taken to hospital with a dislocated wrist and prop Willie Anderson faces another long lay-off after ripping biceps. In addition, winger James Craig and front-row man Alan Watt both took leg-knocks.

The Reds put in a solid enough first-half display to hold the lead at the break, but the Welshmen battled back to complete the Celtic League double.

The opening exchanges were scrappy as both sides tried desperately to shake off the festive season cobwebs. Play was confined to midfield with neither team looking likely to establish any significant early superiority.

It was Ebbw Vale who had the first chance to break the deadlock when they earned a kickable penalty after 14 minutes, but the opportunity was squandered when the normally accurate boot of stand-off Jason Strange sent the ball wide of the target from 30 metres out.

Caley made the most of their reprieve by seizing the initiative midway through the half with a cleverly worked touchdown featuring comeback veterans Ian Jardine and Craig Chalmers.

Centre Jardine provided the platform by splitting the defence with a typical strong and straight break. Skipper Chalmers was perfectly positioned on his shoulder to act as the link before sending Craig over for the score.

Chalmers, anxious to put his long run of injury worries behind him, confidently slotted the conversion to give his team a useful cushion. The Steelmen struck back quickly with a penalty by Strange, but four minutes before the interval Chalmers restored the margin with a well-struck penalty of his own.

Glasgow's hopes of carrying their advantage into the second period were dashed as they let Ebbw Vale surge back into the picture.

First, Strange lofted over his second penalty, then completed his treble in the third minute of stoppage time to reduce the gap to a single point in favour of the Scots.

Another Chalmers strike just three minutes after the restart gave the Reds some breathing space, but by that stage it was clear that Vale's powerful and well-drilled pack were beginning to assert control where it mattered most - up front.

The Caley defenders were having to work overtime as the home side stepped up the pace.

Flanker Nathan Budgett looked certain to score after bursting off the back of a maul, but he was hauled down inside the Glasgow 22 zone by No.8 Jon Petrie, whose chase-and-chop was one of the highlights of what had developed into a dour struggle.

The Steelmen were not to be denied, however, and it seemed only a matter of time before they would make the vital breakthrough - and it was powerful centre Jonathan Hawker who did the damage with a fine try in the wake of a driven maul deep inside the Reds' danger area.

It was the first time that Ebbw Vale had been in front - and from the moment that Strange slotted the extra points, they never looked like losing their grip on the match.

He added a fourth penalty after 71 minutes, before captain Mark Jones crashed over at the death to seal Caley's fate - although the Scots did manage a consolation last word when replacement Jason White claimed an opportunist try.

Ebbw Vale - S Taumalolo; S John, G Williams, J Hawker, A Wagstaff; J Strange, G Easterby; A Phillips, A Peacock, D Penisini, C Billen, K Faletau, N Budgett, B Clark, M Jones (capt). Replacements - I Thomas for A Phillips, 76; L Philips for Peacock, 68; G Green for Clark 54.

Glasgow Caledonians - B Irving; I McInroy, A Bulloch, I Jardine, J Craig; C Chalmers (capt), F Stott; D Hilton, G Scott, A Watt, S Campbell, S Griffiths, M Waite, D McFadyen, J Petrie. Replacements - R Reid for Craig, 59; W Anderson for Watt, 40; J White for Griffiths, 17.

Referee: N Williams (Bryncoch)

Scorers: Ebbw Vale: Tries - Hawker, Jones. Conversions - Strange, 2. Penalties - Strange, 4. Glasgow Caley: Tries - Craig, White. Conversion - Chalmers. Penalties - Chalmers, 2.

Scoring sequence: 0-7, 3-7, 3-10, 6-10, 9-10 (HT), 9-13, 12-13, 17-13, 20-13, 26-13, 28-18.

qTHE World Cup hangover continued to have an effect in Wales yesterday, when the crucial Celtic League encounter between Cardiff and Neath at the Arms Park was called off at short notice.

A Cardiff spokesman said: ''We had a new pitch laid as part of the re-development of the Millennium Stadium and the turf has simply failed to knit together. It becomes waterlogged very easily and there is a real danger of us being left with a large backlog of fixtures.''

Alex Lawson and Mark Taylor each bagged a try double as Swansea crushed Caerphilly 62-8 at St Helen's. Touchdowns from Gareth Wyatt, Sonny Parker, and John Colderley paved the way for Pontypridd's 25-7 success against Newport at Sardis Road, and there was a shock at the Brewery Field, where Bridgend pipped Llanelli 10-9.