Rugby Union: Neath stay above water

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DUNVANT bowed out of the Welsh First Division yesterday despite signing off their season with a 46-27 victory at Treorchy. Even though they scored eight tries and took full advantage of the first-half sending- off of the Treorchy hooker, Chris Greedy, Dunvant prevailed in vain as both their main rivals, Neath and Newport, also won. Only two months ago, they looked destined for mid-table safety - but then the Welsh Rugby Union changed the rules and decreed that four of the 12 top-flight teams, not two, should go down. To add insult, if the bonus points system had not existed, Dunvant would have finished seventh, above both Neath and Bridgend.

Neath, who lost twice to Dunvant this season, battled to a thrilling 20-19 victory at Caerphilly and Newport's forwards put in a storming performance to beat Cardiff 23-11. Swansea bade farewell to their coach Mike Ruddock, who takes the reins at the Irish province Leinster next season, by thrashing Bridgend 64-17 and securing the runners-up spot. Third-placed Llanelli hammered Ebbw Vale 53-13 and Pontypridd celebrated their championship in style by brushing Newbridge aside 48-15.

Frano Botica, a World Cup winner in 1987, is to resume his international career with Croatia. The Llanelli fly-half was capped by the All Blacks seven times in 1986-89 and made his last Test appearance for the Kiwis' rugby league side in 1991. Botica, whose paternal grandfather emigrated to New Zealand in 1930, will make his Croatian debut on Saturday in a World Cup pool match against Latvia. And if he has his way the side will soon be even stronger. "Mike Brewer is a quarter Croatian," he said, "and the Cooper brothers, Matthew and Greg, also qualify."

If Bristol secure their League One future against their play-off opponents Bedford today, they hope to persuade their England forwards Simon Shaw and Mark Regan plus the club captain Martin Corry to stay at the Memorial Ground. But they will be without South African No 8, Rudi Straueli, who ruptured an Achilles tendon in last week's 20-11 first-leg victory and will be out for four months. Martin Offiah faces a fitness test on his bruised hip for Bedford, whose owner, the boxing promoter Frank Warren, has a pounds 50,000 bet riding on them.

Coventry, of League Two, defend a 16-14 lead from their first leg when they visit London Irish this afternoon. Their Scotland prop Alan Sharp is set to play despite an Achilles tendon problem.

Following their 48-19 eclipse of Otley, Exeter now need to win at Reading on Saturday to clinch the League Three title and push big-spending Leeds, 48-0 winners at Liverpool St Helens, out of the two promotion slots.

Michael Jones scored two tries yesterday as Auckland edged Wellington 45-42 in the Super 12. Auckland are now assured of a home semi-final in the play-offs while Wellington or Australian Capital Territory will be the other home team. The chances of Gauteng or Free State reaching the last four, though, were dashed when they lost to Queensland (40-27) and Canterbury (16-11) respectively.