Case of booting Thomas

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The Independent Online

SWANSEA won the battle of the champions yesterday as 21 points from the boot of their international fly-half Arwel Thomas eased them to a 26-14 home victory over the English title holders, Newcastle.

The Welsh champions, who have opted out of their national league to play against Allied Dunbar Premiership One teams this season, made it three wins out of three at St Helen's Ground. Swansea's only try was scored by their scrum-half, Andy Booth, while Newcastle's points came via a last- minute Nick Popplewell try and three penalties from Jonny Wilkinson.

Before the game, Newcastle's owner, Sir John Hall, insisted that the top-flight English clubs, Cardiff and Swansea would boycott any British league or European competition organised by the unions. "We have made that decision. Nothing's changed and nothing will change," he said. "When I read they have set-up working parties to create a British league and a revamped European Cup, I just laugh. We, that is the clubs, have already decided that once we win our case in the European court we will be running a British league and European tournament."

Following his side's 40-19 defeat in Cardiff last weekend, the Saracens' director of rugby, Mark Evans, has demanded a vast improvement from the Tetley's Bitter Cup holders in today's Premiership One game against Sale at Vicarage Road. "We shouldn't require a wake-up call just two weeks into a new season but if the Cardiff defeat has such an effect, then it will be the only good thing to come out of that game," he said.

Gloucester seek their third successive league win today, against West Hartlepool at Kingsholm, with their fly-half, Mark Mapletoft, who has amassed 44 points in their opening two games, hoping to further his England claims.

Bristol, buoyed by two Dean Dewdney tries, lead Premiership Two after winning 30-20 at Rugby. Worcester, whose 23-8 victory over Moseley featured two tries from their visitors' former lock Richard Denhardt, and London Welsh, who shaded Orrell 24-17, are level with them on points.

Ireland's European Cup sides began with two stirring victories and a high-scoring draw. A late try by Gordon Darcy secured a 33-27 success for Leinster at Llanelli in Pool A while in Pool B Munster beat Padova 20-13 in Cork and in Pool C Ulster drew 38-38 with Edinburgh in Belfast. Stade Francais underlined their billing as favourites with a 39-28 victory at Begles in Pool A while Toulouse emphasised their challenge by thrashing Ebbw Vale 108-16 in Pool C.

It was not all gloom for Welsh rugby as Caerphilly opened their European Shield campaign with a 31-28 win over Perigueux despite the sending-off of their captain Nathan Jones and the visiting hooker Lancelot Eynard.

Namibia booked their place in next year's World Cup with a 39-14 victory over Zimbabwe in Casablanca while Morocco qualified for the repechage by beating Ivory Coast 6-3.