Rugby Union: Bridgend loosen the champions' grasp

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The Independent Online
Llanelli . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19

Bridgend . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

(First Edition)

LLANELLI'S hopes of holding on to their First Division title received a hammer blow as Bridgend ended their run of 16 successive home wins in the league with a thoroughly deserved victory last night. It was a defeat that means Llanelli remain in third place in the table, and one which compounded many of their problems, not least those behind the scrum.

Llanelli's quest for a steady outside-half probably intensified when the latest incumbent of their No10 jersey, Andrew Richards, had his defensive touch-kick charged down, resulting in a try for the Bridgend tight-head prop, Sean Gale.

No stranger to Stradey Park, Gale remained in the public eye with a private duel on half-way with his opposite number, Hugh Williams-Jones. It proved little more than a sideshow and Richards was quick to make up for his earlier error with an overlap try to level the scores. Even so, there was not enough from the stand-off to suggest he is likely to be the long-term answer to replace the out-of-sorts Colin Stephens.

Stephens' crisis of confidence has been mirrored by that of the reigning Heineken League champions, who have yet to discover the form of last season. No superslick Scarlets as yet this winter, although they remain firmly in the title chase.

The topsy-turvy nature of this game emphasised the strides being made at Bridgend, but also showed the demise of Llanelli. They struggled to put their act together despite fielding seven internationals.

No sooner had Richards levelled the scores than the Bridgend flanker, Graham Evans, barged his way across for a try, although by half-time the home scrum-half, Huw Harries, had crossed for a try which Richards converted to give Llanelli an interval lead.

Back came Bridgend after the break with a penalty from Matthew Lewis, the man many feel would be ideally suited to take over from Stephens, but that man Harries popped up again to score a second try to regain the lead.

The Bridgend youth scrum-half, Kevin Mably, enhanced his growing reputation by making the most of a strike against the head 10 metres from the home line with a blind-side try which Lewis converted to edge the visitors back in front.

Llanelli: Tries Harries 2, Richards; Conversions Richards 2. Bridgend: Tries Gale, Evans, Mably; Conversion Lewis; Penalty Lewis.

Llanelli: H Williams; IW Jones, N Davies, M Wintle, W Proctor (S Davies, 30); A Richard, H Harries; R Jones, P Young, H Williams-Jones, P Jones, A Copsey, G Jones, P Davies (capt), M Perego (L Jones, 35-39; P Pook, 40-47; Jones, 48-55; Pook 56).

Bridgend: D Davies; G Webbe, P Wintle, G Jones, G Wilkins; M Lewis, K Mably; D Francis, P Morgan (I Greenslade, 42), S Gale, S Jenkins (I Spender, 13), A Gwilym, O Lloyd, N Spender (capt), G Evans.

Referee: C Thomas (Swansea).

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