Jenkins falls behind in the race for No 10

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The Independent Online

The pressure for any Welsh fly-half is relentless, never more so than when there is a good old-fashioned, head-to-head duel between two admirable protagonists of con- trasting styles and demeanour.

The pressure for any Welsh fly-half is relentless, never more so than when there is a good old-fashioned, head-to-head duel between two admirable protagonists of con- trasting styles and demeanour.

Neil Jenkins, now of Cardiff, and Swansea's Arwel Thomas were under such scrutiny at St Helens. There was an all-star cast of more than 20 international players, but the spotlight was firmly focused on Jenkins and Thomas.

Both have been selected in the Wales squad to face Samoa in Cardiff next Saturday, and on the evidence of this trial, the verdict has to be first blood to Thomas in the Welsh race for No 10.

The ebullient Thomas was at the hub of everything Swansea attempted. The most eccentric of players, his error counts are higher than Jenkins', but nothing ventured nothing gained appeared to be his motto as he floated extravagant passes, probed for openings and generally kept Cardiff at bay.

Jenkins was in a subdued mood. His normally reliable boots erred and he offered little in attack, though he was not helped by poor performances from his centres Gareth Thomas and Pieter Muller.

After the heady heights of European rugby, the crowds still flocked to St Helens, but the players, abetted by a shocking refereeing display by Robert Davies, failed to respond. Both sides were guilty of the most basic of errors, both in execution and judgement.

The large crowd had rolled up to see the battle between Jenkins and Thomas, but the eventual star was the two-try centre Mark Taylor, who capped a fine week with this performance to add to his elevation to Welsh skipper.

Thomas had kicked two early penalty goals before the lengthy queues outside the ground had subsided, and his towering up and under into the fierce sun gave Swansea the attacking scrum. Hywel Jenkins and Colin Charvis made ground before Taylor barged over near the posts for Thomas to convert.

The Swansea crowd jeered three rare Jenkins penalty misses but were quickly silenced as Cardiff scored two tries in as many minutes. First, Craig Morgan, from the blindside wing, skipped through in midfield and from a turnover deep in their own half Paul Jones was worked clear and left the Swansea cover for dead. Thomas restored his side's lead with a well-struck drop goal from 40 metres and a simple penalty for off-side at the ruck.

Play was held up early in the second half for a dozen or so minutes as the Cardiff try-scorer Jones sustained a serious facial injury. The long delay took the edge off the contest but did not handicap Thomas as he nudged Swansea further ahead with a 35-metre penalty.

The match was sealed 10 minutes from the end when a long, raking kick from Thomas gave a platform for Taylor to scythe through a bedraggled, dog-legged Cardiff midfield for his second try. Thomas converted for a 19 points haul.

Cardiff rallied at the end as Jenkins added a penalty and the substitute winger Nick Walne latched on to a Jenkins cross-kick for the game's final score.

Swansea: K Morgan (D Weatherley, 68); S Payne, M Taylor, S Winn, M Robinson; A Thomas, S Martens (R Jones, 73); D Morris, G Jenkins, B Evans, T Maullin (J Griffiths, 61), A Moore, G Lewis, H Jenkins (D Thomas, 75), C Charvis (capt).

Cardiff: R Williams; P Jones (N Walne, 41), G Thomas (M Rayer, 78), P Muller (capt), C Morgan; N Jenkins, R Powell (K Ellis, 59); P Rogers (J Humphreys 64), A Lewis, S John, C Quinnell, J Tait (M Voyle, 52), W Fyvie, E Lewis, M Williams.

Referee: R G Davies (Dunvant).

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