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    Friday’s Pre-Match Press


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    @@@@SPAN> 30 March 2007 @@@@/SPAN>


    @@@@SPAN>Valleys and Mountains@@@@/SPAN>


    @@@@SPAN>By Charlie Mulqueen, Llanelli@@@@/SPAN>

    @@@@SPAN>THE SCARLETS at home in their own famed Stradey Park against the defending champions. @@@@/SPAN>



    @@@@SPAN>
    The
    Heineken Cup continues to throw up mouth watering quarter-finals and
    what lies in wait in the valleys of West Wales tonight promises to
    match and perhaps surpass any of the mighty confrontations that have
    preceded it over the past dozen or so years.

    Munster are past
    masters at eking out a win at this stage of the competition, Llanelli
    have yet to find the knack. But after coming through their six
    preliminary round matches boasting a 100% record, there’s a new found
    confidence in these parts and Llanelli believe they can take care of
    the defending champions tonight.
    Their coach, Phil Davies, a marvellous competitor for club
    and country in his own playing days, has noted with no little
    satisfaction that while Munster must go into battle without their
    talismanic captain Paul O’Connell, his team’s morale has been hugely
    boosted by the inclusion of his own skipper and top-class out-half
    Stephen Jones.

    “In games like this, you obviously want to
    play with your best players and Paul is one of the best locks, if not
    the best, in the world,” Davies reasoned. “But they have a strong
    squad, they have reached the knockout stages consistently over the
    years. We know where their strengths are but our main focus is on what
    we want to achieve and getting our performance right. We are
    representing not only the region but also Wales in the last eight of
    the top competition in Europe so it is important that we perform well.”


    As Davies’ counterpart Declan Kidney ruefully commented last
    night: “Nobody likes losing their captain — look at the lengths
    Llanelli are going to get Stephen on the field. They’re fortunate that
    Jones is closer to fitness than Paul is but Munster have always tried
    to make sure we don’t build ourselves around one or two players, that
    it’s more the strength of the team rather than any individuals.”


    O’Connell travelled with the squad yesterday and while he is bitterly
    disappointed at missing such a prestigious game, he is quietly
    confident their greater experience and success levels at this stage of
    the Heineken Cup can offset the undoubted advantage Llanelli have at
    home. Interestingly, Munster have won two of their four away
    quarter-finals in the tournament and six out of eight altogether. The
    Scarlets have reached three quarter-finals, beating Cardiff in

    #2


    Munster’s back-to-back battle
    <DIV =LeadPara>MUNSTER and Llanelli may be a mini-international masked as a Heineken Cup quarter-final, but the real story is the tasty half-back tête-a-tête between Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones and Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara. </DIV>
    <DIV =LeadPara>In the Valleys, the Scarlets’ duo are spoken of as the best half-back marriage imaginable, even if the pick of past heroes is gloriously bountiful — Rex Willis and Cliff Morgan; Gareth Edwards and Barry John; Edwards and Phil Bennett; or, the latterday pairing of Robert Jones and Jonathan Davies. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>According to All Blacks coach Graham Henry, Peel is the best scrum half in the northern hemisphere. But remove the professional rugby mask and Dwayne Peel, the person, is a more relaxed type than you might expect, particularly just before what he describes as "the biggest test of my club career". </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>He willingly discusses the pros and cons of a face-off with opposite number Stringer and also chats eagerly about his telepathic relationship with Jones, a player who lives just 15 minutes from his house. That they’re also best mates, it’s little wonder Peel supplies ball on a platter to the Wales number 10. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>It’s easy also to see why the Carmarthen-born scrum half is a much-loved figure around Stradey, drawing comparisons with Stringer’s popularity in Munster. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>"Playing for Llanelli and Wales is an emotional thing," contends Peel, "but you know, it’s great to have someone outside who you’ve been playing with for seven years." </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Seven years they’ve played together — ironically the same amount of time O’Gara and Stringer have copper-fastened their partnership as the best double act in Munster and Ireland — and Peel admits that the relationship "begins to become almost second nature" after a while. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>"You do learn character traits and can guess what they’re thinking. With us, it is like the Irish boys. There’s a trust and assuredness there built on familiarity and, of course, it helps when you’ve been operating in tandem for season after season. It shouldn’t be underestimated." </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Just then, Jones passes, uttering something in Welsh to Peel. They’re both bilingual and have been known to confuse the opposition by uttering instructions to each other in their mother tongue. On an afternoon in scenic west Wales when Scarlets coach, Phil Davies, issued a blanket ban on the media from talking to the under-pressure Wales out-half, Peel says Jones is in good form — despite all the criticism. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>"Having Steve back is a great boost for the squad. He is fine really, and trained in the last few days uninterrupted. To have someone’s of Steve’s calibre on the field is a boost to me and the team. The experience and knowledge he brings to the game is invaluable." </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Peel and Jones are another case of local boys made good, and grew up listening to tales of Llanelli’s proud heritage. Remember too that like Munster, Llanelli also beat the All Blacks, 9-3 — in their case on October 31, 1972. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>Even so, Jones, in an effort to broaden his game, spent two seasons with Clermont Auvergne in France but returned to the Valleys in 2005. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>In the summer of 2006, Peel turned down several lucrative offers to cross the Severn and join an English Premiership club, but he is attached to Llanelli much in the same way that Munster players are emotionally bound to their province. </DIV>
    <DIV =TailParas>"I’m a local boy playing for the Scarlets and I supported the te
    Seas suas agus troid!

