Rugby Union: Champions enjoy change in fortunes

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The Independent Online
Neath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

Swansea. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

THE theory was that Swansea had gone off the boil, were living off the memories of their victory over Australia and were about to hand over their Heineken League title to Cardiff.

They disproved that with a first win in 12 years at The Gnoll, which keeps them firmly in the hunt to retain their title, demonstrating to their coach, Mike Ruddock, that the minds of his players are once again firmly fixed on the task in hand. 'There were signs that we are back to our hungry best,' Ruddock said.

Cardiff, two points and 13 tries clear at the top, still have to travel to The Gnoll. They also have to go to Swansea for their final fixture. What it means is there will be a real dogfight for the title, keeping interest high to the end with Cardiff, Swansea and third-placed Llanelli all involved.

Neath could have been a part of it, but a lax second half, coupled with the dismissal of Glyn Llewellyn midway through that period, saw them lose their chance. Although they still have to entertain Cardiff and Llanelli, they are now 10 points adrift of the leaders.

The sending-off of Llewellyn came after the touch judge spotted him climbing over the back and head of the Swansea hooker, Robin McBryde. If it looked worse than it actually was, it was such a senseless act it deserved the ultimate sanction. On the statistical front, it helped boost the dismissals in the First Division to a record high of 14, double last season.

In fact, there were six players from the four divisions sent off at the weekend, taking the season's tally to 42, eight more than the previous worst for a whole season.

On the plus side, there were virtuoso performances from Robert Jones and Tony Clement, the latter crowning his game with the second Swansea try.

Jones helped to launch the first try with a deft blindside pass from a ruck deep in the Swansea half. Six passes later, and 60 yards on, Simon Davies was given a clear run to the line to break the stalemate which stood throughout the first half at a penalty apiece.

Neath: Try Bowling; Penalty Thorburn. Swansea: Tries Simon Davies, Clement; Conversion Williams; Penalties Williams 2.

Neath: P Thorburn; A Donovan, H Woodland, J Bird, S Bowling; M McCarthy, R Jones; L Gerrard, A Thomas, J Davies, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn (capt), I Boobyer, S Williams, M Morris.

Swansea: A Clement; Simon Davies, S Gibbs, K Hopkins (S Jones, 79), S Barclay; A Williams, R Jones; K Colclough, R McBryde, A Metcalfe, P Arnold, R Moriarty, I Davies, Stuart Davies (capt), A Reynolds.

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).

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