Rugby Union: Priceless Jenkins

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Pontypridd 18

Northern Transvaal 0

REVENGE was sweet for Pontypridd as they notched a commanding victory over the South African Super 12 side to avenge a 35-12 defeat in Pretoria three years ago.

That trip to the High Veld was a defining moment for the players and management at Sardis Road as they suddenly realised what they were capable of achieveing. The scores were level at 12-12 with only 15 minutes to play and the travelling and altitude were largely responsible for the size of defeat in the end on that occasion.

But there was no doubting who was going to come out on top in this WRU Challenge Trophy match on a mud-caked pitch that got worse as the rain kept falling throughout the match. But while winning has always been important to Pontypridd fans, their biggest concern at the moment is whether or not they can hold on to their skipper, talisman and points machine, Neil Jenkins.

It was Jenkins' six penalties which ulitmately won the match, yet all the signs are that he is set to join Bath after a magnificent 12-year stint at Sardis Road. His departure, even if it brings with it a pounds 500,000 fee in return, would be a crippling blow to the Welsh champions. It would also be a further indication that the Allied Dunbar Premiership still has the financial clout to cherry pick from its Celtic cousins.

Even if many Ponty fans have already resigned themselves to the fact that Jenkins is almost certain to cash in on his fame and considerable ability, the more worrying aspect about the transfer is the sign it will send to any other talent-starved English clubs who wish to raid the Sardis Road nursery.

Home-spun stars such as Paul John, Gareth Wyatt, Kevin Morgan and Martyn Williams could be next on the hit-list, while the coach, Dennis John, is another obvious target for clubs desperately seeking success with sufficient cash to back their ambitions.

Pontypridd might be one of the best-run clubs in Europe, with an excellent youth policy, good management and decent sponsorship, but they don't have the income stream to match the kind of money Jenkins can earn in England. That is the biggest problem facing the domestic game in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

Jenkins struck three times in the first half as Pontypridd built up a head of steam and then he struck the post once after the break before adding three more goals. That was all too much for the highly combative Bulls side and they could find no way through the home defence despite some direct running. They dominated the line-outs, winning that phase of play 20-7, but could conjur nothing dynamic in the mud.

Not even the introduction of the new Springbok sensation Danie Van Schalwyk at centre in the second half could offer a sharper cutting edge. Coming on top of a 34-34 draw at Swansea last week it looks as though they have some hard work to put in before this year's Super 12.

Pontypridd: K Morgan; D Manley, D James, S Lewis, G Wyatt; N Jenkins, capt), Paul John; A Griffiths (N Eynon, 64), Phil John (A Lamerton, 64), M Griffiths, G Prosser, M Rowley (S Roy, 72), M Lloyd, M Williams, D McIntosh

Northern Bulls: C Steyn; R Potgieter, G Esterhuizen, Gerhard Bouwer, L Van Riet; Graeme Bouwer (D Van Schalwyk, 47), C Breytenbach; P Ribbens, J Brooks (H Kemp, 73), P Boer, D Grobbelaar (capt), G Laufs, N Van der Walt, C Oosthuizen, S Bekker (J Otto, 59).

Referee: W D Bevan (Clydach).