    Comment


      #3
      <div ="logo">

      </div>
      <div ="line">
      Scarlets v Munster (Fri)
      </div>








      <div ="bo">







      Stradey Park, Llanelli













      Friday, 30 March












      Kick-off:







      1930 BST












      *Live on BBC Radio Wales, Radio Cymru &amp; online






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      </div>










      Stephen Jones has been named in the Llanelli Scarlets team to face Munster in Friday's Heineken Cup quarter-final.










      Wales captain Jones has been out with a fractured wrist since 10 March
      and both he and wing Mark Jones (knee) have passed final fitness tests.







      Munster will be without Paul O'Connell (thumb) and Shaun Payne (hand).







      Fellow Ireland lock Mick O'Driscoll has overcome damaged ribs and steps
      in for O'Connell, but replacement Anthony Foley faces a late fitness
      test. <div ="bo">










      If the back-row is ruled out, Foley's place at No 19 among the replacements will be taken by John O'Sullivan.











      Federico Pucciarello has also recovered from his knock to take a place on the bench, although Anthony Horgan is ruled out.







      Wing Brian Carney, hooker Denis Fogarty and Donnacha Ryan were all
      registered to Munster's European squad, with lock Ryan winning a
      replacements spot.




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      <td ="fact">



      <div ="sihf">




      LAST LEAGUE MEETING




      </div>



      <!-Smva->







      5 November:












      <!-Emva->



      <!-Smiiib->


































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      The Scarlets have flanker Dafydd Jones recovered from an ankle problem, but he has to be content with a place on the bench.







      That is because Alix Popham and captain Simon Easterby return after
      being

      Comment


        #4
        <table ="std_newsartd" summary="Layout table" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><t><tr><td ="line">O'Gara Ready For The Challenge</td></tr>
        <tr>
        <td ="date">29 March 2007, 7:56 pm</td></tr>
        <tr>
        <td ="author">By Pat Geraghty</td></tr>
        <tr>
        <td ="multimedia">
        </td></tr>
        <tr>
        <td ="abstract">On Friday evening Ronan O’Gara will become just
        the sixth player to captain Munster in the Heineken Cup when he dons
        the captain’s armband for their quarter final joust with Llanelli
        Scarlets at Stradey Park (7.30).</td></tr>
        <tr>
        <td ="article">The
        Cork man celebrated his 30th birthday during the recent RBS Six Nations
        championship and ended that tournament as the undisputed top number 10.
        On Friday he will win his 125th Munster cap with 65 of those earned in
        Heineken Cup competition.

        “It is a great honour to captain this side. It’s what anyone would
        aspire to, having made it into the squad. I’m looking forward to it
        obviously, but I will be quite happy to step to one side and let Paul
        resume when he’s over his injury. Hopefully that will be for the semi
        final if everything goes well for us on Friday.


        “Mind you that’s a big ‘if’, given the opposition we face and the
        venue we play in. Scarlets are a quality side and we certainly won't be
        taking anything for granted. How could we ? Their record in the pool
        stages, six from six, that performance out in Toulouse, says it all
        about them. They’re like us in many ways, great tradition in this
        competition. Great, passionate, support. They’re full of ambition and
        in front of their own, at Stradey Park ? It’s going to be awesome.


        "It's a huge challenge, it really is when you think about it."


        O’Gara was cheered by the news that John Kelly and Mick O’Driscoll
        were passed fit to play, “Two class players”, he says quietly,
        respectfully, “ There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the
        injuries to Paul (O’Connell) and Shaun (Payne). Any side would be
        delighted to have them in their side. I have the height of respect for
        that pair. But Friday’s game is about the fellas who are playing not
        about those who are not. And to be perfectly honest, I have no fears
        going in with the lads who will be around me.


        “I believe that if we can show the same commitment and courage that
        the boys showed in the second half against Ulster last Friday night
        then we will be in there with a fighting chance. It’ll be as tough as
        it gets. No doubt about that but hopefully we’ll give a good account of
        ourselves.”</td></tr></t></table>

        Comment


          #5

          <div style="width: 100%;">
          <div style="width: 70%; float: left;" align="left">
          <h1>Planet-Rugby</h1> www.planet-rugby.com
          </div></div>Thursday 29th March 2007


          Llanelli
          Scarlets have been given the ideal boost prior to Friday's Heineken Cup
          quarter-final showdown against Munster, with talisman Stephen Jones
          named in the line-up for the Stradey Park showdown.






