Jones in the pink for Scarlets

Bridgend 31 Llanelli 33
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The Independent Online

The cultured and well-thought-out second-half display by Llanelli and a 23-point contribution from acting skipper Stephen Jones at fly-half, including a last-gasp 42-metre penalty, restored their position as leaders of the Welsh/ Scottish League.

The rugby landscape in Wales has improved dramatically, with some of the clouds dispersing during the festive period, most of the league encounters producing quality, attractive and close-run affairs. This was no exception.

Newport replaced Llanelli at the top with a record-breaking win at Pontypridd on Friday. No "house of pain'' experience for Newport, then. Llanelli, intent on reclaiming top spot, expected no free drinks at Brewery Field.

The Scarlets had only won twice at Bridgend in 11 league games, and the hosts were in no mood to tinker with that impressive statistic. But the greater control and confid-ence of the visitors just about deserved to carry the day.

For any discerning neutral there is no better place than Bridgend. If you are a supporter, and there should be more with the entertainment value provided, each game is a nailbiter, sublime scores interpersed with concentration lapses and poor defence.

Llanelli were deprived of the gargantuan presence of club skipper Scott Quinnell, a hamstring victim in defeat at Swansea on Boxing Day and a worrying doubt for the crucial Heineken Cup match against Perpignan on Friday.

His absence led to Bridg-end's first try. Deprived of his ball-carrying skills, Llanelli overcomplicated from a lineout. Craig Warlow's intercep-tion went through half-a- dozen pairs of hands before Adrian Durston crashed over – a try executed in fine style.

A Warlow penalty and two simple misses by Jones ensued before Bridgend's Tongan influence warmed up proceedings. Josh Taumalolo's quickly taken penalty and lobbed pass gave winger Aefea Havili, affectionately known as Idris, space and time to kick ahead, outsprint the opposition and touch down under the posts.

Llanelli replied immediately as countless recycled possessions allowed Jones to spot the gap for a converted try. He quickly added a penalty, but not before a third Bridgend beauty. The precision timing of Taumalolo's pass sent the British Lion Dafyd James skating through some thin defence for a try converted by Warlow.

Llanelli closed the gap just before the interval courtesy of slipshod defending as first Mark Jones, then Neil Boobyer scythed through for a try converted by Johnson. Warlow nosed Bridgend further ahead after the restart with a second penalty but Llanelli, faced by threatening winds, abandoned the tradition of spreading the ball wide in favour of driving surges from mobile forwards Martyn Madden, Chris Wyatt and Simon Easterby and the bulky centre Salesi Finau.

Full-back Garan Evans was sent over, Jones converting to put Llanelli ahead for the first time before Warlow's two penalties restored Bridgend's lead. A Jones penalty cut the advantage to a point, ensuring the grandstand finish that he exploited to the full.

Bridgend: J Taumololo; D Jones, D James, A Durston, A Haveli; C Warlow, H Harries (capt); C Loader, G Williams, C Noon (J Thiel, 58), P Clapham (M Molitika, 78), D Jones, R Bryan, N Budgett, J Ringer.

Llanelli: G Evans; W Proctor, N Boobyer, S Finau, M Jones; S Jones (capt), D Peel; M Madden, R McBryde, J Davies, L Gross, C Wyatt, S Easterby, D Hodge, D Jones.

Referee: H Watkin (Wales).

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