Llanelli Scarlets 20 London Irish 16
This was a match which we threatened to win in the final moments only for an injury time penalty to give Scarlets the win. Shane Geraghty almost created a shock comeback from 17-3 down to get us to 17-16 with the clock against us. However Stephen Jones took advantage of the strong wind at his back to kick from the halfway line, giving the home side the breathing space they needed at 20-16 to see out the game.
- photo by MrDean
It would have seemed unlikely to have any expectation of a win in West Wales either before the game, or after Dwayne Peel had surgically cut through the Irish defence for the first try, and particularly after Shane Geraghty had a wide pass to Ricki Flutey picked off by the fastest man on the pitch. Daffyd James wasn't going to be caught and there was a sense of inevitability about the result, and only feint hope of respectability of the final scoreline.
At 17-3 I just thought it wasn't going to be our day, and that the remaining time in the game was going to seem very long indeed. Still, as it turned out that pass from Shane did not affect his game at all, which is a mark of his self-belief and confidence allied to his rugby ability. It's going to be interesting to see how well he's able to drive and control a game in the future when he's putting in such mature performances as this at the age of 20.
The game in progress
- photo by MrDean
I'm learning from the England cricket team in taking positives from the defeat, and Shane continues to progress and develop the execution of Brian Smith's game plan. Seilala Mapasua also had a magnificent game, he's so powerful at centre showing the same effort and determination as Stefon Armitage. Another positive was the technique and timing of Nick Kennedy, he leaps like a steeplechaser, steals like a scouser, and punches like Ricky Hatton. But when discussing the match afterwards with Scarlets fans in the Furnace Rugby club, and the wonderful Colliers Arms, it was young Geraghty who's name came up most often.
Through the remainder of the first half we began to gain field position as Scarlets threw a couple of forward passes, but we were rewarded only with another Everitt penalty before the break. It's difficult to know whether we'd upped our game or the home side had eased off. I'd suggest it's a little of each as created some pressure and Llanelli were their own enemies, giving the referee many chances to hand back to ball to the Exiles.
In the second half, playing into the wind, we began strongly pressing and crossing the Scarlets line. I was actually in the Scrum bar, under the North Stand at this time, so I had one eye on the TV coverage and the rest of my attention talking rugby to the locals. In this first attack, the replays showed we hadn't scored but it wasn't long before Geraghty changed that. He squirted through close to the posts, and the referee made his familiar square box mime. As we waited the position and body language of the players indicated it was a try. The Irish trooped back to their own half, the Scarlets huddled, and Shane tee'd the ball up for the conversion, long before it was official. With the score now at 17-10 it wasn't 'game on', I gloomily thought we'd just poked a hornets nest and they would come roaring back.
In fact we held them out with good tackling, and they wasted a 5 man overlap with another forward pass. Then down the other end we pressed the line until a Scarlets infringement and we'd headed back to 17-13, then 17-16. It got fairly quiet, the band in the stand stopped playing their mixture of rousing and bouncy songs, and I had a glimmer of a hope of a spark of a smidgeon of hope that Irish could prevail. If there was time. Where was the clock, what time did the second half begin ? I was in the bar, of course when it began. It turned out that there was enough time, time for Stephen Jones to kick from the half way, and time for Nick Kennedy to get his marching orders. So it finished 20-16, which was creditable. A win may have been meaningless, but we had a good performance, one which seems to typify the season so far. As we had done away at Leicester, it was a fightback situation, hard work put in to undo gifted points. You can't do that against good teams and expect to win. We've conceded too many soft tries.
Scorers: Llanelli Scarlets: Tries: Peel (22min), James (31). Conversions: S Jones (2). Penalty goals: S Jones 2 (5, 74). London Irish: Try: Geraghty (50). Conversion: Geraghty. Penalty goals: Everitt (10), Geraghty (66).
