Exodus to England sullies Neath's feats

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The Independent Online
Other things being equal, Neath - definitely the team of the moment anywhere in Anglo-Welsh rugby - would be on the verge of a long era of brilliant success. Their young back division, who have lately run rings round the rest of Welsh rugby, have years of development and distinction to come, writes Steve Bale.

But as they go into this afternoon's Swalec Cup semi-final against Newport at Cardiff, things are far from equal. Already the core of the Neath pack is about to be ripped out by the imminent departure of the Llewellyn brothers, Gareth to Harlequins and Glyn to Wasps. Others will undoubtedly follow the money.

As Neath don't have any - not, at any rate, as much as the well-heeled English clubs - it seems they are doomed to a perennial cycle of ripening raw talent so that others can have the benefit of a player's full maturity. It's not all bad: at least there will be regular killings to be made on the new transfer market.

Perish the thought, but when Neath go out against Newport there will be personal value to be added as well as a place in the final on 4 May against Llanelli or Pontypridd, who meet in the other semi-final at Bridgend. A fortnight ago Neath gave Newport a 65-23 drubbing at The Gnoll which owed as much to the four consecutive interception tries with which the visitors surrendered a substantial lead as to Neath's undoubted creativity.

Hence today's rematch is less of a forgone conclusion than it might superficially seem. "I've never played in a game like it," Steve Williams, Neath's outstanding No 8, said. "But the semi-final will be completely different and there is no way we'll regard it as a walkover.''

Pontypridd ended years of failure against Llanelli when they won last season's semi-final, only to proceed to defeat by Swansea in the final. This season Neath, Pontypridd and Cardiff are best-placed in the league and it would be a cruel stroke if Pontypridd yet again finished without a trophy.

"Pontypridd have something of a reputation of being the 'nearly men' of Welsh rugby," Rupert Moon, Llanelli's former Wales scrum-half, said. "We intend to make sure they still have that reputation.''

Moon's unneighbourly prediction - he lives in Pontypridd - is especially pitiless in relation to Nigel Bezani, the stalwart Pontypridd captain who will retire at the end of the season at the ripe age of 39 and would welcome just one trophy to his name. No one would be more deserving.

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