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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Ebbw Vale digging in
Rhys Shorney
Rhys Shorney gives the Ebbw Vale backline options
Ebbw Vale surprised many by their fall from grace last season but the signs are that Mike Ruddock's side will struggle again.

Some asset-stripping by Bridgend has seen backrow Nathan Budgett and lock Deiniol Jones leave for the Brewery Field, although the Steelmen have managed to recruit exciting backrow talents Will Thomas and Rhys Williams from Cross Keys.

Tongan backrow Katilimoni Tuipolotu has joined from Neath but he will do well to plug the hole left by Budgett's loss, but at least Vale still have a formidable front row and have added prop Martin Jones from Llanelli.

Vale have also signed another Wales Under-21 cap, with lock Peter Sidoli joining from Merthyr.

Ruddock will also be without last season's half-back pairing, with fly-half Jason Strange moving to Newport via Pontypool, and scrum-half Richard Smith being snapped up by ambitious English First Division side Worcester.

  Season tips:
Celtic League prediction: Pool stage
Welsh-Scottish League prediction: 10th
Star player: Rhys Shorney

Scott Mitchell has moved the other way from Rodney Parade and should start at fly-half for Vale, while the No 9 shirt will be contested by Kevin Ellis and Gareth Betts.

Meanwhile, veteran captain and No 8 Mark Jones has left to take up the coaching reins at Pontypool.

Nevertheless, with the likes of wing/centre Rhys Shorney still on the books at Eugene Cross Park, the Steelmen will have a fighting chance.

Young wing Neil McKim, denied an opportunity to impress at Newport, will add some genuine pace to the backline, while fly-half Scott Mitchell also joins from Rodney Parade.

In the European Shield, Ebbw Vale should have little difficulty in overcoming the Italians of Rovigo, but could struggle against French duo Agen and Montauban.

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