Rugby Union: Holmes plans release of Llanelli's tight grip

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The Independent Online
THE message, to those who like having their cake and eating it, is tough luck. Doing the double spectator-wise meant a scrounge round for tickets and, with a fair bit of good fortune, a chance to visit both English and Welsh cup finals. Pure greed, of course, but rugby men this time have been put back on the old diet.

Twickenham or Cardiff, you take your pick. Not, mind, that tickets for either of this afternoon's venues have been easy to come by, the Welsh matching the rush across the border with an Arms Park sell-out even before a ball was kicked in earnest in the semi-finals. The impression is that you could double the size of the

national grounds and still be turning people away.

Which means there will be 53,000 heading for the Arms Park today to see whether Cardiff can loosen Llanelli's grip on the Swalec Cup. And a considerable one it is, too, the Scarlets seeking a fourth successive title, which would equal their record run of the 70s.

Terry Holmes, meanwhile, has his own views on halting the favourites. Holmes, the former Wales scrum-half who went north and returned to help coach Cardiff, captained the side in the 1985 final against Llanelli and experienced the disappointment of defeat by a single point. 'We were the firm favourites then' he said. 'Llanelli were less experienced and not well fancied. Now we're the underdogs.'

Which is fine by Holmes, who for the moment is shelving thoughts on his future with the club. 'The final is the most important thing at the moment,' he said. 'There are one or two things to sort out. But I wanted to repay a debt to Cardiff and I really would not want to work anywhere else.'

Holmes has been working on ways to halt Llanelli. 'We have to stop Rupert Moon,' he said. 'He has had a number of good games against us and is so good at bringing his back row into play.' Then again: 'We scored more tries in the league than they did and drew with them in our last meeting.'

That Heineken match was played at Stradey Park and Cardiff showed tremendous spirit. They had the lock Tony Rees sent off and at one stage were 16 points adrift. Enter Colin Laity, now a Cardiff centre, but a member of the Neath team who in 1989 were the last to beat Llanelli in a final.

'It's nice for us going in as underdogs in the knowledge that we can come back from

19-3 down against them and with 14 men,' Laity said. 'That performance was the pivot of our season. Llanelli are a great side going forward but they are not so good

defending. They have a reputation to live up to and there will be more pressure on them.'

There is pressure, too, on Laity, who has a sore knee,

going into a final that could bring him a third winners' medal after his triumphs with Neath. The decision on whether he plays will be taken this morning. Other decisions were no less painful, particularly the one that sidelines

Simon Hill.

The wing played twice for Wales in the Five Nations' Championship but it will be Steve Ford who faces Llanelli. 'It was a hell of a decision to have to leave him out,' Alex Evans, Cardiff's coaching organiser, explained. As for keeping Moon in check, Hemi Taylor is missing from the middle of the back row following his appendicitis operation.

Nor are Llanelli as settled as they might be, an ankle injury to Ian Jones, their Wales A full-back, resulting in a switch to less familiar territory for Neil Boobyer, generally a centre but who has also played at full-back and wing during this season's league campaign. 'I played some rugby at full-back as a 15-year-old,' Boobyer said. 'But this is only my second game at senior level.'

A controversial move, then, bearing in mind that Jason Strange was Llanelli's last line of defence in the semi-final win over Maesteg, dropping a late goal for good measure.

Late drops? Well, controversy surrounded one from the No 8 Emyr Lewis which stole Llanelli the cup against Neath in last season's final. Whether they will be taken as close by Cardiff we shall have to see.