Rugby Union: Scarlets run out of steam in the sun

Llanelli 39 Ebbw Vale 28
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SO IT'S bye-bye to bonus points and hello to the Scottish Districts in the rather unimaginatively named Welsh/Scottish League this season.

The Stradey Park faithful were struggling to understand whether or not their side were the defending champions in Wales this season or whether the new tournament, which includes Glasgow and Edinburgh, would be a one- off, stand-alone tournament.

Whatever the quandary, the new season in Wales came in with a rush of tries and a few surprises. There was also plenty of sunshine and enough hope that the nine-month long campaign will be more beneficial to the game in Wales, and probably Scotland too, than the league systems have been in recent seasons.

As far as Llanelli were concerned the first half against Ebbw Vale was very much business as usual following on from their Premier Division and Challenge Trophy triumphs last season.

They ran in four tries, kept their visitors locked up in their own half and reached the interval 29-0 ahead.

While the players were cooling off in the dressing-rooms so the cynics were pointing to the big divide in the Welsh game getting greater. With last season's rebel clubs Cardiff and Swansea coming back into the fold the bookies have offered mid-range odds on only Llanelli and Pontypridd to challenge them.

But the Llanelli coach, Gareth Jenkins, has a totally different view of the divide and believes it is thinner than most people imagine. He only had to point to the second half performance of Ebbw Vale to illustrate his point.

And what about Bridgend beating Swansea 21-18 with only 14 men. And don't forget that Edinburgh made a winning league debut on Welsh soil as they crushed Caerphilly 51-22.

"Anyone who thinks this season is merely going to be about Cardiff and Swansea is kidding themselves," Jenkins said.

"This is going to be a very, very competitive league and nobody is going to enjoy playing teams like Ebbw Vale, certainly not on their own patch.

"I was pleased with the way we started and in the way our newcomers settled into the side. But I think we lost our way in the second half for a number of reasons.

"It was very hot out there and we did put in a huge effort to score 29 points in the first half. Perhaps the players thought the job was done at that stage.

"But there were also no bonus points to chase and I think that might have had an effect. The jury's still out on whether that is a good decision and I think the fans might lose out because of it."

Jenkins's side looked efficient up front and was deadly effective behind, especially when fed with quick possession. There was plenty of that in the first half and the old master in the centre, Nigel Davies, made hay in the sunshine.

For a man who was supposed to be retiring after 14 illustrious seasons in the scarlet jersey of both club and country, Davies re-emerged for a 15th season looking better than ever.

He had a hand in three of the four tries in the first half and his centre partner Salesi Finau was the catalyst for the other as he treated the Ebbw Vale defence like ninepins to pave the way for the newly appointed captain Wayne Proctor to scored the first try in the 12th minute.

But having been very, very good in the first half the Scarlets slumped in the second and found themselves being outscored by four tries to one as Ebbw Vale finally found some form.

Llanelli: M Cardey; W Proctor (capt), N Davies (R Davies 40), S Finau, G Evans; B Hayward (C Warlow 65), R Moon (P Horgan 65); S Emms, R McBryde, J Davies, C Gillies, V Cooper, S Easterby, H Jenkins, I Boobyer.

Ebbw Vale: A James; A Harries, R Shorney, J Hawker (S Connor 72), S John; J Strange (capt), G Easterby; I Thomas (A Phillips 65), A Peacock (L Phillips 65), A Metcalfe, C Billen, L Banks, G Green (M Spiller 70), N Budgett, B Clarke.

Referee: N Whitehouse (Swansea).