Rugby Union: Madden's burst of brilliance

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Llanelli 19

Ebbw Vale 12

LLANELLI'S front-row crisis came to their rescue as they unearthed an unlikely try-scoring hero in Martyn Madden to help them win the Swalec Cup for a 10th time in 13 finals in the unusual setting of Bristol yesterday.

Madden was recruited from Penzance and Newlyn a month ago and immediately became a hit with the Stradey Park faithful when he scored two tries on his debut against Newport. But his 25-metre dash for the only try of a rather lacklustre cup final alleviated him to the level of cult status among the Scarlet fans. Whether he ever dreamt when he arrived in West Wales that he would be chaired from the field of Bristol City is doubtful.

"That's the stuff that dreams are made of. I called for the ball on the inside from Rupert Moon, I shimmied the winger and beat the full-back to the corner - that's showbiz," was Madden's description of a moment he will never forget.

And thank goodness he not only had the nous to support Moon from his break at a line-out 30 metres out from the Ebbw Vale line, but also had the speed to beat the cover defence to the line. Until Madden managed to touchdown two minutes from time the final was heading for its first 80 minutes without a try in its 27-year history.

Madden's was a terrific effort - a good try for even a wing to have scored. In the end he managed to beat off one tackle, out- pace the former Wales flanker Richie Collins and then hold off the cover tackle of the man of the match, Siua Taumololo.

The Tongan international was head and shoulders above the rest of the players on the field in all he did. He provided the only other clean break in the match, before Madden's charge, and could easily have been awarded a penalty try when the Llanelli full-back, Darril Williams, took him out late midway through the second-half after he had cut through the Llanelli defence and kicked over the full-back on the edge of the 22.

That was Ebbw's closest call for a try. As it was they had to be content with a penalty from Byron Hayward which draw the scores level at 9-9. Eight minutes later Hayward managed to edge his side ahead with his third penalty, to add to his earlier drop goal, and all of a sudden Ebbw were ahead for the first time in the match.

They deserved it, too, because they had dominated from the start. It must be cruel to say it, but the best team definitely lost. There had been great expectations from this fixture, yet the standard was low throughout, the game error strewn and, Madden's marvellous moment apart, Llanelli did little or nothing to justify taking the title for a 10th time.

It did not help either that the referee Clayton Thomas was red hot on his whistle. But if he was below par then he only matched the standard of those around him. But what can you expect when the season begins on 16 August and does not reach its climax until 23 May? If the players were jaded, then the fans proved they had better things to do because Ashton Gate was only three-quarters full.

For one player in particular it was a special day. The veteran Llanelli centre Nigel Davies was accompanied on to the pitch by his four-year-old son Sam, the Scarlets' mascot for the day, and by the end he had taken a record sixth winners' trophy from a record eighth final appearance.

For all bar three of the Ebbw players it was a first final. They did not let themselves down, but they failed to find the right means in the midfield to get past Davies and co. Llanelli's wealth of experience ultimately proved decisive.

What did not do Ebbw's cause any good was that the usually dead-eyed- kick goalkicker Hayward missed with three reasonable shots. The game developed into a booting battle between Hayward and his opposite number, Craig Warlow. Warlow got the better of the first-half duel with three penalties to a drop goal and penalty by Hayward. In the second-half it was two-one to Hayward on the penalty count, but Warlow finished with a flourish with a touchline conversion of Madden's try.

The final whistle brought floods of tears, those of joy for Llanelli and despair for Ebbw supporters. There were also a few joyful droplets emanating from the eyes of most Welsh rugby fans as one of the most dire seasons on record finally came to an end.

Ebbw Vale: S Taumalolo; A Harries, J Hawker (J Strange, 75), J Funnell, L Woodard; B Hayward, D Llewellyn; L Phillips (S Jones, 76), A Phillips, M Wilson, C Billen, K Faletau, R Collins, K Jones (capt), M Jones.

Llanelli: D Williams; W Proctor, N Boobyer (M Wintle, 63), N Davies, G Evans; C Warlow, R Moon; A Jones, R McBryde (capt), M Madden, V Cooper, M Voyle, C Wyatt (A Gibbs, 63), I Jones, H Jenkins.

Referee: Clayton Thomas (WRU).