What the Papers Say – Tom Hughes reports:
The Drovers went down to Neath in front of a record Church Bank crowd of 3,000 but not before they had given their famous opponents a real hard battle. They matched the All Blacks for tries but over-enthusiasm and ill discipline in crucial areas of the field cost them dearly.
Their “bete noire” was ex-Wales full back Paul Thorburn who came back out of retirement after answering an SOS following an injury crisis at The Gnoll. Thorburn, capped 37 times for Wales, is tournament director of the 1999 World Cup, but the 35-year-old, looking as neat and trim as in his prime, kicked eight of his nine penalty and conversion attempts to end any Llandovery hopes.
The turning point in the game came a minute before half time. Up to then Llandovery had been value for their 10-9 lead after tries by darting scrum half Dan Williams and flanker Gareth Thomas had severely rattled the nervous All Blacks. Thorburn had kept Neath in touch with three penalties, but then kicked his fourth penalty to edge his side ahead.
Then straight from the restart, Llandovery failed to regain possession, Neath counter-attacked and wing Darren Case sprinted away. Ten yards out he passed inside to centre Adam Palfrey who was tackled off the ball for referee Paul Adams to award a penalty try.
Neath were suddenly 19-10 up instead of being 10-9 down and from there on their greater experience and fitness started to tell. With referee Adams harshly penalising the Drovers, Thorburn kicked two more penalties and converted the two second half tries by Ian Boobyer, the pick of the Black forwards. Locks John Westgarth and Hefin Morgan, who had won the line-out battle for two thirds of the game, began to fade and the home eight lost its edge in the loose.
To their credit the Drovers summoned up energy for a late attack and in injury time were rewarded with a penalty try after Neath had failed to retire 10 metres after the penalty.
“We were glad to get that one over,” said Neath Director of Coaching Ron Waldron. “I was a worried man after half an hour’s play, especially as we faced the wind in the second half. But we kept our heads and of course we did have one of the world’s great kickers on our side!”
Llandovery coach Geraint Williams was bitterly disappointed by the 19 point difference between the sides. “We matched them try for try and were hard done by. The referee seemed to favour them a lot, but that’s the way of the world. We’ll be back!”