Bezani takes a glorious bow

at Cardiff Arms Park Neath 22 Pontypridd 29
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THIS was a glorious cup final, one of the best, between two of the less fashionable Welsh clubs, who have both given a tremendous account of themselves this season in cup and league.

They say that the side with the greater hunger wins games, and both these teams looked absolutely ravenous. They flew at each other with primeval passion, and yet also showed tremendous skill. In the end, there was no question that Pontypridd, who fought back magnificently from 22-9 down shortly after half-time to win in a tremendous second half, were worthy victors.

It was a happy ending for Pontypridd's popular captain, Nigel Bezani - Baz to his mates - who came to rugby at 25 years of age, to first-class rugby at 32. He is now on the cusp of 40 and has led his team in his final weeks before retirement to the first big trophy in their history.

The man of the match was Paul John, the effervescent Pontypridd scrum- half, followed closely by Steele Lewis and Richie Collins. Pontypridd won because they moved the ball with greater skill and urgency than Neath, and switched direction more effectively.

However, it takes two teams to make such a match and Neath also deserve huge credit, though they paid a heavy price for poor kicking out of the hand and not having a recognised goal-kicker.

Inevitably, it was Neil Jenkins who struck the first blow with a drop goal from a maul, but Neath quickly composed themselves. They flew back into the Pontypridd half where Paul Williams kicked for the diagonal. Left wing David Manley and full-back Crispin Cormack conspired to make a hash of their defence and Wales's new centre prodigy, Leigh Davies, exploited the gift by picking up and powering his way over for a try.

Jenkins restored Pontypridd's lead with a penalty and after the first quarter it was anybody's game - a terrific running affair with Pontypridd showing greater initiative. One of their movements went through 10 pairs of hands, but was rewarded only by a Jenkins penalty. Neath's problems were compounded when they lost their fly-half, Williams, with a shoulder injury. Huw Woodland came on and Geraint Evans switched to fly-half.

Neath regained the lead when their full-back Richard Jonesroared into the attack to pick up a half-volley, brush off Cormack and score a fine try which was converted by Patrick Horgan. Then Horgan intercepted a loose pass by Dale McIntosh and raced through for another try. Those 12 points in four minutes seemed to settle the issue as Neath led 17-9 at half-time.

Horgan scored a second try almost immediately after the break from a powerful drive by Steve Williams. But Pontypridd refused to bend. Manley went over but failed to ground, but finally Paul John scored a try, Jenkins converted and they were back in the game.

Steele Lewis, Paul John and Jenkins were again all but over, and Jenkins knocked on as he crossed the line.

Even though a streaker was on the pitch, Jenkins kept his composure to kick a penalty and, with eight minutes to go, Pontypridd trailed 22- 19. Then Manley made a superb break to put Geraint Lewis over for a try. Lewis also scored the final try four minutes later, running on to Steele Lewis's kick, to secure a famous victory.

Neath: R Jones; C Higgs, L Davies, J Funnell, G Evans; P Williams (H Woodland, 28), P Horgan; D Morris, B Williams, J Davies, Glynn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn (captain), R Jones, S Williams, I Boobyer.

Pontrypridd: C Cormack; D Manley, J Lewis, S Lewis, G Lewis; N Jenkins, Paul John; N Bezani (captain), Phil John, N Eynon, G Prosser, M Rowley, M Lloyd, D McIntosh, R Collins.

Referee: W D Bevan (WRU).