Llanelli lifted by the boot of Jones
Sunday 16 April 2000
The expectations had been so high, the prize so great, that Welsh tribalism ruled the day as Llanelli deservedly progressed to the semi-finals of the European Cup by comprehensively defeating a disappointing and unimaginative Cardiff team.
Llanelli never allowed the Cardiff set-piece game to settle and beyond that - and perhaps as a result - Cardiff were a shambles. Llanelli, as is their tradition, always manage to excel on the big stage, and on this occasion, they will be grateful for the charging runs and physical presence of their winger, Salefi Finau, and No 8, Scott Quinnell. Chris Wyatt was the match's solitary try-scorer, with Stephen Jones kicking 17 points to seal the home victory.
The domestic club scene in Wales has been talked down for some time now, yet the build-up to this encounter was perhaps over-hyped, with the players and media alike laying claims that the match would be the biggest and most important club game ever staged in Wales. During the week both sides have played the usual mind-games, although not exactly of Einstein proportions. Llanelli claimed that they were severely depleted, while Cardiff rather humbly - or perhaps disingenuously - built the home side up to be highly respected as the invincibles, manning the Stradey barricades, and preventing anyone, let alone some city slickers,spoiling their party.
Stradey was full to the rafters, an intimidating atmosphere to test the strongest of men. Llanelli would relish the home cauldron, but what about the visitors from the capital? Quite a stage, then, for two world-famous clubs whose ambitions extend behind their respective square mile, and who were reliant on this all-Welsh fixture to ensure that a Welsh club progressed in the Heineken Cup competition.
Llanelli were first to settle and surprisingly destabilised Cardiff's early scrum, as they were to do repeatedly during the game. Cardiff killed Llan-elli's possession and Jones nonchalantly slotted the opening penalty. It was the same for Cardiff's early throw-ins, as Craig Gillies soared high to outsmart John Tait and deny Cardiff any attacking platform.
It was 15 minutes before Cardiff reached Llanelli territory, and then a hesitant Neil Jenkins ensured only a fleeting visit. Halfway through the opening period, it was Llan-elli's turn to collapse a scrum and Jenkins' majestic kick put Cardiff on the offensive for the first time. A dangerous tackle by Neil Boobyer on Rob Howley led to a free-for-all, resulting in Ian Boobyer and Owain Williams being sin-binned - or so we thought. The decision resulted in total chaos and confusion with both players being farcically recalled after only a couple of minutes.
The French referee, Didier MenÃ©, had it right all along, as the sin-bin is deemed in operation in the European Cup. The referee had been informed, but the organisers, European Rugby Cup, not known for their efficiency, had apparently forgotten to tell anyone else. The fourth referee didn't know, neither seemingly did the Heineken administrators, as they demanded the early return of both players. What a farce!
Back to the game, and Jenkins brought Cardiff back on level terms with a simple penalty before excellent ball retention by Llanelli and a sublime blind pass from Matt Cardey gave Chris Wyatt the opportunity to crash over for a try converted by Jones.
On the restart, Cardiff were at sixes and sevens and Llan-elli were quick to capitalise. They pressured the Blue and Blacks relentlessly and the visitors were visibly ruffled. This pressure allowed Jones to slot four expertly judged penalties to ease the game away from Cardiff. The officials then rightly sin-binned Martyn Williams for repeated infringe-ments but Llanelli failed to take advantage of the extra man.
Llanelli: M Cardey; W Proctor (capt), N Boobyer, D James, S Finau; S Jones, R Moon; P Booth, R McBride, J Davies, C Wyatt (V Cooper 71), C Gillies, S Easterby, S Quinnell, I Boobyer.
Cardiff: R Williams; L Botham, G Thomas, L Davies (M Rayer), N Walne; N Jenkins, R Howley; A Lewis (S John 40), J Humphries, D Young (capt), M Voyle, J Tait (S Moore 67), D Baugh (D Geharty 73), O Williams, M Williams.
Referee: D MenÃ© (France).
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