Neath exorcise demons of Fiji

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Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

Neath 30 Fiji 22

Gareth Llewellyn proved a point to the Welsh selectors who have ignored him; Neath proved a point to a far wider public. Yesterday's invigorating game at The Gnoll was all anyone - except the luckless Fijians - could have hoped.

Even if Fiji are not the equivalent of Springboks or All Blacks, many of them are playing in New Zealand or Australia and, with the exception of an obscure 1971 defeat of West Germany, this was Neath's first victory over any touring side and so worthy of celebration.

The tourists saw a 17-3 advantage evaporate as Neath came storming through to win with more to spare than they dared hope when events were going against them in the first half. The exorcising of past demons was a useful by-product, although last season's violent South Africa match would have been all but forgotten but for the club's insistence on keeping the issue alive.

Before yesterday's game, the Welsh published a statement exonerating everyone of everything that occurred on that dark November night - a conclusion they had apparently reached about nine months ago, but that Neath insisted be made public now.

Which was somewhat beside the point while the Fijians were trying to weave their magic. One or two members of their pack may be ponderous and their ball-winning may lack conviction, but in broken play they are a delight, backs and forwards handling with a facility that makes British players look cack-handed by comparison.

The 55-yard run by Leveni Vatureba - a lock-forward, mind you - which produced Fiji's third try was the most obvious example, but the close combinations that had created the previous tries by Jonetani Waqa and Manasa Bari equally exemplified the Fijian rugby of legend and tradition.

To this Neath had their own answer. They qualified for this fixture by finishing fourth in the Welsh First Division last season and lie sixth with more than a quarter of this campaign gone. But this is a changed team made up largely of likely newcomers - a bit like Wales, really - and on this evidence they have a considerable future.

This optimistic assessment is based not simply on the rousing, sensibly varied and highly mobile rugby they played, vaguely Fijian in fact, but on their indomitability when things were going badly against them. The threequarters were responsible for the tries by John Funnell, the impressive Leigh Davies and the winner by Chris Higgs, with the pack providing a contrast by driving hard to set up Chris Scott.

Neath: Tries Funnell, L Davies, Scott, Higgs; Conversions P Williams 2; Penalties P Williams 2. Fiji: Tries Waqa, Bari, Vatureba; Conversions Turuva 2; Penalty Turuva.

Neath: G Davies; C Higgs, L Davies, J Funnell (Robin Jones, 72), Richard Jones; P Williams, P Horgan; D Morris, K Allen, J Davies, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn (capt), J Burnell, S Williams, C Scott.

FIJI: J Waqa (Nodroga); E Bolobolo (Tavua), L Little (King Country), W Rokotuiviwa (Rewa), M Bari (Tavua); O Turuva (Nadi), J Rauluni (Easts); S Sadria (Suva), G Smith (Waikato), V Cavubati (Wellington), A Nadolo (Suva), L Vatureba (Wellington), W Masurewa (Counties), S Vonolagi (Suva, capt), M Korovou (Nadi). Replacement: I Tawake (Nadroga) for Nadolo, 39.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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