Rugby Union: Pontypridd covet final accolade: Semi-finals of the Swalec Cup

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The Independent Online
TO SOME of rugby's crustier types, the advance of Pontypridd into the elite is akin to barbarians - as opposed to Barbarians - at the gates, whereas it is actually an expression of the relatively recent development of a genuine Welsh meritocracy.

That Pontypridd should be favoured by the bookmakers to beat Cardiff in this afternoon's Swalec Cup semi-final at Newport is as good an indication as any that the old order has changed, though this week's agonising over the fitness of Neil Jenkins has been an unwelcome diversion.

The Wales outside-half's prolific accumulation of points has been as significant as Pontypridd's dynamic forward play in lifting them above Cardiff and Llanelli in the Welsh First Division. His 269 points is already a league record and a club total of 338 leaves him less than 50 short of Colin Bolderson's 18-year-old Pontypridd season's record.

Jenkins did not go the distance in last Saturday's critical Heineken match against Swansea and has been trying to make up his mind whether his strained hamstring could stand up to the rigours of a semi-final. Pontypridd can ill afford to do without him though the Wales management, concerned with next month's World Cup qualifying games in Iberia, could be excused sighing with relief.

For Pontypridd the question, with or without Jenkins, is whether they can move from challengers to achievers and, as Orrell have shown with their near misses across the border, psychologically it is a giant step. Ponty have been cup finalists just once, under Tom David in 1979, when they lost to Bridgend.

If the Swansea game scarcely augured well, at least Pontypridd had an excuse. 'We went out knowing our chances of winning weren't that high and even if we did win we didn't have much chance of winning the league,' Paul John, their outstanding scrum-half, said. 'We had an eye on the cup. Our season is wrapped up in these 80 minutes.'

The same could be said for Cardiff after another season of under-achievement. The Wales wing Nigel Walker has unexpectedly recovered from a cracked rib he suffered in a car accident and Mike Hall, the captain, is making more optimistic noises than his team's recent performances warrant. 'They are certainly no Llanelli or Neath yet,' he said of today's opposition.

Llanelli are as usual the holders and they meet Maesteg, the unlikely Second Division survivors, at Neath in the first semi-final, the kick-off times having been staggered to accommodate a double dose of live television on BBC Wales.