Rugby Union: Walker's message to Bowring

Cardiff 50 Neath 11
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The Independent Online
CARDIFF made an impressive return to league action in a fractured and fractious season with Nigel Walker scoring two of their seven tries against Neath.

A legal battle with the Welsh Rugby Union and persistent rumours of an as yet unspecified rapprochement with England's top clubs have been set alongside some mixed results in the seven league matches played before yesterday's encounter at the Arms Park. But in a match which proved Welsh club rugby can still be both worthy of attention and entertaining, Cardiff's expensively assembled troops did all that could be asked of them and earned the maximum two bonus points on offer.

The Wales coach, Kevin Bowring, might have guessed that having omitted Walker from his team to face Italy next Saturday, the wing would respond in style. The finishing touches which brought him a try in each half were straightforward enough. Indeed, he had plenty to be grateful for in the set-up work of his outside centre, Leigh Davies.

But Walker also showed a healthy appetite for the nitty- gritty, the sort of appetite which made him a deserved man of the match on his last Wales appearance against the All Blacks.

The final scoreline did little justice to a game Neath side who justified reports of their resurgence, yet suffered from one too many choices of the wrong option. They were not helped, either, by two glaring penalty- goal misses by Chris John either side of half time. Clearly, the local knowledge gleaned during his spell as a Cardiff player had slipped John's mind.

Wales' newly appointed captain, Rob Howley, had one of his more understated performances. The scrum-half might have hoped for a little more protection from the stifling and often illegal attentions of the Neath back row - either from the referee or his own breakaway trio. But with Lee Jarvis and his threequarters functioning efficiently, Cardiff were served handsomely enough outside.

Gareth Thomas squeezed over in the right corner for Cardiff's second try of the first half, and the pick of their five in the second was the product of some lovely controlled footwork by full-back Craig Morgan, following up his own chip ahead. Former Brive flanker Greg Kacala's rampaging score in the last minute gave Cardiff the six-try margin they needed for the second bonus point.

The forward exchanges were lively throughout, but the Cardiff prop Dai Young, having fought an intriguing battle with Neath loosehead Darren Morris throughout the first half, did not appear for the second after taking an accidental knock to his face. It should not prevent him opposing the Italians - no such luck for the unfortunate Walker.

Cardiff: C Morgan; G Thomas, L Davies, M Hall, N Walker; L Jarvis (P Williams, 75), R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys (capt), D Young (L Mustoe, h-t), T Rees, D Jones (J Tait, 66), G Kacala, O Williams, E Lewis (J Ringer, 44-47).

Neath: D Case; C Higgs, A Palfrey, T Davies, D Williams; C John (R Davies, 55), P Horgan; D Morris, M Davies, B Evans, G Llewellyn (capt), S Martin (S Rees, 78), M Bennett, L Jones, I Boobyer.

Referee: T Rowlands (Treorchy).