Courtesy of South Wales Evening Post
By Robert Lloyd
IF the Swalec Cup is to maintain any sort of lustre in Welsh rugby's congested fixture calendar, the events at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday cannot be allowed to continue.
On paper, this was a tie that could have produced a rip-roaring contest between two of the leading semi-professional sides in the country.
Instead, a home team who had soared into the quarter-finals of the British and Irish Cup six days earlier were decimated by matters that ultimately were out of their control.
They were forced to name four hookers in their matchday squad — one starting at openside — a tight-head prop at lock, a lock at blindside flanker and a scrum-half on the wing. They were also only able to fill six out of eight positions on their bench.
Some 190 miles away at the Salford City Stadium, many of the players who had guided them to victory the previous week were wearing the colours of the Scarlets.
In fairness, a full-strength Llanelli would have found it tough to overcome a well-drilled Ponty outfit widely regarded as the leading semi-pro side around these days.
But if this cup competition is going to have any sort of credibility then clubs need to be able to put out as strong a XV as they can and that means avoiding a clash with the LV ‘development’tournament.
Llanelli's head of rugby Anthony Buchanan was remaining diplomatic after a gutsy effort by his makeshift side.
"We had a few lads coming in, but we are not here to make excuses or whinge about anything," he said.
"It is a valid competition that we wanted to progress in. We were A-star for effort, but we missed opportunities and Ponty are a good, tough, well-coached side who scored a couple of early tries and we were always chasing the game after that."
Ponty coach Dale McIntosh had sympathies with Llanelli's plight, but was nevertheless delighted to see his side progress, even if it wasn't as comfortable as it looked like being early in the first half.
Tries from scrum-half Gareth James and the first of two by outstanding centre Gary Williams had put last year's losing finalists in firm control, only for Llanelli to haul themselves back into the match just before half-time thanks to a short-range effort from prop Shaun Hopkins.
With juggernaut prop-turned- second row Craig Cross carrying relentlessly into the heart of Ponty's defence, Llanelli had their chances to move closer to the visitors, but fly-half Diggy Bird endured an off day with the boot, missing three kickable penalties.
A fine individual score from centre Williams in the 62nd minute all but sealed the win for Ponty, although the late sin-binnings of Chris Clayton and Gavin Dacey allowed Llanelli to claim a second with jet-heeled wing Kyle Evans producing a dazzling run from 60 metres out to cross under the posts without a hand laid on him.
Ponty, with key players to return themselves, will head into the next round as firm favourites to go one better than last year and lift the cup at the Millennium Stadium in May.
They are led impressively by lock Chris Dicomidis and possess lively operators in hooker Darren Harries and backs Gary Williams and Geraint Walsh.
As for Llanelli, a club who pride themselves on their cup tradition, they will be disappointed at another early exit.
The consolation is, they have another big cup day on their radar and are likely to be back up to strength for that one.
Llanelli : Tries: S. Hopkins, K. Evans. Con: D. Bird, J. Lewis.
Pontypridd : Tries: G. James, G. Williams (2). Cons: D. Flanagan (2). Pen: Flanagan.