NEWLY appointed Ebbw Vale head coach Jason Strange had a rude awakening to his role as he watched his side throw away a 15-point interval lead to become the first National Champion-ship team to be beaten by basement outfit Whitland.
Elsewhere, Newbridge maintained third spot with an away win over Bonymaen, while Blackwood pushed visiting Pontypool back down to one from the bottom of the table by defeating them 20-13.
Strange was named by Ebbw Vale as their new head coach in succession to Neil Edwards, who left the Steelmen in mid-week to accept former club Neath’s invitation to become their forwards coach.
Ebbw Vale began at Whitland as red-hot favourites to extend their 100 per cent winning run since the season’s start to an eighth game – and rightly so, given the fact the hosts had won only one and lost six of their opening seven games.
At the interval all was going swimmingly for the Eugene Cross Park team as they had engineered a healthy-looking 29-14 advantage.
Crossing for a couple of tries to take his campaign’s total to nine was skipper and number eight Ronny Keynes, while centre Polu Uhi and flanker Cameron Reagan also touched down for five-pointers – outside-half Dan Haymond kicking the rest of the points with three conversions and a penalty.
However, it all went so badly wrong for the visitors as Whitland, mainly through outside-half Nico Setaro, who kicked 20 points, staged a quite remarkable comeback.
Afterwards Strange was complimentary to the victors while revealing he believes his team will react in a positive manner to the highly unexpected defeat.
“Firstly the fact we scored four tries (to two of Whitland’s) and lost is highly unusual for us,” remarked Strange, who has been backs coach at Eugene Cross Park since 2010.
“Secondly, I must give full credit to Whitland for their success because they showed tremendous commitment and enthusiasm throughout the match.
“As far as ‘where did it all go wrong?’, well I believe our discipline let us down and a penalty count of 23-10 against laid the foundations for Whitland to keep chipping away at us.
“But there is certainly no need to panic here, after all, we only lost by one point having scored four tries.
“Over the past couple of seasons, one of the things I have discovered about our squad is that it always reacts in a positive manner to any setback and I fully expect that to happen again now.”
Strange confirmed the search for an assistant for him has already begun and that Ebbw Vale are seeking to make a quick appointment.
Ebbw Vale’s defeat means they trail table-topping Bargoed by four points and Strange’s men are now only two ahead of Newbridge.
Newbridge trailed 6-3 at the break against hosts Bonymaen before Dean Gibbs scored a try which was converted by outside-half Neil Burnett, who added two penalties to the one he had slotted over before the interval.
Blackwood entertained Pontypool with each camp having very different reasons for wanting to post a victory, the home side to end a depressing run of six successive defeats and the visitors to build on the previous Saturday’s first league win of the season.
That opening success lifted Pooler above both Whitland and Blackwood, but now they find themselves back down below their county rivals.
Skipper David Ford, centre Rhodri Usher and flanker Rhys Watkins were Black-wood’s try-scorers, with stand-off Josh Steer booting over a conversion and a penalty.
Blackwood led 15-0 at the break, but an injury to Steer put the home side out of their stride somewhat, with Pooler roaring back to make a fist of it and claim a losing bonus point.
“Josh (Steer) dislocated a shoulder, and coupled with us taking our foot off the pedal made for a highly interesting last 10 minutes or so,” revealed Blackwood director of rugby Matthew Back.
“In the end it was simply a massive relief to get the win and the dressing-room was indeed a happy place to be after the game.
“We are disappointed we didn’t get a bonus point, but at the moment we will take whatever scraps come our way.”
For Pontypool, Ashley Norton and right-winger David Sandalls crossed for touchdowns and full back Clayton Gullis managed a penalty.
On Saturday, Ebbw Vale receive Beddau, there are home games against Whit-land and Bonymaen for Newbridge and Blackwood respectively, while Pontypool are scheduled to entertain Llanharan.