CARDIFF'S MISERABLE season crumbled spectacularly in the face of their first really serious match as the Swalec Cup holders stayed on course for a possible 11th title.
So total was the Llanelli dominance that not even a 10-point deficit in the first 15 minutes could intimidate them. They out-thought, outfought and totally outplayed their great rivals from the east.
The Swalec Cup was always going to be the proving ground for Welsh club rugby this season with the two rebels, Cardiff and Swansea, getting the chance to measure themselves against their old sparring partners from the Welsh Rugby Union's Premier Division.
The Brewery Field at Bridgend was packed to the rafters with supporters predicting two possible scenarios. Either Cardiff's juggernaut pack would steamroller the Scarlets eight and grind out a victory to reach a 12th final or Llanelli would run Cardiff ragged in their bid to hold on to the Cup and reach their 15th final. It all made for a classic encounter, but not everything went to script. In fact, it was the Llanelli forwards who had gained an upper hand by the end of the first half to put their side in command.
Cardiff looked the better bet at the outset and raced into a 10-point lead thanks to a fortuitous try by the wing Craig Morgan. After Lee Jarvis had kicked a 12th-minute penalty, Morgan fell on a dubious pass from Mike Rayer to snatch a corner try which Jarvis goaled to give Cardiff a seven- point lead.
That score came two minutes after the Llanelli flanker Hywel Jenkins had been sent to the sinbin for a dangerous tackle on Rob Howley and by the interval the international referee Clayton Thomas had sent two more players to the sideline, Howley himself for persistent infringing and the Cardiff lock Derwyn Jones for malicious use of the boot.
Llanelli made their numerical supremacy count in much the same way as Cardiff had done. While Howley was off the field, Byron Hayward kicked the Cupholders into the lead with a hat-trick of penalties to add to his first success after 17 minutes. The Llanelli coach, Gareth Jenkins, though pleased with the work of his pack in the first half, made three changes at the start of the second period when he brought on the more mobile and fleet-footed trio of Chris Wyatt, Dave Hodges and Martyn Madden with the aim of stretching Cardiff. The result was the game became a procession. Mike Voyle quickly dummied his way over for a try at the posts, Scott Quinnell crowned a magnificent game with a typical drive for the line from a five-metre scrum and Hayward kept hitting the mark as he ended with 24 points.
Cardiff: M Rayer; S Hill, L Davies, G Thomas, C Morgan; L Jarvis (R Williams, 61), R Howley; S John (A Lewis, 68), J Humphreys, D Young (capt), J Tait, D Jones (O Williams, 57), G Kacala, D Baugh (J Ringer, 41), E Lewis.
Llanelli: B Hayward; W Proctor, N Boobyer (D Williams, 49), N Davies, S Finau; S Jones (A Thomas 76), R Moon; P Booth (M Maddon, 41), R McBryde (capt), J Davies, V Cooper (C Wyatt, 41), M Voyle, H Jenkins (D Hodges, 41), I Boobyer, S Quinnell (D Hodges, 29-33)
Referee: C Thomas (WRU)