Forlorn flight of the Eagles

Neath 39 US Eagles 15 (at the National Stadium, Cardiff)
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The Independent Online
The US Eagles were short of match practice, short of supporters and short of ideas at the National Stadium yesterday asNeath outscored them six tries to two in the opening game of their Welsh tour.

The defeat served to emphasise the size of the task that awaits them when they play Wales at the same ground on Saturday. The Americans, making a delayed start to their tour because of the weather, attracted a crowd of only about 1,000 to the 52,000 capacity stadium.

Neath, with nine of the side that finished runners-up to Pontypridd in last season's Swalec Cup, led 27-3 at half-time. However, a series of substitutions, including four changes in the pack, meant their second- half performance was below par. But in the first half the reigning Welsh champions showed signs of a return to last season's form to hearten those of the Gnoll faithful who travelled to Cardiff to see Neath's first match for a month.

The Americans' problem was that they rarely pierced the advantage line. Neath's captain and No 8, Steve Williams, who plays at blindside for Wales on Saturday, set a great standard in the loose. Flankers Andrew Kembury and Ian Boobyer were also in authoritative form, emphasising the policy of pace and sharp handling pursued by their coach, Darryl Jones. Jones has not had the happiest season from a results standpoint, but he can feel encouraged by this performance.

The Eagles, fielding seven players who have played British rugby this season, were not lacking in spirit. What they needed most was the run- out before taking on Wales. Their captain, Dan Lyle, who has impressed for Bath, tackled his heart out, well supported by the No 8, Rob Lumkong. The left wing Brian Hightower, one of three players making their Eagles debut, was a bright spark in the back division, and enjoyed a tremendous tussle with Chris Higgs. He handed off Higgs late in the first half in superb fashion, though Higgs was able to avenge the indignity with a fine tackle a minute later.

The Eagles' centre, Boydy Wikeepa, showed a nice turn of speed and an appreciation of choosing the right angle to run. The decisive factor, however, lay in Neath's back row, aided and abetted by some poor American kicking which literally played into Neath's hands.

Neath: A Flowers; C Higgs, G Evans, J Funnell, J Young; P Williams, P Horgan (Daniel Hawkins, 56); L Gerrard, B Williams (M Thomas, 43), D Morris (K Allen, 74), M Glover, F Watkins, A Kembury (R Jones, 56), S Williams (capt), I Boobyer (G Newman, 65).

US Eagles: C Morrow; V Anitoni, B Wikeepa, M Scharrenberg, B Hightower; M Alexander, A Bachelet; C Lippert (R Lehner, 60), T Billups, W LeClerc, L Gross, A Parker, D Lyle (capt), R Lumkong, R Tardits (J Wilkerson, 65).

Referee: J Bacigalupo (Scotland).