Jonathan Davies: Jones' moment of madness a long-term lesson for Llanelli

Wednesday 25 December 2013 04:20

When Llanelli reflect on their defeat by Perpignan at Stradey on Friday night, two moments of madness by Salesi Finau and Dafydd Jones in the first 10 minutes will weigh heavily as the reason they threw away a place in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup.

But even though they were seven-nil down and reduced to 14 men with fully 70 minutes to go they could still, and should, have won the tie.

They didn't because they lost the initiative. Their momentum went and they could not get it back. It was a time for a cool head, a calming influence who would have restored a structure that would still have made them a winning force.

But they panicked, and even though they fought back like fury they lacked the patience that I am sure would have gained them a tight victory.

That they didn't do this was a failure on the part of their more experienced players, but there was also another factor – an element of team rustiness that proved fatal. Not being able to play their full side during the Six Nations contributed to their undoing. Before the internationals began Llanelli were a very good, highly tuned side. But because their best players were on duty for Wales they had to switch off, and it removed their edge. I am not doubting the importance of the Welsh cause, but to commandeer players completely and not allow them to play for their clubs is not a good idea.

England won the Grand Slam and still allowed their players to play at club level. Leicester and Northampton would have been better sides in the Heineken Cup this weekend because of that. France did the same. I fancy that Munster will suffer from the same lack of top-match practice together when they go to Leicester today.

I fail to see why players should not play once a week. They need to, instead of being banged up in a training camp. When Llanelli finally got theirs back they had one match against Neath as preparation – not enough before a game of this importance.

Having said that, the Scarlets still should have won. Not many sides would have survived the blows they took early on. First, Finau came off his wing intent on delivering one of his trademark tackles on Pascal Bomati. But the Frenchman slipped a pass to the unmarked Jean-Marc Souverbie, who kicked ahead to earn a penalty try after being brought down illegally by Simon Easterby.

Then Dafydd Jones charged into a ruck and brought a reckless boot down on the scrum-half Ludovic Loustau's head. Referee Tony Spreadbury had no option but to show him the red card.

It was a lesson that no matter how much the adrenalin is flowing, you must keep your head, otherwise your team suffer. Jones received an immediate six-week ban. Some might think he got off lightly, but the biggest punishment to him will be what he did to his side.

They might easily have saved his shame had they composed themselves, but even experienced players like Stephen Jones and Leigh Davies couldn't take a grip. They were too pedestrian and failed to get the ball away from the forwards and spread it wide, where their backs could do damage.

Llanelli's seven-man pack fought well, but struggled in the line-out, where Jones is essential to their options. They failed to adjust and they lost line-out after line-out through confusion. That lack of possession was a telling factor, as was their lack of patience when they were pounding on Perpignan's line in the closing stages. Defeat hurts more when it shouldn't have happened.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments