RUGBY UNION: Cardiff mix resolve with relief

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The Independent Online
Neath 26 Cardiff 27

The Cardiff players and fans must have felt a certain amount of empathy with their Neath counterparts when Simon Hill slipped over for his second try three minutes from time and Lee Jarvis knocked over the match-winning conversion.

It was a similar late score by Steve Williams on the final day of last season that robbed Cardiff of the First Division title even though they were beating Llanelli by an avalanche of points and tries at the same time.

So revenge must have been pretty sweet for the Heineken European Cup quarter-finalists who looked anything but likely winners throughout a first half in which they conceded three tries and found themselves 23- 6 adrift at the interval.

It was hardly the dress-rehearsal they were looking for as they build towards Saturday's European showdown with Bath at the Arms Park, although things did get better in the second half.

Neath, in typical fashion, threw everything they could muster at the Cardiff defence and reaped the benefit in the shape of tries by Williams, Barry Grabham and Ian Boobyer. It was stirring stuff that would have overwhelmed sides with lesser resolve.

In the end, though, it wasn't enough to bury Hemi Taylor and his men. The skipper's stern lecture at half-time obviously hit the mark and Hill weaved some magic to save the day.

The Welsh winger's first try was something special as he threaded his way past four would-be tacklers to race 60 metres to score. His second came as a direct result of the pressure exerted by the Cardiff pack.

Then it was left to the young outside-half, Jarvis, to take the glory with a touchline conversion. He lined it up and banged it over, never flinching in the face of the pressure.

There was as much relief as jubilation in the Cardiff camp at the end. There was also a realisation that it will take an even greater effort to proceed to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup.

The return of Derwyn Jones in the second row will be a huge boost to the side's ball-winning potential, and a fit again Jonathan Davies would be another bonus. The real key, however, will be in not giving away points at the start.

Catching out the Welsh champions is one thing, but coming from behind to overhaul the kings of English cup and league rugby might prove more difficult.

Neath: Tries S Williams, Grabham, Boobyer; Conversion G Davies; Penalties G Davies 3. Cardiff: Tries Hill 2, Thomas; Conversion Jarvis 3; Penalties Jarvis 2.

Neath: G Davies; C Higgs, G Evans (D Morris h-t; C Bridges, 48), D Hawkins, B Grabham; P Williams, P Horgan; L Gerrard, B Williams, J Davies (capt), M Glover, A Kembery, G Newman, S Williams, I Boobyer.

Cardiff: J Thomas; S Hill, M Hall, L Davies, N Walker; L Jarvis, R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys, D Young, J Wakeford, K Stewart, M Bennett, H Taylor (capt), J Ringer.

Referee: D R Davies (Llanbradach).