Rugby Union: Cardiff overcome wounded Neath

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Cardiff. .37

Neath. . . 9

CARDIFF, the perennial under- achievers who seem to be everyone's favourites for the Heineken League, became the season's first clear leaders with last night's overwhelming but grimly fought victory at the Arms Park.

Neath, like Cardiff hitherto unbeaten, fatally wounded themselves when Brian Williams was sent off after 22 minutes for punching Stuart Roy. Roy went off to have five stitches over his right eye.

To be begin with, it was a dismally attritional affair, Andrew Booth, like Roy, had stitches in a head wound and Neath had so many injuries it was hard to keep track of their comings and goings.

Williams' international days have been behind him since 1991 and after his comeback from an accident that almost severed his arm this was a sorry outcome. It was exacerbated by his gesticulations at a hostile crowd as he was proceeding, with the injured Roy beside him, to the dressing-room.

At the time of the props' departure Neath were three points down and Jonathan Westwood had fluffed four penalty attempts. It was only when the impressive 19- year-old Arwel Thomas took on the kicking that Neath had any success.

By then their fate was almost sealed. The Cardiff captain, Mike Hall, had promised expansive rugby from his side and this was eventually fulfilled when a strike move missed out the midfield and put Mike Rayer in at the posts.

A second Cardiff try followed in injury time at the interval, Huw Bevan being the beneficiary of a drive which had less to do with expansiveness than good, old forward brawn.

Neath's depleted resources should in logic have given Cardiff an ever-increasing advantage as the second half proceeded but strangely, once Rayer had added his second penalty, it took a long half- hour before the floodgates opened.

It was worth waiting for as Simon Hill and almost immediately Steve Ford ran the legs off Neath with quite magnificent tries followed finally by the concluding, and conclusive, try by Bevan.

Cardiff: Tries Bevan 2, Rayer, Hill, Ford; Conversions Rayer 3; Penalties Rayer 2. Neath: Penalties Thomas 2; Drop goal Thomas.

Cardiff: M Rayer; S Ford, M Hall (capt), C Laity, S Hill; A Davies, A Booth (A Moore, 25); M Griffiths, H Bevan, L Mustoe, S Roy (H Stone, 22), D Jones, H Taylor, E Lewis, V Davies.

Neath: J Westwood (Richard Jones, 40; M McCarthy, 66); M Singer, H Woodland, L Davies, S Bowling; A Thomas, Rhodri Jones; Brian Williams, Barrie Williams, J Davies, P Jackson, Gareth Llewellyn (capt; C Scott, 15- 25), M Morris, R Morris (D Morris, 26), C Wyatt.

Referee: R Davies (Dunvant).

Allowances allowed, page 39