Cardiff close to confirmation

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The winners of the Heineken League in Wales could be all but decided this afternoon, writes Steve Bale. Cardiff, leaders by an advantage in tries of nine, play lowly Dunvant at the Arms Park while Pontypridd visit Swansea, where they have not won for 23 years.

Pontypridd accept that the title is more or less beyond them but, at a time of deep depression in Wales, point out that they have done as much as anyone this season to lift the spirits. Nor do Cardiff expect their rivals, even playing today at their bogy ground, to drop any more points.

"We know we must win all our three remaining matches," Terry Holmes, coach and distinguished Cardiff old boy, said. "Every match is a cup final for us now that the finishing line is in sight. We know Dunvant are fighting for survival so although Ponty have to go to Swansea we expect our game to be just as hard."

Even if Pontypridd succeed at St Helen's they are likely to fall further behind in tries, though they will be assisted by the absence of Swansea's leading scorer, Aled Williams, who is rested for the first time this season. Dale McIntosh, the New Zealander who wanted to play for Scotland but now wants to play for Wales, returns for Pontypridd after recovering from a broken hand.

Should Cardiff put catching-up beyond Pontypridd today, it will be a timely reflection of the coaching powers of Alex Evans, under whose guidance the club have in three seasons gone from relegation candidates to prospective champions for the first time. This has given the Australian a guru status that culminated yesterday in the entrustment of Wales's World Cup campaign to his care.

It is remarkable now to relate that when the Cardiff committee made their leap of faith by summoning him from Brisbane it was after a season when their team had finished ninth of 10 and would have gone down but for the expansion of the First Division to 12 clubs.

Pontypool finished that 1991-92 season two places and seven points ahead of Cardiff but three years on it is the celebrated Gwent club who are on the way down, an eventuality that will be confirmed if they lost at Newbridge today and Newport gain a point at Treorchy.