Rugby Union: Not all black as Neath excel

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Neath. . . .27

Llanelli. . .5

JUST when you thought everything in Welsh rugby was on the slide, Neath bounced back and proved there is a way forward. After the depressing lows of recent performances in the Heineken League, not to mention the Test defeat by Canada, the Welsh All Blacks showed there is life and hope in the national game.

It normally takes a special performance to beat Llanelli, and that was something Neath had failed to do in their previous eight meetings, but the fare served up by Gareth Llewellyn and his side was extra special. So much so they did not just beat their bogy side, they smashed them to smithereens. In doing so, they retained their unbeaten record in the First Division and turned the title race into a head-to-head between themselves and Swansea.

'We were awesome. It was the best display by a Neath side for three years,' David Pickering, the Neath coach, said. It certainly was and the worry for the reigning champions, Llanelli, was that they could find no answer to the power and style of the Neath pack. The Scarlets have an uncanny knack of peaking for their toughest assignments, yet on this occasion it was as though they hardly turned up.

The only surprise in the end was that Neath did not score more points. Their three tries, one in the first half and two in the second, could have been doubled and at one stage they led 27-0. That was enough to satisfy a packed house of nearly 10,000 at The Gnoll. It was almost enough to meet the high pressure demands of Pickering and his coaching team.

'We knew we had to win this one if we were to stay on course to win the title again. It's great to have beaten Swansea, Cardiff and now Llanelli in the first round of matches, but I've already told the players they will have to keep on improving to finish top because we still have to meet those teams away from home,' Pickering said.

Neath: Tries Shaw, McCarthy, Bridges; Conversions Thorburn 3; Penalties Thorburn 2. Llanelli: Try Moon.

Neath: P Thorburn; A Harries (S Crandon, 34), A Shaw, H Woodland, R Rees; M McCarthy, C Bridges; Brian Williams, Barrie Williams, J Davies, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn (capt), M Morris (I Boobyer, 77), S Williams, A Varney.

Llanelli: Ian Jones; Ian Wyn Jones, S Davies, N Davies, W Proctor; H Williams, R Moon (capt, H Harries, 77); R Evans, A Lamerton, H Williams-Jones, P Davies, P Jones, S Quinnell, E Lewis, M Perego.

Referee: G Simmonds (Cardiff).