          It was feared that the Wales skipper would miss the game after
          suffering a fracture to his wrist during the Six Nations, but he has
          recovered sufficiently to allow Scarlets boss Phil Davies to name him
          at fly-half.





          "I've got no problems whatsoever in naming Stephen in the squad - he is fine, good to go," explained Davies.





          "Stephen is a very influential player, a world class player, and
          he is very important to us as a team, he's a great member of the squad,
          it's great to have him involved and I'm looking forward to getting a
          good performance from him."





          Scarlets wing Mark Jones also wins a place in the side after
          passing a fitness test on a knee injury sustained in training. Matthew
          Watkins was placed on standby in case Jones failed his fitness test,
          but he will now start the game from the bench.





          "Mark came through the fitness test without any reaction this
          morning [Thursday], so he will play on Friday," confirmed a Scarlets
          spokesman.




          Llanelli Scarlets skipper Simon Easterby said he was looking
          forward to locking horns with his compatriots - and witnessing the
          contest between the day's two fly-halves.





          "Stephen is a talisman to us, just as [Ronan] O'Gara is for Munster," said the Irishman.





          "It is a massive duel between them and is probably going to shape the game.





          "As forwards it will be important to give Stephen the platform,
          but those two know so much about each other that whoever gets the upper
          hand will have a major say on the winners of the match."





          Not that Easterby will have any divided loyalties as captain of
          Llanelli. So much so that the 31-year-old says the banter and war of
          words started with this Irish teammates weeks ago during the
          championship campaign.



          "I'd be lying to say we haven't spoken about it and the

          Comment


            #6


            Valleys and Mountains
            <DIV =LeadPara>THE SCARLETS at home in their own famed Stradey Park against the defending champions. </DIV>
            <DIV =LeadPara>The Heineken Cup continues to throw up mouth watering quarter-finals and what lies in wait in the valleys of West Wales tonight promises to match and perhaps surpass any of the mighty confrontations that have preceded it over the past dozen or so years. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>Munster are past masters at eking out a win at this stage of the competition, Llanelli have yet to find the knack. But after coming through their six preliminary round matches boasting a 100% record, there’s a new found confidence in these parts and Llanelli believe they can take care of the defending champions tonight. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>Their coach, Phil Davies, a marvellous competitor for club and country in his own playing days, has noted with no little satisfaction that while Munster must go into battle without their talismanic captain Paul O’Connell, his team’s morale has been hugely boosted by the inclusion of his own skipper and top-class out-half Stephen Jones. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>"In games like this, you obviously want to play with your best players and Paul is one of the best locks, if not the best, in the world," Davies reasoned. "But they have a strong squad, they have reached the knockout stages consistently over the years. We know where their strengths are but our main focus is on what we want to achieve and getting our performance right. We are representing not only the region but also Wales in the last eight of the top competition in Europe so it is important that we perform well." </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>As Davies’ counterpart Declan Kidney ruefully commented last night: "Nobody likes losing their captain — look at the lengths Llanelli are going to get Stephen on the field. They’re fortunate that Jones is closer to fitness than Paul is but Munster have always tried to make sure we don’t build ourselves around one or two players, that it’s more the strength of the team rather than any individuals." </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>O’Connell travelled with the squad yesterday and while he is bitterly disappointed at missing such a prestigious game, he is quietly confident their greater experience and success levels at this stage of the Heineken Cup can offset the undoubted advantage Llanelli have at home. Interestingly, Munster have won two of their four away quarter-finals in the tournament and six out of eight altogether. The Scarlets have reached three quarter-finals, beating Cardiff in 2000 but losing to Perpignan in ‘03 and Biarritz a year later. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>No disgrace in that, of course, but this is a battle hardened, vastly experienced Munster squad boosted by yesterday’s confirmation that Mick O’Driscoll has made a remarkably quick recovery from the rib injury he sustained playing for Ireland against Italy to take his place alongside Donncha O’Callaghan. Furthermore, John Kelly has been cleared to make his 67th Heineken Cup appearance on the wing and Anthony Foley will be included on the bench ahead of John O’Sullivan should he come through a late fitness test. </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>It is little wonder, than, that O’Connell should comment: "At this stage of the competition, experience is a big thing and to have Micko and John Kelly coming through is great for us. There’s little between the teams but I think if you have that little extra bit of smartness that comes with experience can make a big difference." </DIV>
            <DIV =TailParas>O’Connell wards off questions about Llanelli optimism that they will take care of Munster in the forward battle, simply stressing that "every game is won and lost up front. We know they have an outstanding pack and we will have to
            Seas suas agus troid!

            Comment


              #7


              Planet-Rugby<div style="width: 100%;"><div style="width: 70%; float: left;" align="left"> www.planet-rugby.com
              </div>



              </div>

              <hr noshade="noshade">Wednesday 28th March 2007


              Wales
              star Dwayne Peel believes a season's-best performance will be required
              for Llanelli Scarlets to challenge Munster and possibly end their reign
              as European champions.






