Rugby Union Commentary: Jones has the jump on luckless Pontypridd: Cardiff and Llanelli through to Swalec Cup final

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The Independent Online
IF IT gives them any satisfaction - and, evidently, it does - Pontypridd have broken, or at any rate broken into, the cosy cartel of 'big' clubs who had the presumption to consider themselves worthy of representing Wales in some sort of Anglo-Welsh competition.

For big four (Cardiff, Llanelli, Neath and Swansea) read big five, which most Welsh people remember as a sobriquet for their national selectors but, even after an 8-6

defeat by Cardiff in the Swalec Cup semi-final at Newport, now means Pontypridd as well as the others.

It is not to take sides to suggest it would have been rather good for Welsh rugby if Pontypridd had gone all the way to Cardiff Arms Park to face Llanelli in the final on 7 May. That clandestine meeting the presumptuous foursome had with four English counterparts may in the end have come to nothing, but it put Ponty's backs up no end.

'We're pleased that we've stopped all the talk about an Anglo- Welsh league with only four Welsh clubs,' Dennis John, the Pontypridd coach, said. 'It needed a club to do it and I'm glad it was us.' Mind you, his team have not won anything yet, Saturday's fall at the penultimate fence being merely the latest near miss.

For Cardiff, though, it has been much, much worse. They would have been relegated from the Welsh First Division a couple of years ago - if there had been relegation. Even this historically greatest of all clubs (or so they like to consider themselves) have won nothing since the cup in 1987.

But the improvement under the aegis of their Australian coaching director, Alex Evans, has been steady and Cardiff are so well pleased that he will be back from Brisbane next season on a package which will cost them some pounds 60,000.

'I think we've played well all season,' Evans said, which may sound tendentious though he was right to celebrate the determination with which Cardiff first kept going and then hit back when they were

behind at Rodney Parade. 'We showed the guts people didn't think we have.'

This is personified by Derwyn Jones, the elongated 23-year-old who has been around various Welsh clubs while and since being at Loughborough University and, as this semi-final revealed, is making the progress of which some had despaired.

England have their Martin Bayfield and turned him into a Grand Slam lock; Wales their Derwyn Jones, a 6ft 10in string of beans who is now punching his weight (if he will pardon the

expression) in the line-out and even beginning to develop mobility and showing a hint of aggression as he does so.

In a country not known for forward gigantism, this Jones boy could turn into a precious asset - he already is if we believe the fulsome Evans: 'He can compete with anyone in the world in the line-out. If he makes the same sort of progress in the next six months around the field, he is going to place himself among the best second rows in the world.'

Evans packed Jones off to Queensland last summer for experience with the likes of John Eales, Garrick Morgan and Rod McCall, all outstanding Australian locks, and he expects him soon to be re- crossing the globe with Wales. The squad for Canada and the Pacific will be announced on Thursday.

Jones the jump was a crucial difference between cup victory and

defeat. Although Pontypridd - through Greg Prosser, a diminutive 6ft 8in - dominated the line-out for considerable periods, Jones won Cardiff the critical possession they needed after the interval when they were attacking Pontypridd's narrow lead and then anxiously defending their own.

Pontypridd should not have been so vulnerable. They took inadequate advantage of the wind during the first half when Crispin Cormack landed two penalties from three attempts but it was not until the second half, and Cormack's four misses culminating cruelly four minutes into injury time, that they really felt the absence of Neil Jenkins.

The Wales stand-off was still 25 per cent short of full fitness when he withdrew, mainly because the extent of his hamstring injury had not been diagnosed until Friday, when his back was found to be out of true alignment. Dennis John and Nigel Bezani, the Pontypridd captain, quite properly exonerated Cormack, but it is difficult to imagine the win would have been Cardiff's if Jenkins had been playing.

Adrian Davies place-kicked no better than Cormack but, shortly after half-time, his one success reduced the deficit and after an hour Cardiff struck their decisive blow. Davies's up-and-under was superbly gathered on the full by Colin Laity, who passed out to Owain Williams and stayed in support to take the return and score.

Pontypridd's best subsequent moments came with an astounding 60-yard rolling maul which bade fair to bring a try until Cardiff were penalised for collapsing - a decision made by David Davies even though the Pontypridd pack were still in possession, on their feet, had Cardiff rocking and were ready to roll some more.

It was typical - the maul itself, but more especially the penalty. Even two lots of three points are better for a defending side than a prospective seven for a try and Dennis John was quite sure that Cardiff had quite deliberately made that fundamentally negative choice.

'I could see why sides don't score many tries against Cardiff,' he said. 'If they persistently infringe, you aren't going to score tries. One player gave eight penalties away. If that's not persistent infringement, what is?' John did not name names but the player concerned was the Cardiff hooker, Jonathan Humphreys.

The ultimate penalty for persistent infringement is dismissal, but the only additional sanction against Humphreys were an extra 10 yards for backchat. Penalties are 10-a- penny but tries, as a relentlessly hard, relentlessly exciting but relentlessly mediocre semi-final confirmed, are more precious than ever.

Cardiff: Try Laity; Penalty Davies. Pontypridd: Penalties Cormack 2.

Cardiff: M Rayer; S Ford, M Hall (capt), C Laity, N Walker; A Davies, A Moore; M Griffiths (P Sedgemore, 11-20), J Humphreys, L Mustoe (P Sedgemore, 9-11, 70), A Rees, D Jones, M Bennett, O Williams, M Budd.

Pontypridd: M Back; D Manley, J Lewis, S Lewis, O Robbins; C Cormack, Paul John; N Bezani (capt), Phil John, A Metcalfe, G Prosser, M Rowley, M Lloyd, D McIntosh, R Collins.

Referee: D Davies (Llanbradach).

(Photograph omitted)

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