Rugby Union: Ruddock hones the cutting edge

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The Independent Online
Swansea. .29

Neath. . .12

NOT so long ago, back-to-back victories over Llanelli and Neath were distant dreams for Swansea. Nowadays, they have the talent, discipline and steely will not only to succeed, but to believe they are the best.

The mental transformation of the players at St Helens since Mike Ruddock took over the coaching reins last season has perhaps been the greatest, and most underplayed, part of the Swansea renaissance.

Always a side capable of rising to the big occasion, Swansea were too long the romantics of Welsh rugby. They were the club who looked good on paper, yet too often failed to match up to their billing on the field.

That is now history thanks to the new standards set, and demanded, by Ruddock and his coaching team. These days, the commitment, both mental and physical, is absolute, with the teamwork of the highest order.

Just how much belief the Swansea players have in their own and collective abilities will be put to the ultimate test next month when the Australians visit St Helens. It is a moment the Welshmen are greatly looking forward to.

'A win over them would be awesome, and it is possible. We'll be catching them at a good time, four days after the Test against Ireland, and it's games like this that you play rugby for,' Stuart Davies, the Swansea captain, said. 'You always want to test yourself against the best players and teams and it will be a great challenge for all of us.'

With a dozen full Welsh caps to call on, and mindful that Swansea have twice beaten the Wallabies and drawn another of their eight meetings, Davies believes there is the chance of an almighty upset on 4 November.

Neath, rugby leaders in Wales in the 1980s, learned the hard way on Saturday about the continued improvement of their neighbours. An early try was no less than they deserved, but once the Swansea pack began to take the upper hand a degree of inevitability crept into proceedings.

Davies launched a superb four- try salvo with a charge from close range. His namesake, Simon Davies, then brought the crowd to their feet with a 60-metre solo effort that will take some beating for the try of the season. In the second half, the Welsh centre, Scott Gibbs, scored one and made another for Aled Williams. It was thrilling stuff yet again from Swansea, showing them to be a cut above the rest in Wales.

Swansea: Tries Stuart Davies, Simon Davies, Gibbs, Williams; Penalties Williams 2, Titley. Neath: Tries Varney, Bowling; Conversion Ball.

Swansea: A Clement; M Titley, S Gibbs, T Michael, Simon Davies; A Williams, R Jones; K Colclough (C Clarke, 41), R McBryde, A Metcalfe, P Arnold, R Moriarty, I Davies, Stuart Davies (capt), A Reynolds.

Neath: P Thorburn; J Reynolds, J Ball, A Hughes, S Bowling; M McCarthy, C Bridges (R Jones, 60); B Williams, A Thomas, J Davies, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn (capt), P Pugh, M Morris, A Varney.

Referee: G Simmonds (Cardiff).