French show class gap

Neath 33 Perpignan 51
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The Independent Online
NEATH SURVIVED a summer of upheaval, including being taken over by the Welsh Rugby Union when their debts soared to pounds 600,000, but they could not survive against French flair and fire at The Gnoll yesterday.

Defeat in their opening European Cup Pool B match by crack French club Perpignan may have been somewhat predictable after all that Neath have been through, but it now leaves them needing to lift morale for their tricky trip to Munster on Saturday.

"I was a bit disappointed our defence fell apart near the end when we lost a bit of fire and some heads went down," the Neath coach, Lyn Jones, said.

Up until then Neath had given Perpignan a fair run for their money, just one point separating the sides after 50 minutes before the French stepped up the pace. A three-try burst in just five minutes swept them clear and although Neath never really cracked, it was as good as over as a contest.

Fly-half Matthew McCarthy had got Neath off the mark with an early penalty, and he added two more before half time, but once the French had got their noses in front after half an hour they were never headed again.

Neath did score four of the 11 tries in a thoroughly entertaining match, wing David Tiueti pouncing for the first when scrum-half Patrick Horgan put in an astute kick behind the defence. But Perpignan started to show their class when scrum-half Mathieu Barrau and then flanker Bernard Goutta swooped for tries that 37-year-old fly-half Didier Camberabero converted to add to his earlier penalty. He kicked another penalty before Horgan crossed for a smart try - only for Neath to be sunk by that quickfire try hat-trick. Tieuti turned from try scorer to try saver when he cut down his opposite number Gregory Tutard with a magnificent tackle but the French wing was not to be denied moments later.

His try was followed alarmingly quickly by further scores from the centres Nicolas Martin and Didier Plana as the visitors threatened to cut loose.

But Neath have always had tremendous fighting spirit and the class of '98 are no different from their predecessors.

Their final two tries were both created by No 8 Scott Eggar, though perhaps the pick of the pack was the all-action flanker, Brett Sinkinson.

Centre Geraint Evans made the most of a lovely pass from Eggar for the first and then hooker Mefin Davies burrowed over.

But, inevitably, Perpignan had the final word with tries from replacement Gerard Majoral and Barrau.

Neath: L Richards; I Jones, J Colderley, G Evans, D Tiueti; M McCarthy, P Horgan (capt); L Gerrard (D Jones 40) , M Davies, M Morgan, M Turner, A Jackson, S Martin (R Francis 59), B Sinkinson, S Eggar.

Perpignan: G Bastide (G Arandiga 79); A Joubert, D Planat, N Martin, G Tutard; D Camberabero (L Salies 55), M Barrau (C Perarnua 74); R Peillard, R Ibanez, P Meya (M Knoieckiewicz 23), O Olibeau, M James, S Deroeux, B Goutta (G Majoral 52), T Lievremont (capt).

Referee: B Campsall (England).