Rugby Union: Maesteg ensure a few scarlet faces

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Llanelli. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23

Maesteg. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7

FOR just over an hour, one of the biggest shocks in Welsh cup history looked like coming to fruition at The Gnoll. Llanelli, nine times winners, were on the rack against the team rated 66-1 no-hopers and seemingly on the brink of losing their grip on the trophy.

Someone had forgotten to read the script to Lindsay Harvey and his Maesteg team-mates. The Second Division promotion contenders were written off and due to disappear beneath an avalanche of points in their first semi-final.

When it comes to the cup nobody does it better than the Scarlets, who will be looking for a record-equalling fourth successive victory in what will be their 12th appearance in the final next month. Yet until they finally took the lead after 65 minutes, anything seemed possible.

Maesteg rose well above their station and were full value for their lead midway through the first half when they conjured up a superb try for Mark Watts. The outside-half launched the move with a long cut- out pass on his 10-metre line and was then on hand to receive from Huw Lewis 15 metres out before crossing at the posts.

On half-time, though, Ieuan Evans extended his cup try-scoring record with his 44th touchdown. That was a cruel blow for Maesteg, who were forced to concede a scrum five metres from their line when a speculative drop goal attempt from Colin Stephens was held up in the wind and bounced inches short of the line.

From the scrum, Llanelli posted their threequarters to the left allowing Scott Quinnell and Rupert Moon to exploit the wide open spaces on the right and create space for Evans to score.

With the wind at their backs in the second half, it merely seemed a question of time before Llanelli took firm control of proceedings and yet Maesteg once again upset the odds with their adventurous and committed approach.

Lewis was held up a metre short and then Watts, perhaps crucially, missed a 30-metre penalty from in front of the posts. If only he had been able to extend the underdogs' lead, Evans, Phil Davies and Nigel Davies might not now be preparing for their seventh cup final appearance.

But no sooner had Watts's kick drifted wide than Llanelli were presented with a golden opportunity on the Maesteg 22 and Stephens stepped up to land the penalty. That put Llanelli a point ahead and from there on they flexed their muscles to add 15 points in the last five minutes.

Maesteg certainly did not deserve that and were left to dream of what might have been. They lost the game yet showered themselves in glory and, as Moon conceded afterwards, his side will have to play much better if they are to take their place in the record books by winning the cup again.

Llanelli: Tries I Evans, Quinnell, R Evans; Conversion Stephens; Penalty Stephens; Drop goal Strange. Maesteg: Try Watts; Conversion Watts.

Llanelli: J Strange; I Evans, N Davies, N Boobyer, W Proctor; C Stephens, R Moon (capt); R Evans, A Lamerton, H Williams-Jones, P Davies, A Copsey (P Jones, 79), M Perego, S Quinnell, L Jones.

Maesteg: B Davey; D Williams, G Wilcox, R Boobyer, J Hopkins; M Watts, H Lewis; P Riley, L Gilby, P Pincher, L Harvey (capt), S Thomas, P Buckle, A Williams, P Thomas.

Referee: C Thomas (Swansea).