IN AN extraordinarily lively and hectic but error-strewn Welsh Cup final, Llanelli and Cardiff restored belief and confidence to the game in Wales.
The defeat of Llanelli, who had 10 men who have played for Wales this season, including eight regulars in the Welsh team, begs the question whether Wales are in fact selecting their best side. The only defence or mitigating argument could be that their players were tired and unmotivated after a hard season.
Nevertheless, the enthusiasm and pace of the final reiterated that there is a considerable improvement in Welsh club rugby because a couple of seasons ago there was a barely a first-class team in Wales, but now there are five or six.
In the event, Cardiff won because they were a more motivated outfit and a more substantial team. Llanelli were looser but obviously swifter and more talented individually but, in composite, too frenetic to be effective and lacking the precision of Cardiff, both in attack and defence.
It was Cardiff who boasted the outstanding players of the afternoon in men such as Derwyn Jones, their 6ft 10in lock, who comprehensively won the line-outs, Andrew Moore, who had a more composed match than Rupert Moon, Mike Hall who was the best midfield player and Mike Rayer, who was magnificent at full-back.
The best Cardiff trait was a magnificent defence which denied Llanelli opportunities to show any quality or the pace of their international players.
Surprisingly, the much- vaunted Llanelli back row made little impact, their front row came under pressure all day and their half-backs gave them no measure of control or direction.
From the start Cardiff seemed to catch Llanelli cold and were ahead within three minutes. Hall's try came after Adrian Davies hoisted a high ball to the posts, where Neil Boobyer - pressed into service as full-back from centre and who never looked the part - was bundled off the ball by Hall, who was able to crash over and score. Davies converted.
Colin Stephens promptly replied with a cracking 45-
metre wide-angle penalty for jumping across at the line-out, and it was evident that a Llanelli problem was winning the line- out. Llanelli then got the turnover at a ruck and Scott Quinnell came off the back and drove. From the ruck Nigel Davies made a half-break and punted for the corner, where Nigel Walker fell on the ball but failed to secure it. It popped out to give Ieuan Evans as easy a try as he has ever scored, but then at least he was on the spot.
Cardiff regained the lead with a penalty from Davies from offside and then the Cardiff hooker Jonathan Humphreys played a big part in feeding Hall going down the narrow side and who, in
turn, fed Rayer coming into the line at speed, to score in the corner.
That was all the scoring and in the second half, although there were moments of high excitement as both teams came within a whisker of scoring, the game finished with Cardiff worthy winners. Moore, who outplayed Moon, the Welsh scrum-half, won the Man Of The Match award.
Cardiff: Tries Hall, Rayer; Conversion Davies; Penalty Davies. Llanelli: Try I Evans; Penalty Stephens.
Cardiff: M Rayer; S Ford, M Hall (capt), C Laity, N Walker; A Davies, A Moore; M Griffiths, J Humpheys, L Mustoe, A Rees, D Jones, M Bennett, O Williams, M Budd.
Llanelli: N Boobyer; I Evans, S Davies, N Davies, W Proctor; C Stephens, R H St J B Moon; R Evans, A Lamerton, H Williams- Jones, P Davies, A Copsey, E Lewis, S Quinnell, M Perego.
Referee: R Yeman (Port Talbot).