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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 21:53 GMT
Vale swamped by Scarlets
Llanelli's Salesi Finau is surrounded by the Ebbw Vale defence
Both sets of players struggled on the muddy pitch
Ebbw Vale 3-16 Llanelli

Llanelli moved back to the top of the Welsh-Scottish League and fired out a warning to their title challengers with a commanding win at Ebbw Vale on Friday night.

The Scarlets were knocked off the top spot by Newport when they lost at Rodney Parade last month.

But the Gwent side's draw at Edinburgh, also on Friday night, put Llanelli two points clear, although the Black and Ambers still have two games in hand.

The Scarlets managed to quell a determined Ebbw Vale side despite the absence of Wales internationals Scott Quinnell and Stephen Jones.

This result is a credit to our squad
Llanelli coach Gareth Jenkins

With both coaches - Vale's Mike Ruddock and Llanelli's Gareth Jenkins - tipped to succeed Wales coach Graham Henry, much of the pre-match focus centred on off-the-pitch matters.

But Jenkins was delighted with his team's victory, singling out his youngsters for special praise.

"This result is a credit to our squad," Jenkins said. "Every boy out there tonight played their part.

"I think the half-backs Gareth Bowen and Dwayne Peel were outstanding and controlled the game very well.

"But it was a huge effort by the side as a whole and will do us a great deal of good as we prepare for some more big matches in the weeks ahead."

There was some concern whether the match would actually go ahead because of the heavy rain being swept across Eugene Cross Park by a gusting wind.

The visitors used the wind to good advantage in a lively first half to rattle up a comfortable 13-3 interval lead.

The Scarlets took the lead with the game's only try when Wayne Proctor charged down an attempted clearance kick by home wing Andrew Wagstaff to sprint over for an easy 14th-minute score.

The conversion was added by fly-half Gareth Bowen, who had been flown in from Wales duty in the International Rugby Board World Sevens Series in New Zealand especially for the match.

Ebbw Vale had a hard-working pack, ably lead by skipper and lock Chay Billen, but their only points came from a Gareth Cull penalty after 19 minutes.

Ebbw Vale scrum-half Kevin Ellis
Vale's Kevin Ellis struggles to get the ball away

But Bowen popped over two penalties himself in the 24th and 28th minutes to keep Llanelli in control.

Scarlets' outside-half Bowen completed an impressive night with the boot by landing his third penalty 15 minutes after the restart - the only points of the second half.

Llanelli showed their class in the later stages of the game by taking a firm grip up front to stifle any home hopes of a fight back.

Vale ended the match camped on their opponents' line but they just could not break down the efficient Scarlets defence.

Llanelli now look poised to make a strong bid for the league title as well as maintaining their ambitions in the Heineken Cup semi-finals at Leicester.

In contrast, Vale look set for a worrying couple of months as they battle to move away from the foot of the table.

Ebbw Vale (3) 3
Pen: Cull.

Llanelli (13) 16
Try: Proctor. Con: Bowen. Pens: Bowen 3.

Att: 2,200

Ebbw Vale: M James; A Takarangi, R Shorney, P Matthews, A Wagstaff; G Cull, K Ellis; I Thomas, L Phillips, M Jones, C Billen (capt), N Edwards, K Tuipulotu, P Williams, W Thomas.
Reps: D Penisini, J Evans, O Booyse, R Williams, D Weatherley, L Lane, M Meenan.

Llanelli: B Davies; W Proctor, N Boobyer, L Davies (capt), S Finau; G Bowen, D Peel; P Booth, M Thomas, J Davies, L Gross, S Morgan, D Jones, G Williams, D Hodges.
Reps: P John, M Madden, R McBryde, V Cooper, C Gillies, G Easterby, T Selley.

Referee: C Sanders (RFU).

Llanelli's Heineken Cup semi-final against Leicester will be played on Sunday, 28 April, and will be covered live on BBC Wales and Radio Wales.

Gareth Charles reports for BBC Wales
"Llanelli proved again they were the master of conditions"
Llanelli coach Gareth Jenkins
"When the weather is like that it's not time for the wingers"
Ebbw Vale coach Mike Ruddock
"I thought our defence was equally as good"
Llanelli outside-half Gareth Bowen
"It was a bit different from the weather in Brisbane"
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