Rugby Union: Stephens steals show

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The Independent Online
Cardiff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Llanelli. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

COMETH the hour, cometh Llanelli. Whenever the pressure is turned up, the Scarlets switch on and their double act over the Heineken League leaders has thrown the title chase into the melting pot.

They became the first team to beat Cardiff at the Arms Park this season thanks to a strong instinct for survival and their greater opportunism. What all that added up to was a win that keeps them firmly in the hunt and means Cardiff no longer have a cushion at the top of the table.

It also exposed one of Cardiff's few remaining weaknesses, as highlighted by their Australian coach, Alex Evans. 'We have got to learn the discipline of winning, which once again got away from us. It's something that can, and will, be done but perhaps I'm expecting a bit too much too soon,' he said.

Cardiff certainly had enough chances to win, especially via the boot. Adrian Davies may be the leading, and record, points scorer in the league, but he would not have hit a barn door from two paces in this game. In all there were 18 various attempts on goal from conversions, penalties and drop goals from both teams. Only two hit the mark and Davies accounted for half of the failures.

Meanwhile, his opposite number, the much-maligned Colin Stephens, proved that his recent experiments with psychotherapy and acupuncture have done some good. Discarded by club and country last month, the outside- half had a game in which his pluses certainly outweighed his minuses.

There were two tries and one success out of eight kicks from Stephens, although he did concede Cardiff's first try when he allowed Mike Budd to charge down a clearance kick. There was also a rush of blood when he discarded a simple penalty shot and attempted to score a solo try.

One member of the 14,000 crowd who could have been excused for tearing his hair out over Llanelli's win was the Cardiff captain, Mike Hall, who missed the game because of a groin strain. He will have a scan on Tuesday, but still hopes to be fit to play for Wales in Scotland at the weekend.

Cardiff: Tries Budd, Thomas; Penalty Davies. Llanelli: Tries Stephens 2, Moon; Penalty Stephens.

Cardiff: M Rayer; S Ford, C Thomas, C Laity, N Walker; A Davies, A Moore; K Matthews, J Humphreys, P Sedgemore, P Kawulok, S Roy, H Stone, H Taylor (capt), M Budd.

Llanelli: I Jones; I Evans, S Davies, N Davies, W Proctor; C Stephens, R Moon (capt); R Evans, A Lamerton, D Joseph, P Davies, A Copsey, E Lewis, S Quinnell, L Jones.

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).