Rugby Union: Scarlets' lever

Llanelli 26 Cardiff 24
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The Independent Online
This was just the gift that the Llanelli coach, Gareth Jenkins, had dreamed of and he can look forward to a new year in which his side will remain in contention for a top-four finish.

Without that, and the lifeline of the Heineken European Cup, the much- troubled Scarlets could be dead and buried. No wonder the Llanelli chairman, Ron Jones, said in his programme notes that "rugby is in crisis". They know all about that at Stradey Park.

While Cardiff can carry a squad of almost 40 players, the bulk of whom are full-time professionals, and feed a wage bill in excess of pounds 1m, their West Walian cousins have had to trim their cloth accordingly to 23 men, including the exit of their favourite son, Ieuan Evans.

"We have got six players in our youth team who I feel could play at this level at the moment. If you ask me whether 23 players is enough to carry us through the season then all I can say is that it will have to do," Jenkins said. "We mustn't think that money is the way to take a side forward. Clubs are going to have to develop their own players as they have so often done in the past. You saw out there what money has done for one side - not a lot."

On that score at least, Jenkins was perfectly right. Cardiff were at their disjointed worst as their highly priced international players looked devoid of community spirit.

If Llanelli are managing just about to keep their heads above water, then the Cardiff ship is in grave danger of going under. Never mind their contractual dispute with the Welsh Rugby Union, it is just not happening for them on the field. This was yet another game they could and should have won. They dominated the mid-section and ran in four tries to two to bag a bonus point that still keeps them in third place in the Premier Division.

But the style of their game certainly doesn't suit some of their players and the individual brilliance that can so often come from the likes of Robert Howley, Nigel Walker, Leigh Davies and now Gareth Thomas needs far better support around it.

The referee, Huw Lewis, dominated the opening scoring as he awarded a penalty try to either side in the space of four minutes midway through the first half. Llanelli were awarded the first, when Gareth Thomas deliberately knocked the ball into touch with his left hand as he covered a home raid down the left-hand side, and then the home defenders were penalised for persistent off-side as Cardiff tried to cross from a succession of penalties five metres out.

Cardiff grew in confidence and when Frano Botica was just short with a 40-yard penalty, Leigh Davies ran the ball out and ended up scoring on the narrow side of a ruck following a line-out. Two Botica penalties put Llanelli back in front, but, on the stroke of half-time, Justin Thomas ran in another try to restore Cardiff's lead.

Another two penalties from the boot of Botica in the second half, and a conversion of the try of the match from Darril Williams, were enough to give Llanelli the verdict. It will be Cardiff who go into the new year seeking inspiration.

Llanelli: D Williams; W Proctor, N Boobyer, S Jones, D Rogers; F Botica, R Moon; R Jones, R McBryde (capt), S Gale, V Cooper, M Voyle, D Hodges, I Jones (C Wyatt, 75), H Jenkins.

Cardiff: J Thomas; C Morgan, L Davies (L Botham, 75), G Thomas (L Botham, 60-69), N Walker ( L Jarvis, 69); P Williams, R Howley; S John (P Booth, 64), J Humphreys (capt), C Mustoe, D Jones (J Tait, 50), T Rees, S Williams (P Young, 60), J Ringer, E Lewis.

Referee: H Lewis (Bridgend).