Rugby Union: Rowley adds to Wales' shameful roll

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Neath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28

Pontypridd. . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

MARK ROWLEY, the towering Pontypridd lock, became another of Welsh rugby's alarmingly high number of negative statistics when he poleaxed James Reynolds at The Gnoll.

The diminutive Neath wing had cleared the ball from his 22 a good few seconds before the 6ft 8in Rowley ran up to, through and over him. At best it was a clumsy challenge, at worst a cynical late tackle. The referee, Gareth Simmonds, immediately adjudged it the latter.

Although Rowley had not been in the thick of the earlier, often unseemly, brawls that had forced Simmonds to issue a number of lectures, he was close enough to the action to have heard the warnings. Unfortunately for Pontypridd, he did not heed them and he thus became the second forward from his club to be dismissed this season.

If that will cause concern for his coach, Denis John, the broader disciplinary picture for Welsh rugby is raising eyebrows everywhere. Rowley was one of four players to be dismissed in the Heineken League at the weekend and his misdemeanour helped to take this season's overall tally to 32.

That is two short of the all-time high in the 1990/91 season and means that in 973 league games over two and a half years there have been 96 dismissals.

A deeper analysis of those figures reveals that there has been a sending-off in every 10 games, or two for every weekend that there is a full programme in the four divisions. That means the Welsh Rugby Union disciplinary committee can expect to be called on to deal with at least another 13 cases before the season is out, and that this winter's overall tally could reach the half-century mark.

If you believe the picture painted of Neath by the Australian coach Bob Dwyer then you would have expected them to figure prominently on the roll of shame. In fact, they have not had a player sent off in a league game this season and, generally, their performance was a disciplined one.

Although Neath might not be the force they were when winning the inaugural Heineken title, they are still powerful and are bound to trouble the leading sides.

They were unable to outscore Pontypridd on the try front - it ended at two apiece - but their goalkicking was of a far higher standard. In that department, the former Wales captain Paul Thorburn reigned supreme as he punished Pontypridd's seemingly endless stream of petty indiscretions with a First Division record-equalling six penalties.

Neath: Tries Williams, Varney; Penalties Thorburn 6. Pontypridd: Tries Back, G Jones; Conversion G Jones; Penalty G Jones.

Neath: P Thorburn; S Bowling, D Jones, J Bird, J Reynolds; M McCarthy, R Jones (L Isaac, 36); L Gerrard, K Phillips (A Thomas, 43), J Davies, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn (capt), I Boobyer, S Williams, A Varney.

Pontypridd: M Back; D Hughes, C Jones, J Lewis, S Cody; G Jones, P John (capt); N Preft, G Phillips (S Williams, 60), M Powell, M Rowley, J Scarlett, N Jones, D McIntosh, D Earland.

Referee: G Simmonds (Cardiff).

Robert Jones, the Wales scrum- half, could miss the East v West match at Cardiff Arms Park on 28 December after pulling a hamstring in Swansea's 28-0 win over Newbridge. He missed the West Wales training session in Swansea yesterday and said: 'I don't know how long it will take to heal. I'll be going to see a specialist to get it sorted out as soon as I can.'