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SWANSEA extended their lead at the top of the Heineken League to three points at an ecstatic and sodden St Helen's last night by building a
15-point downwind lead which Neath could not reduce once the elements were at their backs.
Welsh club rugby's first v second was bound to be a tempestuous derby occasion, as much so as the weather which was almost as bad as when the fixture was postponed on 3 January. But it was also a rousing affirmation of the strength of the Welsh game at this level.
Even with the rain sluicing down, the ground was almost sold out despite live coverage on Welsh television. It was exactly the sort of match which has led the Welsh Rugby Union to demur at the percentage demanded by the English in the television-contract negotiations that were supposed to be concluded this week.
The Anglo-Welsh spat may extend that to next week and whichever company wins the bidding it is likely it will be showing Swansea as champions. Last night they played the conditions expertly, using Anthony Clement to kick inordinate, wind-assisted lengths and then attacking to decisive effect.
Their first try after seven minutes was a gem, the Lions scrum-half Robert Jones accelerating up the blindside and linking with Simon Davies before receiving a return pass which left him in the clear. Phil Withers converted and 10 minutes later added a penalty though one of the touch-judges kept his flag down.
Neath had the special motivation of 'doing it for Brian' - Brian Williams, their forward cornerstone, whose wrist was almost severed in a farming accident last week - and would have supplanted Swansea if they had won. But the All Blacks lacked the composure of the All Whites and when Alan Reynolds scored the second try 10 minutes from the interval Neath's game was more or less up. With their three-point cushion, the title is now Swansea's to lose.
Swansea: Tries Jones, Reynolds; Conversion Withers; Penalty Withers.
Swansea: A Clement; Simon Davies, D Weatherley, S McIntosh, S Barclay; P Withers, R Jones; I Buckett, G Jenkins, R Shaw, P Arnold, R Moriarty, A Reynolds, Stuart Davies (capt), R Appleyard.
Neath: P Thorburn; R Rees, H Woodland, S Crandon, A Harries; M McCarthy, R Jones; M Morgan, Barrie Williams, J Davies, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn (capt), M Morris, S Williams, A Varney.
Referee: D Davies (Llanbradach).Reuse content