Rugby Union: Breathtaking Booth

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The Independent Online
Llanelli 83

Aberavon 10

IT WAS a good day for the front row union down in west Wales. There was a try apiece, more ball in the hand than most teams see in a season and the knowledge that something special is on offer to Llanelli as the campaign comes to a head.

For once it was the often underestimated Phil Booth who led the way. The loosehead prop was the first forward on the score sheet and had a magnificent game. No doubt fuelled by the desire to clinch a place against his former club, Cardiff, in the Swalec Cup semi-final in two weeks' time, he kept driving on, looking for work and hoping to impress.

Against such a background, and a try scored by Booth from a classic line- out peel, the tight-head prop, John Davies, was not to be outdone. Early in the second half, when a loose line-out ball dropped at his feet, he brushed aside the first line of defence before racing the length of the 22 and meeting the last line, in the shape of Aaron Hamilton, with a typical front-row side-step. Having built up such a head of steam Davies simply ploughed straight into and over the full-back to score.

The hooker, Marcus Thomas, once again made up for his poor line-out throwing by making it a full house for the front row with a try midway through the second half.

Those scores illustrated the way in which the Llanelli coach, Gareth Jenkins, has got his forwards and backs to adapt to the modern game. His forwards run and handle well while the back line ruck and maul effectively. It means that an unprecedented treble is now well within the grasp of Llanelli. Having already won the WRU Challenge Trophy, they will now go into the play-off phase of the Premier Division title race with a crucial point advantage and their Cup hopes will be determined at Bridgend when they meet Cardiff.

It was vital that the home side took maximum bonus points in this game and that thought dominated their first-half performance. When they relaxed in the second period, the game turned into a slaughter as 10 tries flowed without response. Llanelli are the only team to have done the double in Welsh rugby, in 1993, and the next eight weeks will determine whether the class of '99 is not only the best in Welsh rugby, but perhaps one of the greatest in the club's history.

Llanelli: D Williams; W Proctor (capt), N Davies, S Finau, C Warlow; S Jones (B Hayward, 62), A Thomas; P Booth, M Thomas (R McBryde, 76), J Davies (M Madden, 62), V Cooper, M Voyle, D Hodges, I Jones (I Boobyer, 22), H Jenkins.

Aberavon: A Hamilton; D Griffiths, T Green, R Lewis (B Maddocks, 66), P Jones (P Roberts, 66); C Rees, A Jacobs (L Baker, 76); L Howell (A Jones, 57), J Hughes (capt), C Noon, P Clapham, P Owen, H Merrett, D Neill, R Morris.

Referee: H Lewis (Bridgend).