Neath

k.o. time: 5:30 pm

4 January, 2003

The Gnoll

Spectators: 6,471

Cardiff
referee
Alan Lewis
weather
Dry but absolutely freezing
worth annoying the wife factor
1
/10
our man of the match
Ken Fourie
scorers
Richard Malcolm Smith (1)
Iestyn Harris (1)
Iestyn Harris (1)

Cardiff's only (slim) chance of Silverware this season was lost as a typical Semi-Final performance allowed Neath an easy path to the final. Many hundreds of Cardiff fans had made the short trip down the M4 despite the decision of the Neath club not to send a ticket allocation to Cardiff Arms Park, which was their obligation under Celtic League rules. The receipt on the ticket said "Neath Catering" and the players certainly tucked into their Cardiff counterparts. The performance of the players, it is impossible to use the word "team" as this would infer some kind of unity, did not deserve this support as the 80 minutes of embarrassment that was served should have led to the immediate resignation of the Head Coach, David Young.

The decision to pick the obviously injured Fourie ahead of himself showed the reluctance of the Coach to enter the fray of battle, and the half hearted nature of his players was a clear reflection of his leadership skills. Cardiff were only in the game for a short 5 minute spell after the break when Neath were so expectant of a non-existant Cardiff fight back that they gifted Cardiff points through their own inability to finish the game. A flukey try because of a rebound was Cardiff's only venture near the Neath line, whilst Neath dropped the ball an amazing 12 times in the Cardiff 22. It would not be untrue to say the Neath score should have been closer to 70 than 30.

At the start of the game the chants of "Cardiff, Cardiff" were briefly to be heared over the monotone "Neef" chant, but by the end of the game the only chant was "Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio!". The joke was that the Cardiff fans were joining in and as Neath said Cheerio to Cardiff, we wished Young would hear the chant and fall on his sword.

The near freezing conditions as the game started did not dampen the atmosphere as the Neath faithful were quietly, yet respectfully, confident that their team could beat one of their hated Gang of Six. The myths that went through the Neath crowd were tremendous (the best being that the WRU only own 49% of the club!!!) and these were all aimed at the Axis of Evil that is Cardiff and co. The feelings were further stirred up by the disgusting hospitality shown to the Cardiff Board of Directors who were forced to find their own seats in the crowd amongst the plebs! Oh, how the abuse soon flowed as the performance of the Cardiff players led to red faces amongst the money men ...

The Neath pattern of entertaining rugby was soon set as their excellent set of forwards tore into the Cardiff eight. A stream of possession was coming Neath's way and their organised and set way of play allowed them to tore holes into the shambolic Cardiff defence. Quick first phase ball was used for the big runners to punch holes into the Cardiff defence, and the first up tackling was not always as it should be. Excellent recyling of the ball, and the speed at which it was done, led to exciting rugby and rugby played as it should.

That the score was not as great as it should have been was down to Cardiff only putting in a real effort when they defended their own 22. This was done through a mixture of "proper" defending and tremendous off side play, which was correctly penalised by the fair Lewis. The major reason, however, was the quite awful handling of the Neath team. Overlap after overlap was lost as the Neath players became overexcited with the ease at which they were hammering Cardiff and try after try was lost.

The first twenty minutes was nothing but a black wave of attacks that Cardiff had no answer to. Ironically, the inability of Neath to score as they should have meant that the pressure was kept on the Cardiff try line. After each knock on came a scrum, a phase of play that saw Cardiff completely outmuscled and outclassed. The early loss of Fourie through another hamstring problem meant that Young HAD to enter the battle. Could he bring some unity and motivation to his players? Could he hell!

The scrum is the start of any rugby team. Without this steady flow of first phase ball it is very difficult for any team to create a pattern of play, but more importantly it shows the strength of the team and that the training field is used properly. For five months Cardiff have been hammered in every game, in every scrum. Yet nothing changes. Young was supposedly the most respected scrummaging tight head in the World during his first spell in Union yet he is incapable of passing on this knowledge to his charges. More so, he is incapable of playing that way himself any longer. His reluctance to select himself also indicates his reluctance to lead his troops in times of adversity, his reluctance to play seems to have installed a lack of confidence throughout the squad. What is his use then?

At each scrum the confidence of the Cardiff team was visibly draining away. The body langauge was drooping, and the scrambled clearance of Smith, Harris and Morgan did not allow Cardiff to get out of their half, so Neath were camped in the Cardiff half for most of the game.

