Exiles put to the sword by Llanelli

Rugby Union: Llanelli 65 London Welsh 22
Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

Llanelli 65 London Welsh 22

Those who remember the halcyon days of pre-league rugby also remember with affection Boxing Day at Stradey Park as one of the unsurpassable events of the rugby calendar, when as many as 20,000 would fill the ground to see the two greatest sides in the land.

That, though, was a quarter-century ago when JPR Williams, Phil Bennett and a distinguished cast of dozens of others were in their pomp and, with only 3,500 present, it may seem perverse to suggest that yesterday's thrashing of London Welsh might mark a revival in a hallowed tradition.

For one thing Llanelli fielded a decent team, half of them first choices, thereby reversing their recent trend of picking mainly under-21s in the interests of giving them experience. This policy change assured the Exiles' fate but at least by giving them due respect it gave the fixture credibility.

Which is more than it had when Llanelli beat London Welsh here 77-3 in 1989. That was the nadir of a relationship which began as long ago as 1886 and has been continued on almost every Boxing Day since 1912. At least the Exiles are on the way up again, unbeaten in 25 Courage Championship matches and as good as certain to qualify for the Third Division, having at one time fallen into the oblivion of the Fifth.

History has hung heavily on the shoulders of each generation, the memory of the nonpareil London Welsh sides of the 1960s and '70s associated with John Dawes, as baleful a legacy psychologically as that of the Wales sides of the '70s is for the modern international generation.

At Llanelli they appear to have come to terms with an illustrious history. One point behind Cardiff in the Heineken League, with these top two meeting at the Arms Park on Saturday week, they deemed this an opportunity rather than an imposition and selected and played accordingly.

From the moment Craig Quinnell scored the first try after 60 seconds, the traffic was mainly - though not exclusively - one-way. Andy Tucker, London Welsh's impressive captain, replied for the visitors and after the Evanses, Ieuan and Garan, had scored Llanelli's next two tries Craig Raymond marked his return to his home town with the Exiles' second.

They continued to seek to play with the exuberance that has characterised their ascent to the summit of the English Fourth Division, but until the very end won such a paucity of possession that Llanelli were readily able to maintain their procession to the line. By half-time Neil Boobyer, Garan Evans and Boobyer again had added further tries for Llanelli.

Boobyer's third, Quinnell's second and third and Ieuan Evans's second followed, as well as a remarkable try by Matthew Wintle in which he crashed into a post and then, as the crowd let out a collective gasp in sympathy, instantly recovered to touch down.

At this stage an even worse defeat than 1989's was looming but the Welsh roused themselves sufficiently for Leighton Davies to create two late tries for Rhodri Phillips. Had the game not been restricted, in deference to the conditions, to 30 minutes each way this might even have been the start of something.

As for those conditions, the half of the pitch in the shade of the grandstand was like iron, the rest tolerably soft. This in itself was an improvement on the earlier prospect, when Llanelli indicated that the game would probably have to be played on a back pitch usually used for training.

Still, at least there was a game. Sixty-five miles away Newport had decided at 12.30pm to proceed against Bristol, only for the Englishmen on arrival at Rodney Parade to disagree and cancellation to follow as late as 2pm. Llanelli may not be so worried about Saturday's league visit of Ebbw Vale but Bristol have to go to West Hartlepool, and that is different.

Llanelli: Tries Quinnell 3, Boobyer 3, I Evans 2, G Evans 2, Wintle; Conversions I Evans 4, Warlow. London Welsh: Tries R Phillips 2, Tucker, Raymond; Conversion Raymond.

Llanelli: I Evans; D Evans, N Boobyer, M Wintle, G Evans (C Warlow, h- t); R Moon, J Griffiths; R Evans (S John, 42), J Hyatt, B Grace, P Davies (capt), L Williams, C Quinnell, J Williams, P Morris.

London Welsh: R Phillips; L Davies, P Shaw, S Thomas, D Prenderville; C Raymond, G Phillips (N Gosling, 60); M Herbert, A Tucker (capt), R Thomas, O Davies, N Thomas, R Westlake, D Harries, M Russell.

Referee: H Lewis (Bridgend).

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