              Friday night's Stradey Park quarter-final showdown pitches
              Llanelli, one of only two teams to claim a 100 per cent Heineken Cup
              pool stage record this season, against a side unbeaten away in Europe
              for almost 18 months.





              And Scarlets scrum-half Peel knows Llanelli's quest for their
              third Heineken Cup semi-final appearance represents a hazardous
              mission.





              "We've put ourselves in a great position to push on, although we realise Munster is a huge challenge," Peel said.





              "The pool stage seems a fair way off now, but the players have
              been working very hard since we qualified. There is still a great
              hunger in the bellies of the players.





              "Come European time, we seem to click, and we all know that
              things will need to go well for us if we are to beat Munster. We will
              have to bring our best game of the season to Stradey on Friday night.





              "After playing teams like Ulster, Toulouse and London Irish away
              and getting maximum points in our pool, we know what we are capable of,
              but this is going to be a massively intense game."





              Munster's ninth successive quarter-final appearance - they have
              won six of the previous eight - was secured despite losing their long
              unbeaten record at Thomond Park when Leicester triumphed in Limerick
              two months ago.





              But Llanelli are viewed by many as dark horses to lift the
              trophy this term and become Wales' first European champions in the 12th
              season of Heineken Cup rugby.





              "We have had some disappointments in Europe in recent years,
              but those defeats will only spur us on to better things," added Peel.





              "It is a big ask for us to reach a first Heineken Cup final, but it is something we are definitely up for.



              "It would be a fantastic honour to to reach a Heineken Cup final with the Scarlets.

              Comment


                #8


                Fear of losing may be spur for Munster
                <DIV =LeadPara>European Cup Quarter-final/ Llanelli v Munster:Nothing concentrates the mind, especially the Munster mindset, than the fear of impending failure and the European champions reach the point of no return in Stradey Park this evening. </DIV>
                <DIV =LeadPara>This week, the newly-installed captain, Ronan O'Gara, has been pointing out to his team-mates the full consequences of defeat tonight, ie waking up tomorrow morning without their Euro crown and, by extension, having little or nothing tangible to play for through the remainder of the season. It is a scary thought. </DIV>
                <DIV =TailParas>Granted, fear of losing their proud, 11-year unbeaten record in the Heineken European Cup at Thomond Park didn't prevent Leicester from storming their Limerick citadel in the concluding round of pool games last January. Indeed, it seemed to encumber them, and the penalty is an away quarter-final; a notoriously difficult task. </DIV>
                <DIV =TailParas>All told, 30 of the previous 40 quarter-finals have gone to the home side (although the ratio has quadrupled in the last five years) and the Scarlets, who qualified more impressively than anyone, are unbeaten at their Stradey fortress for 14 months. Hence their decision to keep the tie here, rather than move to less familiar surrounds such as the Liberty Stadium, and so reduce the impact of the Red Army. </DIV>
                <DIV =TailParas>With Stephen Jones and Mark Jones passed fit, they are at full-strength, whereas Munster have a makeshift look to them without established pillars such as captains present and past, Paul O'Connell and Anthony Foley, and the proverbial rock at the back, Shaun Payne, not to mention Barry Murphy being confined to the bench. Llanelli have the more settled, proven look, and more strike power in their backline. </DIV>
                <DIV =TailParas>O'Gara, playing the most mature rugby of his life in the last year or two, has the makings of a good captain. He has, more often than not, been their tactical lynchpin in any case. But in the pack there is no obvious leader, although the stage is set for Denis Leamy and the backrowers in their intriguing battle with Simon Easterby. Here, the form of the desperately unfortunate Alan Quinlan is a real boon. He and Jerry Flannery, pining for a run of games, should be men on a mission tonight. </DIV>
                <DIV =TailParas>Without O'Connell to lead the charge around the fringes and at restart time, Mick O'Driscoll, passed fit despite sustaining a rib cartilage injury in Rome, needs to produce his biggest game of an undistinguished season thus far, and for all his astonishing workrate, Donncha O'Callaghan needs to come up with some big plays too. </DIV>
                <DIV =TailParas>Describing it as "a fairly daunting task" in what he described as the heart of Welsh rugby on arrival yesterday, Declan Kidney commented: "The Scarlets are like ourselves, they're steeped in tradition, and I've no doubt they'll throw the fully monty at us. These quarter-finals are always about what happens on the night. I just hope our boys enjoy themselves and will be able to live with themselves after, saying we gave it the full throttle." </DIV>
                <DIV =TailParas>The forecast of a cloudy, damp night may be no bad thing, for if conditions dictate that Munster resort to a back to basics approach, play territory based around setpieces, it may also mitigate against Llanelli's high tempo, loose, offloading game. And, although he was the man in charge when Munster lost at this stage to Biarritz in San Sebastien two years ago, the appointment of Chris White has to be a good sign. </DIV>
                <DIV =TailParas>The old dogs for the long road, Munster have had their customary pool blip and are playing in their ninth consecutive quarter-fi
                Seas suas agus troid!

