Barney Maddison’s late converted try gave London Welsh a share of the spoils at Imber Court, and ensured the Exiles head to Rotherham Titans on the back of an unbeaten pre-season campaign.
It may yet prove ideal preparation for what is always a testing trip to Clifton Lane, as Welsh were made to work for their draw by the Welsh Principality Premiership Champions.
Two tries down in the opening quarter, as Jordan Howells and Chris Levesley touched down for the visitors, the Exiles hit back through hooker Adam Kwasnicki.
Josh Lewis’ riposte looked to have sent the Steelmen into the break with a 12-point cushion, but crucially James Lewis went over in the corner for Welsh from the last play of the half.
However, a second for Levesley left the Exiles once again playing catch up and Ebbw Vale contemplating revenge for last year’s defeat in the reverse fixture at Eugene Cross Park.
Kristian Phillips’ try, though, with 12 minutes remaining ensured a tense finale and left with the Exiles needing a converted try to level it. After several near misses they finally secured it when Maddison was driven over, with Glyn Hughes adding the crucial conversion to deny the Steelmen and ensure Welsh head to Clifton Lane unbeaten.
The Steelmen struck first blood. From a set move off the back of a scrum, Howells burst up the middle and straight through the Exiles’ midfield, before touching down by the posts. Josh Lewis converted.
A frustrating opening for the Exiles was compounded by the concession of a succession of penalties in the scrum. One of those came within range for Josh Lewis, but the Ebbw Vale fly half couldn’t extend the visitors lead. He was, however, soon adding a second conversion as Levesley claimed his first of the afternoon.
Frustratingly for Welsh, it came as the home side sensed an opportunity of their own. Good Welsh defence forced a turnover and with the visitors committed to attack, Carlisle spotted the acres of empty space in behind, only for Levesley to charge down the kick, hack on and touch down. Josh Lewis converted.
Things were not going Welsh’s way. An immediate riposte seemed possible, as the home side manoeuvred its way to within metres of the Steelmen’s line, only for Maddison to be pinged for holding on in the tackle.
Welsh would, though, hit back. A high tackle on Heath Stevens allowed Carlisle to find the corner and Kwasnicki was driven over. Carlisle added the extras and Welsh were finally on the board.
Welsh were soon back on the attack, but frustratingly the Steelmen were able to wriggle off the hook and a penalty allowed Josh Lewis to take his pack into the Exiles’ 22. Welsh resisted the catch-drive lineout, but from a five-metre lineout Ebbw Vale were in for their third try – Josh Lewis stretching to touch down from close range.
Lewis couldn’t convert his own score, but the Steelmen still led 19-7 with half-time approaching.
Welsh needed a score and it arrived from the last play of the half. Welsh pressure took them to within sight of the tryline and Nathan Trevett’s quick tap penalty found Nick Reynolds, and the centre sent winger James Lewis over in the corner. Carlisle couldn’t convert, but it was important reply from the home side nonetheless.
The second half would only add to Welsh frustrations. No such charge down luck for the Exiles as Seb Jewell hacked on, only Ryan Glynn to be held up over the line and then Ebbw Vale awarded a scrum penalty.
And so it continued. Welsh under the Ebbw Vale posts and a further chance to close the gap, only for the Exiles to be penalised for holding on in the tackle. Another opportunity gone.
A lovely floated pass sent Phillips hurtling into the Ebbw Vale 22, but the home side were penalised on the floor. Welsh pressure was not bringing points, although Ebbw Vale’s committed defence must take some credit for that.
To add insult to injury, Welsh were then hit with a sucker punch. Martyn Thomas’ up and under was taken by Josh Lewis, who proceeded to ghost through the Welsh defence before drawing the last man and sending Levesley away for his second.
The Exiles kept going though. Seb Jewell found a gap and his floated pass sent Ben West galloping into space, but the move fell away with the visitors winning a penalty on the floor. More frustration.
But Welsh certainly hadn’t given this one up and having stretched the Ebbw Vale defence they finally created the space for Phillips and the winger showed a clean pair of heels to touch down in the corner.
Hughes couldn’t convert to leave Welsh needing a converted try in the 12 minutes that remained to deny the Steelmen.
Welsh were made to wait until the last minute to snatch it. A tense finish saw Hughes push a penalty into the corner and the Welsh pack produce a perfectly executed catch-drive which Ebbw Vale couldn’t repel. Maddison the last to emerge from the heap. Hughes converted and while there was still time for Ebbw Vale to restart, there wasn’t enough to produce a winner.
A tough afternoon for the Exiles, but perhaps just what the doctor ordered with a tough trip to Clifton Lane next up.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Kwasnicki, James Lewis, Phillips, Maddison; Cons: Carlisle, Hughes.
Ebbw Vale scorers:
Tries: Levesley (2), Howells, Lewis; Cons: Lewis (2).
Referee: Matthew Carley
Touch Judges: Roy Maybank & Phil Watters