Poor show as inept Neath fluff their lines

Jonathan Davies
Sunday 02 February 2003 01:00

Take nothing away from Munster, who played well within themselves, but this was a poor contest to set before the Millennium Stadium. This could be Neath's last appearance on a big stage if plans for regional rugby come into being next season, but I hope that it isn't.

As a former Neath player, I would like to see a much better salute than this to a glorious past. They under-achieved and displayed none of the qualities that have brought them so many admirers. Too many of their players passed the buck better than they passed the ball. The number of handling errors was embarrassing and the line-out was farcical.

Indeed, if they had set out to prove the case for regional rugby in Wales, they could not have done a better job. It is all the harder to understand because we know that they can produce rugby of a quality far superior than this. It would be kind to suggest that perhaps they froze on the big occasion.

You have to give Munster full credit for their domination of the game. If Ronan O'Gara had not been injured by Brett Sinkinson's stamp midway through the first half, I am sure that the margin of victory would have been much higher.

But when he went off, Munster tended to close the game up. They did this so easily because of a magnificent back row in the shape of Alan Quinlan, Jim Williams and Anthony Foley.

I chose Quinlan as my man of the match, but it could have been any one of those three. Quinlan edged it because of the try he scored at a crucial point in the first half. There was an element of luck about it: after Jason Holland charged down a Lee Jarvis kick, the ball hit a Neath boot and popped up into Quinlan's hands.

But his fellow back-row players were just as impressive. If there is a case made for having foreign players, Williams makes it time and time again.

Cup finals are all about taking your chances and that's what Munster did. O'Gara's departure brought Rob Henderson on for his first game since October and the brilliant run that brought his try was a boost for Ireland despite the woeful attempts that Neath made to stop him.

There were times when Neath put themselves into position to make a breakthrough, but their execution was woeful. They either put the ball down or ran so laterally it was easy for Munster's defence to smother them. It is absolutely no good trying to beat a defence as good as that by running sideways.

It was crying out for them to be direct and to create overlaps but they showed no patience whatsoever and tried to rush everything.

Against a defence as good as Munster's they needed to be a lot smarter. Andy Durston made a few promising breaks but nothing developed from them. Shane Williams showed up occasionally but he shows a liking for a move to the scrum-half position and, quite frankly, that's the only way he is going to get into the Welsh team.

Their failure in the line-out was one of the major reasons for their failure to get into the game as a force. They lost their hooker, Barrie Williams, early on with a broken jaw that will rule him out of Six Nations' action with Wales but even before he went their line-out work was abysmal.

No team can give up set pieces to Munster as easily and expect not to perish. The Irish team, and their enthusiastic following, deserved their celebrations in Cardiff last night, but they will know that they have much tougher challenges facing them in the Heineken Cup.

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