                Comment


                  #9
                  @@@@SPAN id="news_c&#111;ntent"><h2>Wallace pinpoints Easterby threat</h2>@@@@SPAN ="storytime">29/03/2007@@@@/SPAN>

                  @@@@SPAN ="story">David
                  Wallace has identified his Ireland Test team colleague Simon Easterby
                  as a major threat to Munster's hopes of retaining the Heineken Cup.

                  The holders head to Stradey Park tomorrow night for a mouthwatering quarter-final clash against Llanelli Scarlets.

                  And
                  Easterby's form as Scarlets skipper was instrumental in Llanelli
                  qualifying with a 100% record from their pool, which included away
                  victories over Toulouse, Ulster and London Irish.

                  Flankers
                  Wallace and Easterby played prominent roles in Ireland securing a
                  second successive Triple Crown during this season's RBS 6 Nations
                  Championship, but their battle opposite each other tomorrow could have
                  a significant bearing on the outcome.

                  Munster openside Wallace
                  said: "Simon is such an unsung hero and is in the form of his life at
                  the moment, so stopping him doing what he does best will be crucial to
                  our chances of winning.

                  "He will be trying to get into our faces
                  from the start – something he does so well – and you can imagine just
                  how much he will relish doing that.

                  "Simon was outstanding in
                  the (Six Nations) championship, and he just seems to get better and
                  better. And while he will certainly be passing on a few tips about us
                  to the Scarlets players, we also know all about him as a player, so it
                  certainly promises to be an interesting battle.

                  "We have had a
                  few words about it already, and it will all be friendly stuff - until
                  we get out on the pitch. Then it will change, as both teams will be
                  going full pelt at each other in what is going to be a massive game."

                  Munster,
                  bidding to emulate Leicester's achievement in 2001 and 2002 by landing
                  successive European titles, are without injured lock Paul O'Connell and
                  full-back Shaun Payne. Mick O'Driscoll and Christian Cullen start as
                  their respective deputies, with Ronan O'Gara captaining the side.

                  Llanelli,
                  meanwhile, have been boosted by fly-half Stephen Jones' rapid recovery
                  from a wrist problem and wing Mark Jones passing a fitness test after
                  hurting his knee in training.

                  Recent Heineken Cup history
                  suggests Llanelli have got it all to do though, with Munster unbeaten
                  away in Europe for 18 months and the Scarlets losing home
                  quarter-finals to Perpignan (2003) and Biarritz (2004).

                  But
                  Easterby said: "We are a better side now than we were a couple of years
                  ago, yet we need to start winning some big home games. There is more
                  experience in our side now, and we have played some great stuff this
                  season, so we are ready for them.

                  "Year in, year out, they
                  (Munster) reach the knockout stages and are a benchmark for a lot of
                  the teams. It doesn't get much harder than this."

                  In the
                  second-tier European Challenge Cup tomorrow night, Newcastle face a
                  tough quarter-final task against tournament favourites Clermont-Auverge
                  at Parc des Sports Marcel-Michelin.

                  Falcons, despite fielding
                  England stars Jonny Wilkinson, Mathew Tait, Toby Flood and Jamie Noon,
                  will enter the Clermont cauldron as rank outsiders.

                  Newcastle
                  rugby director John Fletcher said: "It is our last chance of silverware
                  this season, and for that reason this is now a massive game for the
                  club.

                  "Clermont are a good side with nice balance all the way
                  through, but we believe we can cause them problems and hopefully come
                  away with the result we need. There is no Pierre Mignoni and no Elvis
                  Vermeulen in the Clermont side, but when you look at their team they
                  have brought in replacements like Alessandro Troncon who, for me, was
                  one of the best players in this season's Six Nations.

                  "They have
                  a lot of top international class throughout the team, and I expect them
                  to treat the game the same as they would do for any other big occasion."@@@@/SPAN>@@@@/SPAN>

                  Comment


                    #10
                    @@@@SPAN id="news_c&#111;ntent"><h2>Munster's back-to-back battle</h2>@@@@SPAN ="storytime">30/03/2007@@@@/SPAN>

                    @@@@SPAN ="story">By Edward Newman
                    MUNSTER
                    and Llanelli may be a mini-international masked as a Heineken Cup
                    quarter-final, but the real story is the tasty half-back tête-a-tête
                    between Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones and Peter Stringer and Ronan
                    O'Gara.

                    In the Valleys, the Scarlets' duo are spoken of as the
                    best half-back marriage imaginable, even if the pick of past heroes is
                    gloriously bountiful — Rex Willis and Cliff Morgan; Gareth Edwards and
                    Barry John; Edwards and Phil Bennett; or, the latterday pairing of
                    Robert Jones and Jonathan Davies.

                    According to All Blacks
                    coach Graham Henry, Peel is the best scrum half in the northern
                    hemisphere. But remove the professional rugby mask and Dwayne Peel, the
                    person, is a more relaxed type than you might expect, particularly just
                    before what he describes as "the biggest test of my club career".


