Botica lifts Scarlet spirits

Llanelli 34 Leinster 17
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The Independent Online
What A difference an All Black makes. In Llanelli they like to get all misty-eyed about Welsh pride and something called the Spirit of the Scarlets. In truth, the magical ingredient yesterday was a little more prosaic: the New Zealand outside-half Frano Botica.

He arrived at the South Wales tin-plate town at the start of the season sporting a trunkful of confidence and skill. In the European Cup yesterday, he used both to telling effect. His boots kept Llanelli in the game while Leinster ran in the early tries, then he inspired the Scarlets to create and think for themselves when the Irishmen grew weary.

Botica is not quite an outside-half from the Llanelli mould - he is better than that, with the classical elusiveness in attack matched by solid physical guts in defence and a sheer presence bolstered by his rugby league years with Wigan.

His statistical contribution yesterday was through kicking five penalties and two conversions - he missed only two out of nine attempts. But his true contribution was much greater, injecting pace and unpredictability into what might have been a leaden Llanelli attack. It is clear that he and Rupert Moon inside him are establishing a great partnership.

Leinster had started brilliantly, or rather Llanelli had started disastrously, when the Welsh side failed to kill a ball near the line and the Leinster right wing Paddy Gavin gathered to score.

Leinster scored their second try after Llanelli's second mess-up: the Scarlets seemed certain to score but then Matthew Wintle's pass to a free player on an overlap was intercepted by Gavin.

The Leinster wing ran half the field and handed on to the full-back Peter McKenna as Botica threatened to close down the movement. Richard Governey, the outside-half, converted. Leinster scored their third try when the left wing Darragh O'Mahony fended off Deiniol Evans opposite him.

With Leinster threatening to run away with the game against a weakened Llanelli side, the Welshmen's much-vaunted "pride" came into play with the Welshmen. With Botica and Moon holding firm in the middle, the pack bucked up their spirits.

The No 8 Chris Wyatt crossed after a series of rucks delivered perfect Llanelli ball, and Moon himself then burst free for Llanelli's second try. The centre Neil Boobyer ran in the third in the dying minutes with the game already decided.

Llanelli, however, might not be so lucky against stronger English or French opposition, their New Zealand and former All Black lynchpin not withstanding.

Llanelli: G Evans; A Richards, M Wintle, N Boobyer, D Evans; F Botica, R Moon; R Jones, R McBryde (capt), S John, V Cooper, S Ford, H Jenkins (P Morris, 76), C Wyatt, I Jones.

Leinter: P McKenna; P Gavin, R McIlreavy, K McQuilkin, D O'Mahony; R Governey, A Rolland; H Hurley, M McDermott, P Wallace, N Francis, M O'Kelly, C Pim (capt), S Rooney, V Costello.

Referee: J Bacigalupo (Scotland).