A young Llanelli side put up a gutsy display before going down to a 36-26 defeat to Ebbw Vale at Parc y Scarlets on Thursday evening.
A team made up mainly of Scarlets Academy players showed plenty of promise, but ultimately the power and guile of the Steelmen proved crucial on a difficult night for free-flowing rugby.
Skipper Iwan Shenton led from the front, while replacement back-rower Ben Williams and centre Eddie James also stood out, but it was Ebbw who left Parc y Scarlets with a maximum haul to continue to put pressure on the leading lights of the Indigo Premiership.
Llanelli, who had four 19-year-olds and two 20-year-olds in their backline, started brightly, turning down an early penalty shot to go for the line-out drive. Ebbw’s defence kept them at bay, but the home side maintained their impressive tempo to get on the scoreboard after eight minutes thanks to centre Eddie James.
The Wales U20s cap burst clear from halfway before kicking through to win his side an attacking line-out. Then, when the ball was recycled James showed good strength to twist his way over from close range. Josh Phillips, playing at full-back, converted to give his side a deserved lead.
The Steelmen, though, gradually started to haul themselves into the contest. Pressure on the home line led to centre Jack Price being shown yellow on 23 minutes and moments later, Ebbw were over thanks to a superbly-weighted cross-field kick which was gathered by wing Ryan Davies, who cut in to score at the posts.
Fly-half Kieran Meek converted to level the scores, but Llanelli were back in front thanks to a penalty from the boot of Phillips.
A powerful scrum drive led to a second try for the visitors through No. 8 Ryan Jenkins, again converted by Meek, but Llanelli stayed in the contest thanks to another three-pointer from Phillips following a surge from replacement Williams.
Meek added another penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 17-13 at the break, then slotted another four minutes into the second period.
And even though Ebbw Vale claimed a third try of the night through Ethan Phillips, Josh Phillips kept Llanelli in it with two further penalties, the second following the sin-binning of centre Dominic Franchi.
Llanelli were showing plenty of spirit, but in deteriorating conditions, handling errors were proving costly.
A smartly-taken line-out saw Ebbw over for their bonus-point score on 70 minutes through replacement Harry Drane.
Shenton drove over at the posts for a converted try with five minutes remaining to give his side hope, but replacement Evan Lloyd snuffed out any chance of late drama with a last-minute penalty to secure the win.
Llanelli – tries: E. James, I. Shenton. Cons: J Phillips (2). Pens: Phillips (4).
Ebbw Vale – tries: R. Davies, R. Jenkins, E. Phillips. H. Drane. Cons: K. Meek (2). Pens: Meek (2), E. Lloyd.