                    He willingly discusses the pros and cons of a face-off with opposite
                    number Stringer and also chats eagerly about his telepathic
                    relationship with Jones, a player who lives just 15 minutes from his
                    house. That they're also best mates, it's little wonder Peel supplies
                    ball on a platter to the Wales number 10.

                    It's easy also to
                    see why the Carmarthen-born scrum half is a much-loved figure around
                    Stradey, drawing comparisons with Stringer's popularity in Munster.


                    "Playing for Llanelli and Wales is an emotional thing," contends Peel,
                    "but you know, it's great to have someone outside who you've been
                    playing with for seven years."

                    Seven years they've played
                    together — ironically the same amount of time O'Gara and Stringer have
                    copper-fastened their partnership as the best double act in Munster and
                    Ireland — and Peel admits that the relationship "begins to become
                    almost second nature" after a while.

                    "You do learn character
                    traits and can guess what they're thinking. With us, it is like the
                    Irish boys. There's a trust and assuredness there built on familiarity
                    and, of course, it helps when you've been operating in tandem for
                    season after season. It shouldn't be underestimated."

                    Just
                    then, Jones passes, uttering something in Welsh to Peel. They're both
                    bilingual and have been known to confuse the opposition by uttering
                    instructions to each other in their mother tongue. On an afternoon in
                    scenic west Wales when Scarlets coach, Phil Davies, issued a blanket
                    ban on the media from talking to the under-pressure Wales out-half,
                    Peel says Jones is in good form — despite all the criticism.


                    "Having Steve back is a great boost for the squad. He is fine really,
                    and trained in the last few days uninterrupted. To have someone's of
                    Steve's calibre on the field is a boost to me and the team. The
                    experience and knowledge he brings to the game is invaluable."


                    Peel and Jones are another case of local boys made good, and grew up
                    listening to tales of Llanelli's proud heritage. Remember too that like
                    Munster, Llanelli also beat the All Blacks, 9-3 — in their case on
                    October 31, 1972.

                    Even so, Jones, in an effort to broaden his
                    game, spent two seasons with Clermont Auvergne in France but returned
                    to the Valleys in 2005.

                    In the summer of 2006, Peel turned
                    down several lucrative offers to cross the Severn and join an English
                    Premiership club, but he is attached to Llanelli much in the same way
                    that Munster players are emotionally bound to their province.


                    "I'm a local boy playing for the Scarlets and I supported the team
                    since I was knee high. I went down to every game, and watched my father
                    play from the terrace. I've seen some good battles and played in some
                    good battles as well.

                    "If you look at our backline, the
                    majority of them were born within 20 minutes of the club. There are a
                    lot of local guys coming through the system — a

                    Comment


                      #11


                      King focuses on Cullen's threat
                      <DIV =LeadPara>Remarkably, tonight's quarter-final in Stradey Park marks the first Heineken European Cup meeting of the Welsh and Irish standard-bearers in the competition. </DIV>
                      <DIV =LeadPara>And it is in this setting that two Kiwis, one of whom was a boyhood idol of the other, could play a pivotal role in what is only the second time they have played against each other. </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>Regan King is widely seen as the primary running threat to Munster's hold on the cup, a gifted midfield ball-carrier who was nominated on Planet Rugby's World XV before Christmas, despite being the only player on that selection not currently playing Test rugby. </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>There was a time, circa 1996 to 2002, when Christian Cullen would have walked onto such notional selections. Still the leading All Blacks try scorer of all time, with a stunning 46 tries in 58 Tests, Cullen was undoubtedly the most gifted attacking fullback on the planet for a few years, and perhaps even of all time. </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>He had a truly innate nose for when to time his runs and for the line, astonishing strength for one so slight and blinding pace. It's curious to think that his abilities at Test level were perhaps not fully utilised by the All Blacks, John Hart sacrificing Cullen's ability to hit the line by converting him into an outside centre in the World Cup year of 1999, before John Mitchell prematurely jettisoned Cullen and other established All Blacks prior to the 2003 World Cup campaign. </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>King has no doubts where Cullen ranks. "He's right up there as one of the best players New Zealand has ever produced. When I came through my age group rugby he was my idol. He was the best fullback in the world in his prime. He had blistering pace and pound for pound he was one of the most powerful players in New Zealand. He would be my number one fullback. It was the way he would hit the line that made him so special and he was the second strongest players in the Wellington squad." </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>Cullen, now 31, was in his pomp on his first appearance at Stradey Park, as part of an all-conquering All Blacks team that went unbeaten in 1997, their only blemish being a draw with England in the final game of their European tour that year. In the tour opener Cullen scored four tries against Llanelli at Stradey Park in an 81-3 victory which marked the 25th anniversary of the Scarlets' victory over the All Blacks. Stephen Jones played at centre for Llanelli that night. </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>Along with Cullen, King was part of the All Blacks' squad that toured Europe in 2002 when winning his only cap against Wales in Cardiff, but they never played together. Their only previous meeting was in an NPC game when Waikato played Wellington. </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>It was Cullen's and Munster's misfortune that he damaged his shoulder in an NPC semi-final in 2003 in his last match for Wellington, so delaying his debut until the following February and also triggering an unfortunate sequence of injuries which have lessened his impact with the province. </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>Yet rather than take up more lucrative offers in France, a sense of wanting to show Munster his true worth saw Cullen remain for a fourth season. Ironically, the opportunity tonight's game presents him is due to Shaun Payne's injury-enforced absence and he will be desperate to avail of it. </DIV>
                      <DIV =TailParas>"You never lose your instinct for the game," maintains King, at 26 five years Cullen's junior. "I'm not sure if his body can still do the things it used to be able to do for him but even at 75 per cent he's still a great player and we'll have to keep a pretty close eye on him."
                      Seas suas agus troid!

