Rugby Union: Scarlets see red over whistle-stop Frenchman: Llanelli blow hot at the last

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The Independent Online
Llanelli. . .20

Cardiff . . .16

RUPERT MOON, the Llanelli captain, went to bed on Saturday night not with the echo of the jubilant Scarlet fans ringing in his ears, but the shrill blast of Patrick Thomas's whistle.

It seemed there were more debates between the confused home captain and Thomas than between Britain and France over Maastricht, yet Moon, and probably everyone else in the ground, was still in the dark over the Frenchman's incessant whistling.

As a result, there was little flow to the game and its staccato nature did not allow either side to reveal their true strengths to a crowd of around 8,000. It was frustrating all round, and I doubt whether Thomas enjoyed it much either. How could he when he was forced to blow for 49 penalties?

There are always problems with interpreting rugby's complex laws. Every leading nation plays them in a different fashion, which is reflected in the style adopted by their respective referees. But how can the game ever expect to reach a stage where there is more common ground between different countries without having exchange visits such as the one that brought the Frenchman to Stradey Park?

Rather than exclude non-Welsh referees from the top games in the Heineken League, maybe the Welsh Rugby Union, and the Five Nations committee, should seek to expand their exchange programme from a paltry few weekends. After all, is it not beneficial for the best players to learn to play to the interpretations of the kind of neutral referees they will experience at representative level?

It is, perhaps, another example of taking the players outside the comfort zone, where so many get used to playing to, or in some cases running, domestic referees.

If there is to be an extension of the exchange system - and do not forget that those referees sent into other countries are the next generation of international officials - then the governing bodies must ensure they send only those referees who are up to date on every aspect of law.

Here, Thomas allowed the jumpers to use their outside arms time after time in the line-out, blew up in the loose as soon as a tackle was made, and was strict to the letter. In the process, he ignored the spirit of the laws when he could have helped turn the game into a classic.

Cardiff, finally out of the doldrums thanks to five successive league wins prior to their trip to Stradey, showed what they could do with a score on the stroke of half-time. This began on their own 22 and ended, after the ball had passed through eight pairs of hands, with Adrian Davies crossing at the Llanelli posts. It was thrilling, but all too infrequent stuff.

Davies bagged all 16 points for Cardiff, enabling him to become the first player to pass 100 League points this season, and showed up well in comparison to the Wales stand-off Colin Stephens. But his efforts were not enough to stem a stirring Scarlet revival in the closing 10 minutes which saw tries by Mark Perego and Ieuan Evans snatch victory.

Llanelli: Tries S Davies, Perego, I Evans; Conversion Stephens; Penalty Stephens. Cardiff: Try Davies; Conversion Davies; Penalties Davies 2; Drop Goal Davies.

Llanelli: I Jones; I Evans, N Davies, S Davies, W Proctor; C Stephens, R Moon (capt); R Evans, A Lamerton (D Fox, 58), L Delaney, G Jones (P May, 55), A Copsey, M Perego, P Davies, L Jones.

Cardiff: M Rayer; S Ford, M Hall (capt), M Ring, N Walker; A Davies, A Booth; M Griffiths, J Humphreys, P Sedgemore, P Kawulok, S Roy, (M Edwards, 57), H Taylor, O Williams, M Budd.

Referee: P Thomas (France).