BRITISH-FRENCH relations were hardly enhanced the week after three players were dismissed at Stradey Park, as two of last season's Heineken Cup sides punched and kicked their way through this crucial Pool D European Conference match.
The fact that only one player, the Begles prop Olivier Sourgens, was dismissed by the Romanian referee Chiciu Niculae was remarkable enough. But the most mystifying thing of all was why Begles, by far the better footballing side, should continually attempt to out-muscle their opponents.
When they attempted to run the ball the Frenchmen were yards faster in thought and deed than their opponents. At times, Swansea looked like novices by comparison. By continuing the French trend of trying physically to intimidate and dominate their opponents Begles came badly unstuck as they were penalised 17 times to Swansea's three. Sourgens was dismissed when a Romanian touch-judge spotted a needless punch from behind on the Swansea flanker Alan Reynold.
The result means that Begles have to make up a 94-point difference on Swansea over the last weekend if they are to stand any chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. A tough task, even though they host Ebbw Vale next weekend and Swansea have to travel to Bourgoin.
The Begles coaching staff were pointing the finger very firmly at the Romanian officials for not having won the game, but as they led 26-0 lead in the first quarter they should surely be asking questions of their players.
Given first use of the strong wind it took the French side less than a minute to open their account when a high kick by their scheming skipper Guy Accoceberry was caught on the full by his half-back partner Michael Carre a few yards out and he was driven over for the score.
The lock Andre Berthozat was next to cross, sprinting 20 metres after a break from the back of a line-out, and then wing Thomas Ossard scored after a kick and chase over 50 metres. No sooner had he touched down than eight forwards from the two sides finally emerged from one of the many schoolyard brawls on the French 22.
Worse was to follow for the home side when an attack broke down through a careless pass on the Begles 22 and the error was turned into a try at the other end by Accoceberry.
At that stage Swansea were nothing short of a rabble. They lacked direction and found it difficult to cope with the physical French forwards. But things changed quickly. Scott Gibbs muscled his way through from 25 metres out in the last move of the first half and then Arwel Thomas waltzed his way over for another try with the first move of the second half.
Thomas earlier kicked a penalty and his two conversions reduced the gap to nine points. Swansea kept plugging away and, finally, found some rhythm in their rucking game. It enabled Mark Taylor to cross nine minutes from time and allowed Gibbs the pleasure of rounding off the revival with his second score, which turned out to be the last move of the game.
Swansea: A Clement (A Palfrey, 72-73); A Harris, M Taylor, S Gibbs, Simon Davies; A Thomas, R Jones; C Loader (K Colclough, 61), G Jenkins (captain), C Anthony, M Evans (S Moore, 21-34), J Griffiths, P Moriarty, A Reynolds, Stuart Davies.
Begles: P Fauthoux; A Bouyssie, L Lafforgue, S Loubsens, R MacDonald; M Carre, G Accoceberry (captain); P Collazo, L Dehez, O Sourgens, A Berthozat, C Mougeot (P Farner, 67), S Conchy, M Barrague, Y Lemeur (F Garcia, 41).
Referee: C Niculae (Romania).