                      Comment


                        #12

                        <h1>Jones emerges from critical battering stronger and keener</h1>








                        Paul Rees
                        Friday March 30, 2007
                        The Guardian





                        </font>


                        <div id="GuardianArticle">When
                        Stephen Jones left the field in Rome towards the end of Wales's fourth
                        match in this year's Six Nations championship his face was bleeding and
                        bruised, but the physical battering he had suffered that day was
                        nothing compared with the mental onslaught he had endured for the
                        previous five months.

                        Jones has always played with a smile but the
                        Wales captain and outside-half had to force a grin as Wales's
                        championship campaign was threatened with a second whitewash in four
                        years and he became the focus for public and media opprobrium. He was
                        picked for the final match against England but withdrew because of a
                        hand injury he had sustained in Rome.James Hook moved from the centre to fly-half and a player with the
                        potential to earn comparisons with Daniel Carter enjoyed a dream
                        afternoon as Wales broke their duck. The players dedicated the victory
                        to Jones, whom they had affectionately dubbed Captain Crap because of
                        his record as captain of Wales, still looking for his first victory
                        after seven attempts, but Hook had been dubbed the people's choice for
                        the outside-half jersey, which evokes more emotion in Wales than all
                        the other positions put together, and his performance was seen as proof
                        that the 29-year-old Jones's time was up.

                        "I
                        will be judged from now on by James's excellent display against
                        England," said Jones, who has been appointed Wales's captain until the
                        end of the World Cup and will this evening make his first appearance
                        since Rome when Llanelli Scarlets take on Munster at Stradey Park in
                        the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup.

                        "A lot has been said and
                        written about me in recent months. You try to ignore it but that is
                        impossible in Wales," he said. "It is hard to cope but I was helped by
                        calls from players and coaches telling me to take no notice. Having the
                        respect of my peers did give me a lift, but what I found toughest to
                        deal with was that I did not think my form was bad. I made an early
                        mistake against Ireland but thought I recovered, and in Scotland we
                        only won 30% of the possession and were on the back foot throughout."

                        Jones,
                        who has won 62 caps, has been accused of being too slow, of not making
                        enough breaks, of running sideways and cramping his midfield, of being
                        an ineffectual captain and of trading on his form of 2005, when Wales
                        won the grand slam.

                        Most of the reaction was irrational: Wales
                        lost their first four games this year chiefly because they lacked a
                        foundation at forward, something they remedied against England, though
                        even then they left it late to seal victory. The notion that it has to
                        be Hook or Jones, not both, shows the lack of reason prompted by
                        failure in a country where the media obsess over rugby. The pair were
                        rarely seen as an attacking combination this year because the side had
                        little possession, but when Wales did have the ball against England
                        their lack of a footballing inside-centre - Gareth Thomas was moved
                        there - showed as they struggled to get the ball wide.

                        "Our game
                        is based on moving the ball and it is easier to organise a backline if
                        you have more than one player who can play at first receiver, but it is
                        not for me to tell the selectors who to pick," said Jones. "I totally
                        accept that form is the key to selection and the fact I am captain in
                        no way guarantees me a place in the side. The public criticism I have
                        received has not affected my relationship with James Hook and it was a
                        great honour when he and the rest of the team dedicated the victory
                        over England to me.

                        "As an outside-half you are al

                        Comment


                          #13

                          <h1>The holders Munster may fall under Stradey's evening spell</h1>








                          Shaun Edwards
                          Friday March 30, 2007
                          The Guardian





                          </font>


                          <div id="GuardianArticle">There's
                          been a bit of crackle around this week; extra snap in the training,
                          more effort, more focus. Even my boss, Ian McGeechan, feels he has been
                          preparing for a Test match and he's been involved in a hatful of Lions
                          tours. The Heineken Cup is about as good as it gets in club rugby and
                          this is quarter-final weekend.

                          Forget the politicking and committee
                          room chat about who might be missing next season, this is the here and
                          now. It's about one-off games when a single slip, a moment's lack of
                          concentration can mean the end of European ambitions. Anything can
                          happen and I sense we might be in for a shock first up at Stradey Park
                          tonight when Llanelli Scarlets play Munster.


