Rugby Union: Moon worship becomes all the rage at Llanelli

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IT IS easy to see why Rupert Moon, in three short years, has become something of a cult figure in West Wales. After spearheading Llanelli's latest triumph the young Englishman, covered in mud and blood, stood underneath the stand in Cardiff and mixed with his people.

Moon, holding an ice pack to his head, signed autographs and gave countless interviews. Most of his team-mates had showered and changed before he retired to the dressing-room. His is a passionate affair with Welsh rugby and Llanelli's supporters are similarly committed to him. During the course of a heroic performance by Moon they regularly singled him out for hero worship and that in itself is remarkable in a team stuffed with talented performers.

Swansea, resigned to relinquishing the Heineken League title to Llanelli, focused on the Swalec Cup (why didn't they just call it the Electric Cup?) and, in particular, focused on the Llanelli captain. It was their worst mistake. Moon took an almighty battering in the opening minutes, but they could not subdue him. Ian Davies, Gazza-like, attempted to kick Moon off the park and then Richard Moriarty and Richard Webster laid into him late.

The result was that Colin Stephens was able to kick Llanelli into an early 6-0 lead and Swansea's aggression was dissipated. 'There is a fine line between commitment and overstepping the mark and maybe we went a little too far,' Stuart Davies, the Swansea captain, said. Had Moon reacted like a professional footballer he would probably have succeeded in getting at least one Swansea player sent off.

Stephens, notoriously nervy, must have been grateful that the Swansea back row concentrated on his partner. Moon, with blood trickling down his neck from a head wound, was in his element. He had the confidence to call a move from a set piece which resulted in Llanelli's first try. Although half-tackled, Moon perfectly timed a pass on the short side to Ian Jones and the full-back's speed enabled him to beat Swansea's cover.

Llanelli, who led 14-3 at half-time, survived a renewed challenge before increasing their lead with another beautifully worked try. Ieuan Evans got a hand to the ball to prevent Mark Titley from scoring and the next minute the Lions wing rounded off a vintage Llanelli attack in which Ian Jones made the decisive break. 'I'll sell a few papers this week,' the joyful reporter from the Llanelli Star said.

Llanelli were now out of reach, although Swansea's Lions made a late imprint on the game and contributed to a spectacular second half. The Lions who played in this match had broken off from training in London and they shared two cars on the journey to Cardiff. Evans travelled with Robert Jones rather than Anthony Clement, Scott Gibbs or Webster simply because Jones was not playing on Saturday. An injured shoulder prevented him from playing against Moon, who displaced him in the Wales team against France.

Llanelli, who have won the cup eight times, reached their fifth final in six years and at the Arms Park a week on Saturday they will be hot favourites to beat Neath. Llanelli left Stradey by coach and listened to bits of the first semi-final on the radio. En route to Cardiff, they stopped for refreshment at a transport caff in Barry. 'We have no illusions of grandeur,' Moon said. 'A bar of chocolate and a can of Lucozade. There's no question of us being spoilt.'

They were not remotely concerned with the result of the Neath-Bridgend match nor, for the time being are they thinking of the final. Today they will have another training session and on Wednesday they play Pontypridd in the league. One point from that would give them the championship. In a season in which they have beaten Australia, Llanelli have what Moon described as a 'once in a lifetime chance' of filling the cupboard. They are unarguably the best team in Wales and only Bath could give them an argument as to whether they are the best in Britain.

Gareth Jenkins, the Llanelli coach, stands down at the end of the season to concentrate on his role as assistant coach of Wales and Allan Lewis, Wales's Under-19 coach, will be promoted at Stradey Park. 'We have had nine months of continuous rugby and you have to accept you can reach only so many peaks. It is a question of attitude as well as fitness and we have a very good balance.'

One of Jenkins's wisest moves was to lure Moon from Neath. 'He has been a tremendous influence on me,' Moon said of Jenkins. 'He is an inspirational man.' Jenkins could say the same of the captain.

Llanelli: Tries Ian Jones, Ieuan Evans, Proctor; Conversion Stephens; Penalties Stephens 4. Swansea: Tries Simon Davies, Webster; Conversion Williams; Penalties Williams 2.

Llanelli: I Jones; I Evans (N Boobyer, 74), N Davies, S Davies, W Proctor; C Stephens, R Moon (capt); R Evans, A Lamerton, D Joseph, P Davies, A Copsey, M Perego (S Quinnell, 54), E Lewis, L Jones.

Swansea: A Clement; M Titley, S Gibbs, K Hopkins, S Davies; A Williams, D Weatherley; I Buckett, R McBryde, K Colclough, P Arnold, R Moriarty, I Davies (A Reynolds, 68), S Davies (capt), R Webster.

Referee: C Thomas (Bryncoch).