WHAT this Welsh Cup tie lacked in quality it certainly made up for in tempestuousness and excitement and in the end it was won by a defiant defence and uncharacteristic lapses by Paul Thorburn, that marvellous Neath goalkicker.
Both teams knew that the season was over if they lost this quarter-final. Between them, after all, they have dominated the cup for the past six years, Llanelli winning four times to Neath's two. Llanelli were also going for their 20th consecutive and 100th overall win in a competition in which they have excelled by winning it 11 times.
The Scarlets, who have supplied the Welsh team with 10 caps this season but have failed to measure up to expectations in the league, were also anxious to justify such an overwhelming representation for the national side.
In the manner of modern rugby, both teams selected big back rows with Neath using their captain and Welsh lock Gareth Llewellyn at No 8 and putting Steve Williams on the flank to beef up their pack and to reinforce their line-out against the larger Llanelli forwards.
It was quickly evident that once Llanelli were able to get the ball away from the clutches and the close hunting of the Neath forwards and out to the open spaces, that they had too many guns in the three-quarters for Neath. The only try of the game, fittingly enough, came from a Nigel Davies break. When he was tackled, Mark Perego managed to strip the ball away to Rupert Moon who raced for a try under the posts. Colin Stephens had no trouble converting.
Neath then proceeded to put the Llanelli pack through a mangle of ferocious forward play, which brought much ill- temper and unpleasantness. At times, indeed, the game appearing to be slipping from the referee's grasp. Llanelli began to appeal to Mr Davies and his linesmen to control matters.
Neath had gained the platform they needed for Thorburn to kick a penalty goal, which was first awarded to Neath, then changed to Llanelli for dissent and then back to Neath, for punching after the whistle.
At half-time this volatile game was in the balance with Llanelli leading 7-3 but Neath had the wind in their favour in the second period. Although the Neath forwards continued to show more steel, Thorburn managed to miss two penalties and again Llanelli showed that they had more wit and pace in the open, which allowed them to present an extremely organised defence.
Neath's only contribution behind the scrum was to hoist the ball for their forwards to chase. In addition, the kicking out of the hands by both teams was quite appalling. Although the Neath forwards exerted most of the pressure and the dog-fight persisted to the end, Llanelli continued to resist the unbearable pressure to win a game that they had barely deserved to.
Neath: Penalty goal Thorburn. Llanelli: Try Moon; Conversion Stephens.
Neath: P Thorburn; J Reynolds, H Woodland, S Crandon, A Harris; M McCarthy, R Jones; M Morgan, B Williams, J Davies, Glyn Llewellyn, M Whitson, S Williams, Gareth Llewellyn (capt), M Morris.
Llanelli: J Strange; I Evans, N Davies, N Boobyer, L Davies; C Stephens, R Moon (capt); R Evans, A Lamerton, H Williams- Jones, P Davies, A Copsey, P Jones, S Quinnell, M Perego.
Referee: D R Davies (WRU).