Rugby Union: Maesteg vex frail Swansea

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The Independent Online
Swansea. .15

Maesteg. .11

A LITTLE bit of Christmas goodwill is no doubt a good thing, but carrying it on this far into the New Year begins to seem excessive. So Swansea found when their generosity in agreeing to play lowly Maesteg nearly threw away the championship.

In the end, the All Whites, heavily weakened with seven internationals in the Welsh squad in Lanzarote, just kept control of this rearranged game to stayn level with Cardiff in the title race.

Maesteg might easily have beaten the home side, which looked ragged and vulnerable. All the Llynfi Valley side seemed to need at times was the belief that they could actually win.

Take the most exciting move of the match: the Maesteg outside- half, David Williams, audaciously chipped on his own line and caught his own kick to send the backs hurtling downfield. Play ended up on the Swansea line seconds later with the ball bouncing around, begging to be grounded. In the melee, Swansea showed the greater urgency and saved the try.

For only a brief spell in the first half did Swansea open up and hint at the qualities which keep them joint favourites to win the championship.

It was only in this spell, when both Swansea tries were scored, that the gulf between top and bottom of the First Division appeared. Apart from that, Swansea were largely reduced to their visitors' level: a thorough side from a good, solid club. Yesterday, Maesteg's ways on the field were rough-hewn - no frills, few risks, but not many thrills either.

But against the scratch Swansea side with glamorous pretensions, its straight running, hard tackling and safe kicking served it reasonably well. Or as well as it ever could really against the innate superiority of the small core of Swansea regulars.

Richard Moriarty, mellower now in his mid-30s, was the principal bulwark against feverish Maesteg forwards. Behind him, centre and captain Kevin Hopkins and his wingers, Mark Titley and Simon Davies, injected occasional verve into the attack with their determined running.

Aled Williams, at outside-half, though, was underwhelming. Perhaps he was sulking after being left behind by the trippers to Lanzarote, but he failed to grip the game when the inexperience around him made it all the more necessary. He was lacklustre with one sparkling exception: with Swansea behind, he neatly jinked inside the Maesteg defence 30 yards out and sped straight as an arrow over the line.

On Friday a fully replenished Swansea take on Llanelli. It may be an easier task.

Swansea: D Weatherley; M Titley, K Hopkins (capt), J Ball, S Davies; A Williams, Robbie Jones; I Buckett, R McBryde, K Colclough, A Sutton, R Moriarty, Robin Jones, R Appleyard, P Arnold.

Maesteg: D Edwards; G Wilcox, L Jones, C Yardley, J Hopkins; D Williams, H Lewis; S Lewis, G Davies (capt), A Henson, L Harvey, P Scott, P Buckle, A Williams, P Thomas.

Referee: B Wallis (Cwmbran).

Scorers: D Edwards (pen, 1 min, 0-3); D Edwards (pen, 14 min, 0-6); Weatherley (try, 34 min, 5-6); A Williams (try/conv, 39 min, 12-6); P Thomas (try, 49 min, 12-11); A Williams (pen, 55 min, 15-11).