Rugby Union: Ponty clinch title

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The Independent Online
Bridgend 24 Pontypridd 52

Pontypridd will lead the Welsh challenge into Europe next season after being crowned as Welsh champions for the first time. Victory at Bridgend earned them the bonus point they required to beat off Swansea's challenge and take the crown with two games remaining.

Their overjoyed coach, Dennis John, is now setting his sights on making an impact in the Heineken Cup next season after taking two major titles in two years. "This proves that the harder you work the better you get," John said. "But this is only the starting point for us. If we get it right over the next three years then Ponty will always be one of the big sides in the UK.

"We don't have a rich sugar-daddy at the club, but if the WRU [Welsh Rugby Union] are true to their word and offer us pounds 500,000 next season we will at least be able to offer our top 20 players reasonable working salaries. I think that 95 per cent of this side will stick together for the next three to five years. We have identified positions in which we need to strengthen our squad."

Although they fell behind to a nine-minute try by the Wales wing, Gareth Thomas, Ponty were on course for the bonus point they needed to win the title at the Brewery Field by scoring four tries before the interval to lead 28-7. But battling Bridgend rocked them with 17 points in 12 minutes after the break to slash the deficit to four points and put the game, and the title, back into the melting pot.

It took another burst of four tries in the closing five minutes to clinch the title for a team that has never slipped out of the top five places in the seven-year history of the league in Wales.

Kevin Morgan grabbed a second, Matthew Lloyd picked up a pushover from No 8 and then Phil Ford and Jason Lewis rounded off the title run.

That final try robbed Bridgend of a point and means they are virtually certain to miss out on a top-four place, and a place in next season's Heineken Cup, to Cardiff.

Bridgend: Tries Thomas, Michaluk, Williams; Conversions Durston 3; Penalty A Durston. Pontypridd: Tries Morgan 2, J Lewis 2, Manley, Williams, Lloyd, Ford; Conversions Cormack 6.

Bridgend: C Bradshaw; S Greenaway, L Davies (J Graf, 41), K Ellis, G Thomas; A Durston, G Downes; L Manning (J Purnell, 57), C Ferris, I Greenslade (capt), C Vogl, C Stephens, C Michaluk, A Williams, J Forster.

Pontypridd: K Morgan; D Manley, J Lewis, S Lewis, P Ford; C Cormack, Paul John (capt, M de Maid, 78); N Eynon, Phil John (J Evans, 76), A Metcalfe (A Griffiths, 76), G Prosser, M Rowley, M Spiller, M Lloyd, M Williams.

Referee: Peter Bolland (Newport).