Scoring sequence (Llanelli Scarlets first): 3-0, 3-3, 10-3, 17-3, 17-6 (half-time), 17-13, 17-16, 20-16.
Llanelli Scarlets: M Stoddart; D James, R King, G Evans (rep: D Daniel, 80), M Watkins; S Jones, D Peel, I Thomas, M Rees, C Dunlea (rep: D Manu, 59), A Jones, S MacLeod, S Easterby, G Thomas (rep: D Jones, 59), A Popham.
London Irish: M Horak (rep: S Geraghty, 29); T Ojo, S Mapusua, R Flutey, J Bishop; B Everitt (rep: S Armitage, 47), R Rees (rep: B Willis, 62), T Lea’aetoa (rep: M Collins, 69), D Paice (rep: R Russell, 56), R Skuse (rep: D Fitter, 62), J Hudson, K Roche (rep: N Kennedy, 55), A McCullen, O Magne, P Murphy.
Referee: C Berdos (France).
There now follows a report on the craic, a word some people feel it's cool to malign. But I wanted you to get a sense of what it means to watch rugby IN Wales, rather than on television.
So at full time the local crowd swarmed on to the pitch, with kids running, passing and kicking balls around enthusiastically letting off steam. I got a picture by the posts, a chat with locals, an excellent pork roll, and a Scarlets badge from the club shop. We bumped into Nicky from the previous evening, and people from the Stradey Arms pub who'd educated me about the choir competition for the chance to sing before the Wales v England match on 17th March. Ospreys, Dragons, Blues and Scarlets each had a choir singing before their home crowds, and there is a program on S4C, channel 135 on Saturday 27th January at 20:15
I also took one of the few remaining opportunities to chat to Ricki Flutey before he leaves us for Wasps. He didn't expand on anything else I'd heard, but he posed for photos, did autographs, etc, there was no ducking and hiding. On the field I thought he had a good game, off it he's polite and charming.
A snow flurry in the cold wind drove us to seek shelter in the bars. The South Stand was packed out, members only I think, though it didn't seem enforced. People were watching a game so we went uphill to the Furnace Rugby club where a similar scene was enacted. Just a few yards up from this was the Colliers Arms which served the local Felinfoel Ales. There is a lovely stout for £2, the session beer Felinfoel Ale, and the legendary double dragon. I wasn't driving back, and as the driver wanted a rest before the return journey I fell into rugby heaven for a couple hours. Chatting to the knowledgeable locals, I found it impossible to pay for a drink, as pints and Jameson appeared.
As the Northampton-Biarritz game played itself out on the television, and so the days game was discussed, the previous days' ties, and games of days gone by were remembered by the senior members of the group. The day when Llanelli Scarlets beat the All Blacks, when the schools were let out to watch it, and the town ran out of beer. The greatest game ever, and someone should consider doing a film about it. Suddenly from the talk of rugby there was a spontaneous “And we were singing, hymns and arias, Land of my Fathers” as both bars raised their voices in song. Still I couldn't pay for a drink, and I was given a beautiful red dragon badge for my cap, and allowed to keep my Felinfoel glass as a souvenir. My driver came for me, and we set off back at 8pm having wrung every drop of enjoyment from the weekend.
We'd set off at 7am on Saturday and seen Swansea, Mumbles and the Gower before checking in to the Stradey Park Hotel around noon. There was a wedding on, and it seemed a perfect spot to have your reception meal with views over Llanelli, the Stradey Park stadium, Carmarthen Bay and the Gower. Being youthful and energetic we jumped on cycles and free-wheeled downhill to the stadium. Taking advice we bought North stand seated tickets on the 22 for £22,and an early program for £2.50. Apparently some 57 tickets were sold by London Irish. Given the crowds the following day it seemed a wise move to buy in advance. We noted the large in-goal areas, the pitch being mowed or spiked for drainage, and the platforms being built for the Sky cameras.
