Rugby Union: Swansea take giant strides

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The Independent Online
Llanelli. . .7

Swansea. . .14

THE HYPE had been great, the expectations higher than normal, and, for once, a game billed as the match of the day lived right up to its reputation. The upshot of it all was that the champions, Swansea, overtook their rivals at the top of the Heineken Welsh League and are now the team to beat.

From first to last it was a tremendous game. It had frenetic pace, shuddering tackling and uncompromising commitment throughout. It had been billed locally as the clash of the Welsh titans and it attracted a near-capacity crowd of 14,000 to Stradey Park.

It took a while for everyone to get into the ground, but no one minded waiting an extra few minutes before the game kicked off. From that moment on, the crowd were on the edge of their seats, including a full contingent of four Welsh selectors, and the action was as good as any seen in just over two seasons of Heineken League rugby.

Stuart Davies and his Swansea team arrived having not been on a winning side at Stradey Park since 1987, but never once did they take a backward step in this thrilling encounter.

The previous weekend Llanelli had cut Newport to ribbons as they set a new League record of 79 points at Rodney Parade, but Swansea, not to be outdone, had quietly amassed eleven tries of their own, and an equally impressive 73 points, against South Wales Police. That had come with a large compliment of second-choice players in their ranks, but there was a full compliment to meet the Scarlets.

Eight of them are members of the Welsh squad from which the team to face Italy on October 7 will be chosen, yet it was three of the almost forgotten men of the international arena, Alan Reynolds, Paul Arnold and Aled Williams, who stole the limelight as Swansea put a stranglehold on the Llanelli attackers. They did so with some of the most ferocious tackling seen in the League, and by dominating the lineouts.

First blood was always going to be vital and that went to Swansea with three penalties in seven minutes to Williams. On top of that they showed they would not be intimidated in any way as they stood and slugged it out toe to toe with the home forwards in the opening exchanges. The frustration for Llanelli was they could find no way through the Swansea back row and midfield defence.

Their one score came thanks to some quick thinking by their astute captain and scrum half, Rupert Moon. He was involved twice in a move that ended with the flanker, Lyn Jones, crashing over. Colin Stephens converted.

But on the stroke of half-time, Swansea brought their Welsh full-back, Tony Clement, crashing into the line and once he had knocked Nigel Davies out of his path the way was made clear for Mark Titley to cross at the corner.

That was the end of the scoring, but not of the excitement. Swansea stood firm, Llanelli ran out of ideas and it is the champions who remain on top.

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

Referee: Bevan (Clydach).

Scores: Williams (pen, 9 min) 0-3; Williams (pen, 10 min) 0-6; Williams (pen, 15 min) 0-9; L Jones/Stephens (try/conv, 30 min) 7-9; Titley (try, 43 min) 7-14.