Rugby Union: Swansea tackle Llanelli to bits

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The Independent Online
Llanelli. .7

Swansea. .14

WHEN the Swansea coach, Mike Ruddock, heard that Llanelli had beaten Newport 79-10 he was convinced his side would be taking on world beaters at Stradey Park.

That record-breaking Heineken League scoreline had raised almost every eyebrow in Welsh rugby, but Ruddock decided to take a closer look. He ordered a copy of the video of the game and decided to look for any small chinks in the Llanelli armour.

'Everyone thought they were world beaters after they thrashed Newport. But when I saw the videotape of the game I found out they weren't that good after all,' Ruddock said. 'Newport were very poor on the day, lacking in the basics, and as soon as I'd seen the tape I knew we could beat them.'

There was a simple message from Ruddock to the players: 'tackle, tackle and get up and tackle again.' When they beat Llanelli at St Helens virtually to clinch the First Division title last season, Swansea made 78 telling tackles.

Swansea may have arrived as the champions at Stradey Park, which was full to its near-14,000 capacity, but they had come off second best in the Schweppes Cup final when the teams had last met and had not won at the ground since 1987. Add to that the supercharged start the Scarlets had had to their campaign, averaging more than 58 points and eight tries in their opening three matches, and it would have taken a brave man, and a diehard Swansea supporter, to predict an away win. Even the bookies were offering a nine-point start to the visitors.

What they did not know, though, was that Ruddock and his match analysts had done their homework. They set out to shut down the Llanelli back row, stifle their captain and playmaker, Rupert Moon, at scrum-half, and contain their midfield. They did all three so effectively that Llanelli never looked like winning. How did they achieve those goals? By tackling anything that moved.

The atmosphere generated by a week of unprecedented hype for a league game, and longstanding rivalry, turned the match into a mini-international. It meant the pace was fast, furious and unrelenting, but in turn helped to create a number of mistakes.

The larger share of those were surprisingly made by the home side who, despite having a lot of the ball, simply ran out of ideas on how to breach the Swansea defence. Mind you, it would have taken a bulldozer or howitzer to blast a path past the flanker Alan Reynolds or the centre Scott Gibbs. The former set the standard in the opening minutes with a crunching tackle on Emyr Lewis, while Gibbs knocked hole after hole in his opposite number Neil Boobyer.

It was intimidating stuff that stemmed the flow of the free-running Scarlets. Only once did they manage to make a dent, when Moon linked with Scott Quinnell and Phil Davies to send Lyn Jones across for a try, but other than that there was no way through.

Three penalties by Williams in an opening quarter that saw Moon receive a broken nose because of the close attentions being paid to him by all and sundry, steadied the Swansea nerves. Then came the try that clinched victory on the stroke of half-time.

Tony Clement came aggressively into the line from a scrum on the Llanelli 10-metre line and his strength and speed knocked Nigel Davies out of his path. Once the cut had been made it only needed an accurate pass from Tim Michael to Mark Titley to give the former Wales wing a simple run in to the corner.

Llanelli: Try L Jones; Conversion Stephens. Swansea: Try Titley; Penalties Williams 3.

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

Swansea: A Clement; M Titley, T Michael, S Gibbs, Simon Davies; A Williams, R Jones; K Colclough, G Jenkins, M Morgan, P Arnold, R Moriarty, I Davies, Stuart Davies (capt), A Reynolds.

Referee: W D Bevan (Clydach).