Rugby Union: Thorburn's revival

Llandovery 17 Neath 36
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EVERYONE thought that it was the former Swansea golden oldie Aled Williams who might take centre stage at Church Bank, but instead it was his old Neath adversary Paul Thorburn who stole the headlines in the Swalec Cup fifth-round tie at Llandovery.

Williams has been helping to add a little bit of polish to the home side since he opted to quit the Premier Division this season and this was a game in which the bookies had calculated a Cup upset was on the cards.

Yet cometh the hour, cometh the man and in the shape of their 35-year- old former captain and full-back, Neath found the match-winner they have been lacking since winning the league two years ago. It was not that Thorburn - who doubles up as the tournament director for the 1999 Rugby World Cup and as Neath's goal-kicking coach - did anything spectacular. It was just that he did what he has always done for Neath, score points.

Two years on from his last appearance in the black jersey he converted all three tries and landed five out of eight penalties for a match haul of 21 points. Not bad for someone who confesses that his fitness work these days amounts to a couple of games of squash a week.

As well as the points, Thorburn also provided experience and solidity to the resurgent Neath side. Ron Waldron, the returning messiah as team manager, is finally assembling a creditable pack of forwards and, as this game proved, the Neath revival is gathering momentum.

Make no mistake, Paul Jones and his home pack threw everything they had into this game and for a period in the first half looked likely winners. Twice Llandovery rocked their Premier Division visitors in the first half as the scrum-half, Danny Williams, and the flanker Gareth Thomas crashed over for tries. Those scores initially gave the home team a 10-6 advantage, but four Thorburn penalties edged Neath back in front and then a penalty try in first-half stoppage time turned the tide in Neath's favour.

Thorburn converted, added a penalty seven minutes after the interval, and all of a sudden it was the home team who were on the rack. Two tries by the flanker Ian Boobyer, both converted by Thorburn, put Neath out of sight until Llandovery bagged a penalty try of their own on the stroke of time.

Llandovery: E Lewis; M Bowen, E Evans, H Thomas (D Simpsom, 74), J Griffiths; A Williams, D Williams (A Davies, 77); A Evans, J Hughes, A Jones, J Westgarth, H Morgan, M Lewis, P Jones (capt), G Thomas.

Neath: P Thorburn; C Higgs, T Davies, A Palfrey, D Case; C John, P Horgan; D Morris (L Gerrard, 71), M Davies, B Evans, G Llewellyn (capt), S Martin, M Bennett, L Jones, I Boobyer.

Referee: P Adams (Ebbw Vale).