The only brief visits into the Neath half were from Neath mistakes giving Cardiff field position, but these were few and far between. The poor clearance kicks from the Cardiff half backs were usually fielded by the excellent Shane Williams who made the Cardiff players look like fools.

A real sign of a poorly motivated, poor team is how the kicks are chased. The All Blakcs chase the kicks as quickly as possible, in a line of four across the pitch which makes the defended kick the ball back. More importantly, any first up tackle is always made. Cardiff were the clear opposite of this - one or two chasers at most, with the rest in a dog leg across the pitch. Huge areas of the pitch were not covered and this allowed Williams a field day in running back at Cardiff.

The very little first phase line out ball that Cardiff had was also criminally wasted. Woods throwing in the line out was not accurate and when ball was won the backs lacked the confidence to do anything with the ball. Gone has the confident running from deep onto the ball at pace to be replaced with the crash ball work of Allen and the intricate quick passing that hopes to find a gap. Neath were wise to both tactics and each and every attack was easily nullified. The only alternative Cardiff had was up and unders from Harris that were aimless and at very best, awful.

Neath strolled the first half and muscled their way well into the lead with two tries from close range to lead 17 - 0 at half time.

Would Cardiff come out all guns erm, kinda blazing in the second half? Well, fortunately, Neath believed they would and went into their shell for the first twenty minutes of the half.

From a well worked (and new) lineout move near the Neath 22 Cardiff were able to work a short side move that allowed Craig Morgan a little bit of space. His now trademark chip ahead rebounded a couple of times but allowed Smith to kick ahead and flop over for the try.

Harris' touchline conversion, when added to by a penalty, meant that Cardiff were slowly edging their way back into the game. Neath had totally abandoned their first half tactic of maintaining possession, with Jarvis kicking aimlessly and just gifting the ball back to Cardiff. This resurgence seemed more to stem from Neath's panic than to any ability from Cardiff.

Neath had soon worked out, however, that their supremacy could easily be re-found. The arrival of Rowland Phillips soon added more confidence to the home team and shortly after the crowd refound its voice as Cardiff wasted their opportunities.

A ping pong kicking game allowed the excellent Ikkul Shane to launch a counter attack from his own 22 that soon allowed Neath a foothold in the Cardiff 22. With the ball worked out to Jarvis, he provided us with a moment of entertainment that was worth the entrance fee alone. As he dummied the drop goal all the Cardiff defenders ran past him and he was able to take a brilliant try.

Salt was rubbed into our wounds as Neath rounded off the easy victory with a stroll into the right corner as somehow they were allowed to score from first phase play. The delight in the crowd and the chants of Cheerio were all too well deserved.

This game was a Cup Semi Final with a trip to the Millennium Stadium on offer yet Cardiff were never able to get out of first gear at all. Neath dominated the match, dominated possession and dominated territory and only let Cardiff gain any kind of pattern during a brief spell at the start of the second half. Rarely has a Cardiff team been played so easily off the park, deviod of ideas and devoid of inspiration.

Credit must go to Lyn Jones who motivated his players so well and got them to play exactly the game plan to beat Cardiff. It must be said that, with better handling, Neath could easily have topped 70 points and for a Semi-Final game especially, this is just not good enough.

15
Gethin Rhys Williams
3
/10
couldn't add any spark to the game despite having lots of space and time with the ball in hand when Jarvis kicked poorly.
14
Nick Walne
3
/10
may have suffered from frostbite.
13
Jamie Robinson
3
/10
tackled and tackled and tackled, but when he got the ball he was tackled.
12
Matt Allen
4
/10
tried hard but could only defend.
11
Craig Morgan
4
/10
kicked and tackled, but didn't run.
10
Iestyn Harris
3
/10
kicked very poorly out of hand in the first half and the second half.
9
Richard Malcolm Smith
2
/10
couldn't add any spice to Cardiff
8
Emyr Lewis
3
/10
tried to use the ball from a retreating scrum but just got pasted
7
Martyn Williams
4
/10
not a huge deal to do but tackle
6
Dan Baugh
3
/10
the same as Martyn Williams
5
John Tait
4
/10
bad back, but just not able to keep up with the speed of the Neath ruck - along with his colleagues.
4
Heino Senekal
4
/10
tried to disrupt, but Neath were too good.
3
Ken Fourie
5
/10
did well to get injured early on
2
Greg Woods
3
/10
missed too many important throws, sorry Greg.
1
Tim Payne
2
/10
mmm, a promising start is slipping away