Rugby Union: Swansea strike back to the top

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The Independent Online
Bridgend. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

Swansea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

SWANSEA have the look of champions. If nothing else, they have the inside track and are now a neck ahead of Llanelli and Cardiff in the three-horse race for the Heineken League title. All it now requires is a cool and calculated approach over the next four games from a club boasting 11 internationals in their squad for the most prized trophy in Welsh club rugby to remain at St Helens.

What that would do is finally to convince everyone that Swansea's success is no mere flash in the pan. The club, always blessed with talent and ready to have a go, had flattered mainly to deceive until Mike Ruddock took over the coaching reins last season. Now there is hardly a better team in the land and a second successive title would be ample proof of that fact. Not that Ruddock nor the captain, Stuart Davies, are taking anything for granted in spite of having moved back to the top of the table.

Cardiff's self-destruction at Neath obviously sparked the change around at the head of the First Division, but Swansea have for long had the serious money on them to hold on to the title.

'The whole of Wales thought we might slip up at Bridgend, especially after the announcement of the Welsh team for Paris. Before the game I told the players that if we won our final five games we would take the title and not even Cardiff's defeat changes that,' Davies said.

Quite true. If Cardiff can win at St Helens on 1 May, and second- placed Llanelli win their remaining matches, including their final assignment at Neath, then it will be the Scarlets who take the title at the third attempt, having twice finished runners-up. It all adds up to a tense and fascinating finish to the season, although it will take a mighty effort from either Newport, Pontypridd, Aberavon or Cardiff to beat Swansea in this mood.

Playing into the wind at Bridgend, who had strung six successive victories together since they last lost in the league on 20 November, the All Whites defended superbly and snatched two tries on the break. They both came moments after Luc Evans had landed penalty goals for the home team, and there were three more tries to follow in the second half.

Robert Jones relished playing behind a pack that not only protected him but also delivered him the ball with space and time and the two watching Lions selectors will no doubt have also taken notice of the good performances from Anthony Clement and Scott Gibbs.

Bridgend: Tries Spender, Rees; Penalties Evans 2. Swansea: Tries Webster 2, Arnold, Barclay, Clement.

Bridgend: C Bradshaw (D Davies, 76); P Jones (G Davies, 17), L Evans, P Wintle, G Wilkins; M Lewis, R Howley; D Rees, I Greenslade, R Shaw, S Jenkins, A Gwilym, S Bryant, N Spender, D Bryant (capt, O Lloyd, 79).

Swansea: A Clement; Simon Davies, K Hopkins, S Gibbs, S Barclay; A Williams, R Jones; C Clarke, R McBryde, K Colclough, P Arnold, R Moriarty, I Davies, Stuart Davies (capt), R Webster.

Referee: B Wallis (Cwmbran).

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