Rugby Union: Round-up: Newport's empty vessel

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The Independent Online
RELEGATED Newport completed a miserable season in which they have not recorded a single league win when they bowed out of the Welsh Premier Division by losing 41-17 at home to Neath. They took a first-minute lead with a Shaun Connor try, but thereafter the visitors dominated with five tries and 21 points from Darren Case. Caerphilly, the Division One champions, signed off with a 42-17 win at South Wales Police and Treorchy moved into second place by thrashing relegated Maesteg 73-24.

Stuart Davies, the Wales back-row forward, is backing the Welsh Rugby Union's expected unveiling on Wednesday of Mike Ruddock as Kevin Bowring's successor as national coach. "With all due respect to all the other coaches I've worked under, Mike is simply the best," said the 32-year-old Swansea player who will miss Wales' forthcoming tour of South Africa because he is recovering from an operation to correct a bulging disc.

Newcastle's prop Paul Van-Zandvliet has been cleared by the Rugby Football Union of allegations that he bit the England and Lions flanker Neil Back during a recent Allied Dunbar Premiership One match with Leicester. The 17-stone tight-head is therefore free to play for Newcastle today in the title decider at Harlequins.

A 35-man Scotland squad, captained by the Lions forward Rob Wainwright, leaves today for an eight-match tour of Fiji and Australia. Meanwhile, Charlie Bisset, one of the Scottish Rugby Union's two representatives on the International Board, insists that next season's European Cup will go ahead with or without the leading English clubs. "The sponsors are still happy, sponsorship money has gone up and Sky TV are prepared to meet their commitments over the remaining four years of the current agreement," he said. Bisset added that contingency plans were in place should the English clubs pull out but pointed out that the invitation to enter the competition goes to the RFU and not the clubs.

Canterbury gained home advantage and a psychological edge over Coastal Sharks, their semi-final opponents in the Super 12, when they beat the South African side 32-20 in Durban yesterday. Next weekend's other semi- final will be an all-Kiwi affair with the champions Auckland at home to Otago, who qualified for the last four when Queensland lost 23-16 to ACT in Canberra. Auckland, as expected, finished top of the qualifying table following a 45-34 win away to Wellington in which Jonah Lomu scored two 50-metre tries.

New Zealand's rugby dominance was underlined in Amsterdam yesterday when they lifted the third women's World Cup with a 46-12 victory over the United States in which their wing Vanessa Cootes ran in five tries. England, who lost to New Zealand in the semi-finals, gained some consolation by beating Canada 81-15 to take third place.

Jean-Luc Sadourny and Abdelatif Benazzi have been forced to miss France's three-Test tour of Argentina and Fiji next month because of injury. The 28-strong tour party, named yesterday by the national coach Jean-Claude Skrela, includes four uncapped players - Stephane De Besombes, Franck Belot, Didier Plana and Jimmy Marlu.