Rugby Union: Thomas brings trying season to a tame end

Llanelli 10 Swansea 37 Tries: Proctor Tries: Charles 2, Maullin, Cons: Hayward D Thomas Pens: Hayward Cons: Arwel Thomas 3, L Davies Pens: Arwel Thomas Drops: Arwel Thomas 2 Half-time: 10-24 Attendance: 15,000
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THERE WERE a few touches of heavenly play to celebrate the end of the season from hell but this climax to a year Welsh club rugby will be happy to forget fell way short of the rousing contest we had expected.

Swansea were comfortable winners of the Swalec Cup in a game that was effectively over after 50 minutes when their man-of-the-match Arwel Thomas popped over his first and only penalty to make the score 30-10.

Llanelli had some inviting opportunities to slice that 20-point margin into a more acceptable size but their finishing reflected their fast-fading hopes of collecting the third trophy of the season and the game just sank slowly into the sunset. If you need a flavour of how tame it became, there were 11 substitutions in the last 10 minutes and when Dean Thomas was completing Swansea's scoring with a try in the last minute most of their major stars were off having their pictures taken on the side of the pitch.

So it was Swansea, the rebels with accord, who had the last word of a voyage lost in a sea of bitter squabbling. No doubt their convincing acquisition of the cup - which now needs a new sponsor because Swalec have had a bellyful - will be heralded as justification for the rebellion mounted by Swansea and Cardiff who both emigrated to play friendlies in England. But I think the sorrow of it all has gone past trying to work out the winners and losers of that escapade. Llanelli have every reason to believe they struck a mighty blow for the spirit homes when they so effectively overcame Cardiff in the semi-final.

But this reunion with their old rivals - the two teams had not met for 15months - proved just one game too far for their excellent end-of-season effort. They might have been encouraged to better things had they made the most of an opening in which Swansea took time to settle. But, for once, their ace kicker Byron Hayward was unable to provide his usual assistance. He only scored one out of four penalty attempts in the first half and, although he tried to make amends with some massive touch-finders which put his team into promising attacking positions, it was Thomas whose kicking did the most damage. The first of his two drop kicks came after 15 minutes and was the signal for Swansea to start making ominous inroads through the centre of a Llanelli defence.

Much had been expected of Llanelli's centre partnership of Tongan Salesi Finau and the retiring Nigel Davies, a veteran of eight of these finals with Llanelli. But the Llanelli pair were no match on the day for their opposite numbers Scott Gibbs and Mark Taylor. It was a 30-yard break by Gibbs that set up the first try for Colin Charvis. Charvis had not been expected to play and it was not until the loudspeakers announced his presence at the start of the game that the Swansea fans knew that he would take part.

The Welsh back row international was playing his first game since fracturing his cheekbone in three places during Wales' victory over England five weeks ago at Wembley and for someone whose presence was in doubt, he made quite an impact, adding a second try in the 30th minute following a break by Taylor.

Wayne Proctor brought Llanelli back into it in the 33rd minute but the decisive try came after Hayward failed to catch a wickedly high kick from Thomas and second row Tyrone Maullin scored a try almost at the stroke of the interval to give Swansea a comfortable half time lead, and when Thomas scored his second drop goal from 40 yards most of the steam was expelled from the game.

It is difficult to say whether it was Swansea relaxing or Llanelli finding a last force of energy but the Scarlets did mount a comeback, only to be let down twice by poor passing by Finau, and when Proctor looked certain to score his second try he was collared by a try-saving tackle by Thomas.

And that was that. The final 10 minutes enabled 11 replacements to say that they played in a Welsh Cup final and the game ended in confusion - an appropriate enough finale to the previous nine months.

Llanelli: B Hayward; W Proctor, S Finau, N Davies (C Warlow, 78), G Evans; S Jones, R Moon (Aled Thomas, 78); M Madden (P Booth, 72), R McBryde (capt), J Davies, C Wyatt, M Voyle (T Copsey, 72), H Jenkins (V Cooper, 72), S Quinnell, I Boobyer (M Thomas, 39-45, I Jones, 78).

Swansea: D Weatherley; R Rees, M Taylor, S Gibbs (capt, C Van Rensburg, 79), M Robinson; Arwel Thomas (L Davies, 79), R Jones (A Booth,79); D Morris, G Jenkins (C Wells, 79), B Evans (C Anthony, 72), T Maullin, A Moore (J Griffiths, 79), P Moriarty (D Thomas, 70), L Jones, C Charvis (D Thomas, 59-70)).

Referee: R Davies (Dunvant).

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