Rugby Union: Warlow conjures vital win

Llanelli 31 Caledonia 10
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Llanelli made certain of a place in the play-off stages of the Heineken Cup with a far from convincing display against Caledonia at an echoing Stradey Park. Llanelli's own cheerleader, the Celtic Warrior, was certainly able to make himself heard in the half empty stadium that has, in the past, been a veritable cauldron of sound.

But, as important as this game was for The Scarlets' European aspirations, the faithful were clearly not too bothered. Perhaps the rain, driven in by the strong Westerly wind, kept them away. They did not miss much, unlike Llanelli. Countless passes went astray, there were turnovers by the trayload and lapses in defence. But ultimately experience and superior class told.

Llanelli had to take the field without Frano Botica, but his replacement, Craig Warlow - there is no ck at the end of his name, but he still produced magical moments - proved an able, if occasionally careless deputy.

Llanelli owed 16 of their points to the slightly built 22-year-old's boot. If he could have shown a little more control with the ball in hand, and if some of his passes could have been delivered more accurately, then the scoreline could have doubled in the Scarlets' favour.

Warlow began promisingly with a calmly struck, left-footed drop goal in the sixth minute. Then the unthinkable happened. The Scottish side, sporting a red strip, which confusingly led to Llanelli wearing their "away" strip of blue shirts at home, went ahead with a converted try by the lock Stuart Grimes.

But Warlow began to do his stuff and by the interval had kicked affairs back to normal with three penalties. With that cushion Llanelli finally wrested control from Caledonia.

Centre Neil Boobyer took a tap penalty 15 minutes into the second half, and fed flanker Andrew Gibbs who shook off despairing Scottish tackles to plunge over. Warlow converted. Boobyer had a hand in their second try, searing upfield for the ball to be recycled to the Scarlets' captain, hooker Robin McBryde, who applied the finishing touch.

The third try again arrived courtesy of a tap penalty and culminated in scrum-half Rupert Moon powering through. Gareth Jenkins, Llanelli's director of coaching, was probably more relieved at the end: "I am happy about the result," he said, "but I cannot be happy with the performance. But this was an important day, not only for Llanelli, but also for Welsh rugby." He is probably right. But Llanelli need to get their act together to win through the play-offs to a quarter-final place.

Llanelli: D Williams; G Evans, N Boobyer, M Wintle, W Leach; C Warlow, R Moon; R Jones, R McBryde (capt), H Williams-Jones, D Hodges (S Ford 8-15), M Voyle, A Gibbs, I Jones, C Wyatt.

Caledonia: R Shepherd; S Longstaff, P Rouse, D Officer, J Kerr; M McKenzie, D Patterson; W Anderson (J Manson 52), G Scott (S Brown 80), S Penman (D Herrington, 73), S Campbell, S Grimes, D McIvor (M White, 73), R Wainwright (capt), G Flockhart.

Referee: J Pearson (Yarm)