NATIONAL Championship title contenders Ebbw Vale tore a battling, but inexperienced Pontypool side apart at a sun-bathed Eugene Cross Park – where they crossed for no fewer than nine tries in a 55-8 rout.

Yet although they have touched down for the most tries as well as scoring more and conceded fewer points than Bargoed, the Steelmen still, amazingly, find themselves only in second place.

The win elevated Ebbw Vale over Newbridge, 18-13 home winners over Margam-based Tata Steel, but was not enough to knock Bargoed, who beat visiting Bridgend Athletic 43-12, off the top.

All three have 100 per cent records from four matches, with Bargoed having gained an extra bonus point – despite Ebbw Vale scoring no fewer than 30 tries in their quartet of games.

Pontypool began having lost all three of their previous league games. But they started with a bang, and after full back Clayton Gullis had fired an early penalty wide they actually stormed into an 8-0 lead.

Openside flanker Elliott Goodman crossed for a try, and although Gullis failed to add the extra two points he soon landed a penalty.

But from that highly encouraging beginning came nothing but abject misery for bottom-placed Pontypool, who promptly conceded 55 unanswered points Centre John Lewis began Pooler’s torment with his side’s first try, and before the interval outside-half Dan Haymond, scrum-half Josh Davies and Lewis again – with Haymond’s trio of conversions give his team a 26-8 interval advantage.

Matters didn’t improve for the by now hapless visitors, who had their try-line breached a further five times during the second period.

Right-winger Wes Cuncliffe started the ball rolling for Ebbw Vale in the second period and other five-pointers duly arrived from flanker Spencer Gibson, replacement scrum-half Chris Thomas, Polu Uhi and replacement centre Will Owen – Haymond converting two.

Ebbw Vale head coach Neil Edwards afterwards expressed his delight at the way his side recovered following that shaky start.

“After they took the lead, we took a while to settle down and the good thing is nobody panicked,” remarked Edwards.

“After that opening 15 minutes or so we played well and we now look forward to hosting Newbridge on Saturday.”

Pontypool are suffering on the pitch as well as off it following their well-publicised spat with the Welsh Rugby Union in the summer, but Edwards continued by reminding everyone that Ebbw Vale were in the same boat three year ago.

“My honest answer to ‘am I sympathetic towards Pontypool’s plight?’ is to tell you I know how the club is feeling because I was here when we got relegated three seasons ago.

“All I can say is that we worked extremely hard to re-build our squad and ended up winning successive league titles (Division One East) and now Pontypool must work equally hard if they are to gain the same sort of reward which we were able to achieve.”

The success means Ebbw Vale trail Bargoed by a point, 20 as opposed to 19, and lifts them above Newbridge, who were pushed all the way by Tata Steel at the Welfare Ground.

Full back Ceri Young crossed for both of Newbridge’s tries with stand-off Neil Burnett converting one and also landing a couple of penalties.

The wins for Ebbw Vale and third-placed Newbridge now set up an intriguing Western Valley derby at Eugene Cross Park on Saturday.

Narberth edged out Blackwood 35-32 in a thrilling encounter at Glan-Yr-Afon Park, where both sides crossed for five tries apiece.

Scoring for Blackwood were returning debutant centre David James (2), Gareth Price, number eight and skipper David Ford and flanker Sean Emery, with outside- half Josh Steer landing a couple of conversions and one penalty.

“We are doing well in patches, but we are not quite clicking at the moment,” was Blackwood head coach Matthew Veater’s analysis.

Blackwood now visit Tata Steel on Saturday, when Pontypool entertain Bridgend Athletic.