Rugby Union: Neath stagger beneath barrage

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(First Edition)

Swansea. . .29

Neath. . . .12

IT IS a myth that the Welsh are a gloomy people. No matter what the setbacks the year before, unbridled optimism invariably bounces back about this time in the new season. But this year it does seem to be warranted. Swansea's heroic defence of their leadership of the Heineken League showed that Welsh rugby may finally have turned the corner after the disasters of the past decade.

Swansea were superb, minimising errors by tackling and catching everything, but then opening up at the slightest hint of space. Control in the pack and swift unleashing of the backs is the method by which the All Whites prosper. But Neath might have matched them with a hint of the surging forward style that kept them dominant in the 1980s.

With Llanelli also in peak form, there is now a west-Wales axis that threatens much and augers well for international hopes.

The foundation of Swansea's success was laid by second rowers Paul Arnold - discarded by Wales - and Richard Moriarty - in his mid-30s and long forgotten by virtually everybody outside the St Helen's ground. Behind these two hard grafters, the Swansea back row took the Neath forwards to the cleaners. Flanker Alan Reynolds was omnipresent, strong in the tackle and fearsome in flight, and No 8 Stuart Davies was rewarded with a cheeky try, sauntering over from a tapped penalty virtually unnoticed.

But the backs were the real stars, always prepared to take the imaginative option. Their last three tries followed from this spirit of controlled adventure, all involving jinks and searing runs. First, the Swansea pack took the ball down one wing before releasing it and Simon Davies sprinted half the field to score on the other side; second, full-back Anthony Clements saw the smallest gap but went for it with the speed of a rattlesnake, centre Scot Gibbs finishing the move ruthlessly; finally, Gibbs broke through on half-way for Aled Williams to sprint the last 30 yards. Steve Bowlin's try for Neath after all that was no more than a consolation.

There was even enough class on the park to warrant an early wager on Wales for the coming international campaign.

Swansea: A Clement; M Titley, T Michael, S Gibbs, Simon Davies; A Williams, R Jones; K Colclough (C Clarke, 42 min), R McBride, A Metcalfe, R Moriarty, P Arnold, I Davies, A Reynolds, Stuart Davies.

Neath: P Thorburn; S Bowling, J Ball, H Hughes, J Reynolds; M McCarthy, C Bridges (R Jones, 63 min); B Williams, A Thomas, J Davies, Gareth Llewellyn, Glyn Llewellyn, P Pugh, A Varney, M Morris.

Referee: G Simmonds (Taff's Well).

Scores: Varney/Ball (try/conv, 8 min) 0-7; Stuart Davies (try, 17 min) 5-7; Simon Davies (try, 27 min) 10-7; Williams (pen, 32 min) 13-7; Gibbs (try, 43 min) 18-7; Williams (pen, 53 min) 21-7; Williams (try, 70 min) 26-7; Titley (pen, 75 min) 29-7; Bowling (try, 77 min) 29-12.