Rugby Union: Swansea walk on wary side

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The Independent Online
IT IS already a wretched December for the Heineken League champions, Llanelli. The Scarlets have lost their ruddy complexion and instead are looking peaky after shocking defeats by Newport and Bridgend, writes Steve Bale.

So, despite the immensity of the west Wales rivalry, they could probably have done with something more obviously therapeutic than this afternoon's visit by Swansea. Perhaps someone like Cross Keys, annihilated 95-22 by Swansea a week ago.

Llanelli are fourth, a big six points behind Swansea, and a third consecutive defeat would as good as end their title pretensions. If tales about internal dissension are even partly true, it is scarcely a surprise.

Swansea have their problems, too, though they are injury-related - in particular the loss of Scott Gibbs for the rest of the season. 'I don't think it will be as easy as some people think,' Mike Ruddock, the coach, said. 'Don't forget everyone said last year a defeat would kill them off and they beat us at St Helen's'

And went on to a championship that had seemed certain to be Swansea's. This season Neath, three points behind with a game against Cross Keys in hand, are their nearest rivals, having the one pack capable of the sustained pace and mobility that are supposedly essential in the modern game.

At least Pontypridd have muscled into the cosy four-club elite which had, in its incestuous way, seemed to be all Welsh rugby amounted to. Alan Davies, the Wales coach, wants a higher level of competition by entry into an extended, Anglo-Welsh divisional competition. Such cross-border co- operation can and already does exist - as shown by today's round of matches between the Irish provinces and Scottish districts.