Snooker: Williams has final word

Breaks put Wales in the frame for Scotland clash
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TWO MIGHTY clearances to snatch frames on the black were key to Wales securing a 7-4 victory over England in the National Cup at the Telewest Arena, Newcastle to clinch their place against Scotland in today's final.

Scotland, undefeated, were assured of their place in the final before their concluding round-robin match against the Republic of Ireland last night.

The world champion, John Higgins (won 7, lost 3), Stephen Hendry (6-4) and Alan McManus (7-3) won the 1996 World Cup for Scotland but their No 4, Chris Small (7-2) has the best record of all. "Chris keeps telling me he's shaking out there but it does not seem to be doing him much harm," Hendry said.

Wales were off to a flier. Matthew Stevens runner-up to Higgins in the UK Championship in November, made a break of 60, in leaving Ronnie O'Sullivan potless in the opening frame. Mark Williams made one of 50 in despatching John Parrott. This became a 3-0 Welsh lead when Stevens, 56 behind to Jimmy White's 53 break, cleared with 68 for the black ball win.

O'Sullivan, partnering White in the first of the two doubles, made a 66 break to get England off the mark at the expense of Darren Morgan and Dominic Dale and, with Peter Ebdon making 87 to beat Dale, the gap was reduced to 3-2.

The standard of break- making, with 134 by Higgins, the highest of seven centuries, has never been higher in one-frame matches than it has this week. A titanic 74 from Williams, the second Welsh steal after White had been in first with 47, put Wales 4-2 ahead, increased to 5-2 through Morgan's effort of 38 and 56 against Ebdon.

A doubles win for Stevens and Williams over Parrott and Ebdon, a 47 by Stevens proving all but decisive, assured the Welsh quartet of pounds 10,000 each, increasing to pounds 17,500 if they prevail today.

ITV's return to snooker production was on the cards when Brian Barwick moved from BBC to become head of ITV Sport last year. The Nations Cup and next Autumn's Champions Cup have been added to the WPBSA circuit and the governing body has co-operated with session times, scheduling only two in the evening and starting today's final at 11 so ITV can go to football at 3.15. The format is gimmicky in comparison with the World Cup's symmetrical three-aside formula of each player playing every player in the other team and not all purists approved the choice of White for England.

The WPBSA stipulated that the three highest-ranked players plus a wild- card selected by them would constitute each country's team but, in four cases, selected the fourth highest ranked player in this slot. Preference was given to White at the expense of six higher ranked Englishmen: Stephen Lee, Anthony Hamilton, Nigel Bond, Steve Davis, Mark King and Gary Wilkinson.

As it turned out, only White (7-4) and O'Sullivan (6-4) started the day with credit balances for the week as England lost two of their first three matches.