Rugby Union: Swansea stroll to the line: Robert Cole on the ups and downs of life in the Heineken League

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The Independent Online
IF THERE was a certain amount of inevitability about Swansea taking the Welsh League title for the second time in three years, there was a delicious unpredictability about the fortunes of another great Welsh club, Pontypool, in their battle for First Division survival.

While the All Whites, needing just one point from two matches, were relaxed and in party mood at St Helen's for their game against Aberavon, it was high tension all the way at Pontypool Park where the other side from Swansea, Dunvant, were the visitors.

Last season's Second Division champions, Dunvant are the new kids on the block in the upper echelons of Welsh rugby. Deservedly so, too, as victories this season over Newport, Newbridge, Cross Keys twice, Pontypool and a draw with Neath amply demonstrated.

But surely it was expecting too much of them to survive in the top flight, and at the expense of 125-year-old Poola? They did not think so and knew that a double over Pontypool would have condemned the once mighty to a terrible fall.

No wonder Mark Ring, the Pontypool captain who has played in two World Cup campaigns, Grand Slam deciders and Triple Crown show downs, said after leading his side to an 18-3 win: 'It was the tensest game I've played in and the hardest we've had in the last two months, including those against Cardiff and Swansea. The build up to the game was as if it were a cup final and I came off the field completely drained.'

A win over Cross Keys, without a win this season, on Saturday will be enough to guarantee Pontypool a future in the First Division, although they have a long way to go to catch up with the champions.

Swansea ensured the First Division title, along with a pounds 14,000 cheque, remains in West Wales for the fourth successive season. Neath were top dogs in the inaugural season, Swansea followed them, and Llanelli were champions last winter.

What hope for the rest. Not much according to a jubilant Stuart Davies, the Swansea captain, who, in the wake of his side's 32-3 victory over Aberavon, said: 'I think we can only get better. We've had the nucleus of an excellent side here for some time.

'The young talent is now coming through and we've not had that at this club before. I'm not saying we're going to dominate for years, because it's too hard a game to predict things like that, but we're going to get even better.'

The loss of Scott Gibbs to St Helens, the second Swansea Lion to turn professional this season, could cast no shadow over this latest triumph and the future looks rosy for the champions.

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