A sign of the Millenium Coastal path
- photo by MrDean
Llanelli had purpose built cycle paths of smooth tarmac which we followed down to the coast. The Millenium Coastal Path is an exellent surface for runners, joggers, walkers and cyclists and it runs for Kidwelly to the Gower, over 20 miles. We cycled along the Coastal Path to Burry Port into the teeth of a strong gale. It was like going up Snowdon, I was standing on the pedals just to make progress on the flat. Once we'd make the harbour at Burry Port I realised the importance of hydration during exercise, so we popped into the Burry Port rugby club. I did actually spend a few minutes witnessing the robust match in progress, but my interest in rugby in the wind was limited after the struggle of the previous hour. Beer was around £2 a pint, they were flogging off a lager at £1 a bottle, and Rose made food for us and wouldn't take money. The club house had team photographs from the 1920's to the present day, and it's always good to see the effects of better nutrition, and the changing hairstyles of the team. Every team of the seventies seems to contain a German bloke who just popped in to fix the photocopier.Also to note the club stalwarts to the side of the team, the non-playing staff who still make it happen.
Darkness was threatening as we fairly flew back the five miles along the Coastal Path from Burry Port to Llanelli. With the sea and sands on our right this time, and that howling gale at our backs. In downtown Llanelli we found the Kilkenny Cat and the Leicester game under way. Guinness was £2.35 a pint, and 40p a game of pool. Of course they had Irish songs on the jukebox, and with Mackem, SonOfMackem, and Scarlets fan Nicki, Vince and I stayed late in to the night. Socialising with the locals. Singing, drinking, playing pool badly, and talking about rugby to everyone. A small matter of them running out of Guinness was rectified by a couple of phone calls, though I shouldn't have been drinking half-pints of Jameson in the meantime. Just before closing time my bicycle decided to walk me home, narrowly failing to trip me up in the half mile up the hill back to the hotel.
A view from the cycle track of Carmarthen Bay
- photo by MrDean
In the morning I managed to fall out of the shower and bruise a couple of ribs, but it didn't prevent me eating a monumental breakfast before checking out at 11am. The reception was filled with the London Irish players and staff, I wondered if they'd got the £68 rate for a twin room, which seemed excellent value considering the location and facilities.
Just spending the 2 days didn't seem long enough. There's a Jack Nicklaus designed links golf course and country club just down the road at the Machynys Peninsula, with a spa attached. Cheaper for the hotel, golf and spa break than it would be for a round at Wentworth.
Anglo - Welsh signage from Burry Port harbour
- photo by MrDean
It was certainly a great weekend of which I have many happy memories. The people are fantastic, I suppose it helps that the majority of them have an interest in rugby. You're certainly not fighting over the remote control in pubs where people want to watch football. The prices of food and drink and accomodation are very reasonable, and the quality of Felinfoel beers and the Stradey Park Hotel was excellent.
Both the Burry Port rugby club and the Furnace club were friendly welcoming places, actively being used. We were happy to discover the Kilkenny Cat was a lively place to drink on the Saturday night and the Stradey Arms was decorated with Scarlets memorabilia and full of fans pre-match. But my favourite place was the Colliers Arms, with modern stylish décor designed by the landlord's wife. Absolutely great beer, tidy barmaids, great customers, rugby on the box, and singing in the bar. If you're in the area and thirsty, don't miss it.
I should finally mention that the historic Stradey Park ground may be redeveloped, and a more modern stadium could replace it. Everyone has had their say. It's a local matter which I don't have a right to an opinion on. But I did think that when everyone went on to the pitch after the match, playing their own joyful games on it, that they all really belonged together, in a way which we don't get at the Madejski. There was a sense of community, and the brass band in the stand helped that wholesome feel. I don't know what happens with the Ospreys and Swansea City ground, I suspect that the stewarding is different.
My Man of the Match ? - Shane Geraghty.
Scarlets hero was Dwayne Peel