Llanelli RFC V Neath RFC SWALEC Cup Final 2009
If more than 5,619 had bothered to make the effort and showed up in Cardiff at the weekend they would have been pleasantly surprised because Neath and Llanelli served up a cup final cracker. They might have met in four previous finals when club and not regional rugby was king, but some of the tries they scored would have graced any ground.
The only thing lacking was an attendance which would have done this old tournament proud. Cup final day was akin to an international before Cardiff Arms Park’s National Stadium was knocked down in 1997 to make way for the Millennium Stadium.
A crowd of 58,000 watched Neath beat Llanelli in 1989 but the cup lost some of its sparkle with the advent of the European Cup in 1995.
Then it was dealt a hammer-blow when Welsh rugby went regional in 2003. Maybe the way to attract a bumper crowd and pay-day would be to add a shootout between Wales’ two top regions to cup final day.
Neath coach and former Wales defence guru Rowland Phillips wasn’t too bothered how many were watching – he was just glad his side had come out on top.
“It was very good. We knew it would be a tough game because Llanelli have been very competitive throughout the season in the league,” he said.
“They have played some good rugby as well. Llanelli have a good cup tradition and they stretched us at times but our boys showed a lot of resolve defensively.”
Llanelli have won the Welsh Cup a record 13 times but this was the sixth final they had lost. It was Neath’s sixth triumph in the competition as they retained it for another year.
The result was in the balance until the final whistle following a determined second-half revival from Llanelli.
Their outside-half Luke Richards gave them one opportunity to win after scoring a try, converting and adding a penalty but right-wing Matthew Jacob put a foot in touch.
Neath’s extra experience and power at forward was crucial in seeing them edge ahead 3-2 in cup finals against Llanelli spread over a 38-year period.
Tries from scrum-half Kevin Farrell, centre Luke Ford and full-back Gareth King, coupled with three conversions and two penalties from veteran former Wales outside-half Arwel Thomas were enough to get them home.
Llanelli head of rugby Anthony Buchanan vowed his young Llanelli charges would come back even stronger next season.
“This is just the start of things to come.
“Our ambition is to play,” said the former Wales prop.
“We have brought young players in with lots to talent and they are going to make mistakes
“But we have got to set high standards. When I came in at the start of the season I wanted to challenge at the top end of Welsh rugby. I feel we have done that and we have also brought in young players so we are hitting targets.
“It would have been nice to take the cake home in the shape of the cup but we have to respect Neath won it. Next season can’t come quick enough for us.
“What we have been is competitive but we have to just keep raising the bar.”
Courtesy of Andy Howell, Western Mail Correspondent.
Llanelli Team:15.Dan Newton14.Matthew Jacobs13.Nick Reynolds.12.Matthew Brayley11Nick Jones10.Luke Richards9.Gareth Davies1.Ian Jones2.Craig Hawkins(c)3.Simon Gardner4.Adam Powell5.Aaron Shingler.6.Luke Jones7.Simon Peters8.Dan Godfrey16.Shaun Hopkins(66)17.Greg George(79)18Aled Hopkins(47)19.Arwel Davies(73)20.Dwayne Eager(54)21.Justin James(66)22.Andrew Banfield(73).