Rugby Union: Llanelli claim new scalp

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The Independent Online
Llanelli 23 Western Samoa 15

Western Samoa discovered a few harsh facts of rugby life in the cauldron of Stradey Park. Many a touring side has travelled to Llanelli in expectation only to depart in defeat. The Scarlets are never a pushover, as the 1972 All Blacks, 1967 Australians and now the 1996 Western Samoans all bear witness.

While those earlier triumphs are remembered as famous victories, Saturday's flirted with infamy: that Western Samoa did not have a player sent off was a miracle. After a first half of uncompromising defence and inspirational attacking from both sides, things degenerated after the interval, culminating in two episodes from which Western Samoa emerged with tarnished reputation.

In two incidents, the referee John Pearson, who later denied there had been any real problems, was forced to show Trevor Leota then George Latu a yellow card for acts of violence. Hooker Leota, who had been sent off against Munster, was adjudged to have hit Ieuan Evans, the Llanelli captain, with a high tackle although the crowd on the far side seemed to indicate Mr Pearson had punished the wrong man.

Five minutes later the game was branded with another streak of yellow after a touch judge drew the referee's attention to a stamping by Latu on the Llanelli hooker Jason Hyatt.

On both occasions Mr Pearson found himself in a simmering volcano of emotion as anxious and angry players surrounded him. Common sense prevailed and the pieces of a good match were picked up again. But the damage had been done.

The Western Samoans had arrived in West Wales with their ears ringing to fierce criticism from their management after a narrow brush with humiliation at the hands of Cambridge University last week, the tourists sneaking in by a solitary point, 14-13. Perhaps that was why, despite a promising start in which their rapid rucking and explosive running had the Scarlets on the back foot for some 20 minutes, they felt the need to resort to sly punches and a generally over-physical approach.

Llanelli responded by turning in a brave performance studded with big hits, incisive counter-attacks and resolute defending. In left wing Garan Evans they have a player of vision and pace. The Wales A cap scored two tries, the second of which brought 3,000 Stradey faithful to their feet as he sliced through defenders.

If outside-half Frano Botica had had a little more good fortune with the boot then it would have been a demolition job. It seemed Botica could not come to terms with the Mitre balls that have replaced Llanelli's usual Gilbert balls. Botica still landed three kicks to take his points tally in eight matches to 94.

Llanelli: Tries G Evans 2, R Evans; Conversion Botica; Penalties Botica 2. Western Samoa: Tries Paramore, Sooalo; Conversion Va'a; Penalty Va'a.

Llanelli: W Proctor; I Evans (capt), T Davies, N Boobyer, G Evans; F Botica, R Moon; R Evans (S John, 40), J Hyatt, H Williams-Jones, S Ford, V Cooper, H Jenkins, I Jones, P Morris.

WESTERN SAMOA: V Patu; A Sooalo, G Leaupepe, T Fanalua, V Fa'aofo; E Va'a, J Filemu; B Reidy, T Leota, G Latu, M Birtwistle (capt), L Tone, S Taala, J Paramore, I Feaunati (P Lam, 72).

Referee: J Pearson (Yarm, Cleveland).