Rugby Union: Swansea undeterred after sluggish start

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The Independent Online
Swansea. . .17

Newbridge. .13

TOO close for comfort it may have been for the defending Heineken League champions, Swansea, yet when sides make you look ordinary, and still fail to leave with the spoils, you must take heart.

The success of Newbridge in slowing down, if not quite halting, the Swansea momentum was significant, but not a shock.

The Gwent club are the big time, small-timers of the First Division, who have the ability to match the elite band of Welsh clubs.

In the hard school of Gwent rugby, tradition has dictated that Newport and Pontypool are mentioned, honoured and normally given the plum touring fixtures, ahead of Newbridge.

Of late, it has been the broader scope of their game that has made them kings of the county. Well coached, and with a host of quality players, they are the best outside bet for the First Division title.

That being the case what they should have been able to do, given the chances they created and the possession they won, was extend their lead rather than sit on it and hope for the best.

Swansea were there for the taking. Newbridge knew that, yet they were unable to go in for the kill. As a result they were eventually put in their place.

It is always difficult for reigning champions to successfully defend their title, just as the inaugural Heineken League champions, Neath, discovered last season when they found a number of teams raising their standards to match those at The Gnoll. But Swansea's slow, winning start is hardly the end of the world.

Whatever anyone else expected, the Swansea coach, Mike Ruddock, was hardly crying in his beer over the performance. He knows his team can only, and will, get better.

The confidence gained over last season's triumphant campaign came to the fore in troubled times. The defence was superb, the depth of their squad amply demonstrated by the way in which they coped with the loss, through injury, of three internationals, and the side's resolve and commitment was shown to be as strong as ever.

Had Newbridge been able to raise question marks over either of the latter, then the rest of the division may have been heading to the bookies to invest some money on themselves. However low-key a start this was for Ruddock's men, the underlying message was still that they intend to keep a firm grip on the Heineken trophy.

Having found themselves 13-5 in arrears at the interval the champions stepped up a gear in the second half and got back on the right track with tries from the two Davies, Simon and Ian. They still had to hang on grimly at the death, but then that just epitomised their desire to hold on tightly to their hard-earned title.

Swansea: Tries Taylor, S Davies, I Davies. Conversion Williams. Newbridge: Try Hayward; Conversion Hayward; Penalties Hayward 2.

Swansea: A Clement; S Davies, K Hopkins (captain, M Titley, 40), S Gibbs, B Taylor; A Williams (S Jones, 75), R Jones; I Buckett, R McBryde, M Morgan, R Moriarty, P Arnold, R Webster (A Sutton, 39), I Davies, A Reynolds.

Newbridge: D Rees (captain); A Harries, M Egan, S Crandon, D Manley; B Hayward, S Fealey; J Rowlands, K Waters, S Jenkins, G Taylor, A Collins, S Griffiths (T Shaw, 75), P Pook, P Crane.

Referee: G Simmonds (Cardiff).