Rugby Union: Samuel's wisdom starts to pay off

Bridgend 24 Cardiff 24
NOWHERE HAS felt the cold wind of financial reality in rugby recently more than Brewery Field. A lack of real financial clout meant Bridgend, a great nursery for Welsh rugby talent, had to hang on, surviving by its fingertips, or by the acquiescence of the bank manager.

Time appeared to be running out, as were the pounds and the bank manager's patience, until Leighton Samuel, a local entrepreneur, stepped in to write off the club's sizeable overdraft and, more importantly, devise and implement a strategy for the future, underpinned by his financial support.

Brewery Field seemed bereft of life or hope a year ago, now it is in remission and determined to fight for a place in rugby's elite.

One thing has not changed, though, Bridgend's love of beating the capital city club, or, put another way, their hatred for Cardiff. Primarily this is attributed to the regular player drain up the M4 and, of the current Cardiff squad, Robert Howley, Gareth Thomas, Owain Williams and Kevin Ellis have left for the Arms Park.

All meetings of these clubs are fiercely contested affairs, pre- or post- professional rugby, and this match proved to be highly competitive, but sadly lacking in quality.

Despite the absence of many of Wales's World Cup stars, over 5,000 fans hungry for rugby in this new, more confident period for the game in Wales, turned up.

Liam Botham struck first for Cardiff with a 40-metre penalty before the visitors lost possession whilst on the attack and Bridgend's scrum-half Steve Wake slipped away to send the right wing Owain Thomas over for a sparkling try. Adrian Durston converted and Botham and Durston then exchanged penalties.

Cardiff, despite a number of new faces, looked organised and efficient at the set piece, if a little pedestrian and predictable with the ball in hand. Bridgend were more creative and incisive, but suffered from lack of any quality possession.

The old warhorse Richard Webster, a summer recruit for Bridgend, was sin-binned at the end of the first half, a punishment for either verbal abuse or over-vigorous play - or maybe both. Cardiff however failed to take advantage and Bridgend maintained their 10-6 interval lead.

Bridgend were struggling to win their own line-out, threw in crookedly, and the resultant scrum, together with Jamie Ringer's intelligent link work, allowed the No 8 Owain Williams to amble over unopposed. Botham converted.

Cardiff's lead was short lived as Bridgend's replacement wing Daniel Jones supported some incisive back play to cross at the posts for Durston to convert.

It took an hour, but it was worth waiting for. Welsh rugby's shining starlet, the Cardiff full-back Rhys Williams, ignited a rather drab affair with a searing 50-metre blindside break from a scrum to send Simon Hill racing over for a try. Pure class, pure genius.

Cardiff will be worth watching this year, provided Williams is in the team, and whilst rugby World Cup 1999 is premature for him, he should be a shining light in 2003.

Top quality it may not have been, but excitement raged to the end as the replacement Steve Pearce claimed a lastgasp try for Bridgend and Durston succeeded with the wide-angle conversion. Botham had an opportunity to win the game for Cardiff, but his last kick of the match sailed wide.

Bridgend: A Durston; O Thomas, G Jones, J Devereux, D Decaux (D Jones); P Williams, S Wake; L Manning, C Ferris, R Jasper, S Ford (capt), P Clapham (S Pearce), R Webster, M Molitiua, A Williams.

Cardiff: R Williams; L Botham, G Esterhuizen, M Wintle, S Hill; M Rayer (capt), K Ellis; F John, D Geraghty, G Powell, S Williams, B Barrett (E Lewis), G Kacala, O Williams, J Ringer.

Referee: N Whitehouse