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                          Munster took 11 years to become champions losing twice in the final
                          before beating Biarritz in Cardiff last May. They are the Steady Eddies
                          of the competition, only once failing to make the quarter-finals in the
                          last eight years, but tonight they and their travelling fans will
                          experience something different. Llanelli/Scarlets are one of the few
                          sides Munster have never played at this level and Stradey is one of the
                          few stadiums that can match Munster's ground, Thomond Park, for history
                          and atmosphere - especially at night.

                          They
                          meet regularly in the Celtic League - Scarlets have won the last four
                          at Stradey - but there is something magical about games under lights
                          which puts a spell on home support, somehow making away wins more
                          difficult. Munster use that X-factor at Thomond but this time the wand
                          is in the other hand, especially as Scarlets had a 100% pool stage
                          record whereas Munster must pick themselves up after suffering that
                          historic home defeat by Leicester.

                          Munster's forwards will go
                          hard from the off but, if Scarlets hold firm, and they went well
                          against Ulster, the game should be played around the two sets of
                          half-backs, Ireland's Peter Stringer and Ronan O'Gara versus Dwayne
                          Peel and Stephen Jones. The Wales pair have more to prove after the Six
                          Nations but they are supported by one of the more influential imports
                          in the tournament. If Peel and Jones get decent ball then the New
                          Zealander, Regan King, has the radar to find holes in any defence.

                          Now
                          from one of the great old stadiums to one which is fast growing a
                          reputation: Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastian, where Biarritz play their
                          bigger matches so more of the Basque nation can see their side - so far
                          without witnessing a defeat. Munster were the first to lose there in
                          2005 and Sale and Bath suffered in the quarter- and semi-finals last
                          year. Do not expect Northampton to upset that form-line on Sunday.

                          With
                          three Guinness Premiership matches to go, Northampton have more
                          important things than even a Heineken Cup quarter-final on their minds
                          and Biarritz has to become something of a side-show to the relegation
                          battle. So why not give it a lash.

                          Biarritz are the most
                          structured of the top French sides, have beaten Northampton twice in
                          the pool stages and will do so again if Paul Grayson chooses to make
                          Sunday a forward battle.

                          So restore Carlos Spencer at fly-half,
                          encourage him to dig deep into his bag of tricks - chips, cross kicks,
                          cut-out passes, that bicycle kick - and hope for the biggest of shocks.
                          You could go down by 40 points - Northampton might even lose by that
                          margin if they stick to the orthodox with Sereli Bobo's appetite

                          Comment


                            #14


                            I have nothing to prove, insists focused O’Gara
                            <DIV =LeadPara>FINALLY he’s a marquee name, Ronan O’Gara, respected now wherever rugby is played as one of the world’s best out-halves. </DIV>
                            <DIV =LeadPara>Has it affected him? </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>No, is the short answer. He’s still as open, still as frank, still as honest as he was ten years ago. Sometimes that honesty is misinterpreted, taken as arrogance, as it was when his comments about the English Premiership being over-hyped hit the streets just before Munster played Leicester in the Heineken Cup in Welford Road late last year. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>A prodigious injury-time into-the-wind-and-rain kick from inside his own half to win that game, cut short the flood of outrage ready to be released cross-channel. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>This week, he was at it again. Asked about his feelings on being named captain of Munster for tonight’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Llanelli, the outstanding names he is following, Ronan threw us a bit of a curveball. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>"I’ve discussed this with Paul (O’Connell) during the summer. I felt if he wanted to be captain I would stand aside, but if he didn’t I would let my name go forward. I don’t feel, at this stage, I have anything to prove. I’m not too interested in being captain for a season. I think it benefited my own game (not being captain), I had so much to work on that maybe I didn’t need that distraction, from a completely selfish point of view. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>"Anyway, in Munster I think it suits that a forward is captain." </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>From that response it could be thought, what a cocky so-and-so, no appreciation. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>Wrong. He knows the honour he’s just been handed, couldn’t be more proud. But this guy’s focus is on improvement, improvement, improvement. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>"It’s huge, great to be named officially as captain, but to be honest I’ll be concentrating on my own game. You look at the fellas here (he was on a platform with Alan Quinlan, Donncha O’Callaghan and Peter Stringer), Quinny will be organising the backrow, Donncha will be in charge of the front five and Strings will be calling the shots like he always does. On the pitch it comes easy to be leading, talking, motivating, we have plenty of fellas capable of doing that. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>"The big thing is that the 15 fellas who take the pitch are over the loss of Paulie. Not only is he a fantastic rugby-player, he’s a huge presence, any team would be weakened in his absence. We’ve known for weeks he’d be missing, it’s up to us now to make sure we give Paul an opportunity to lead us in a semi-final." </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>Asked if he could empathise with Llanelli, denied at the playoff stages of the Heineken Cup almost as often as Munster themselves, almost as heartbreakingly, his reply was devoid of any soft-shoe shuffle. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>"Well they’re honest, you know? That’s an important trait, very similar to us a few years ago. The big difference is that we’ve won the cup, a crucial difference, and that has to stand to us, that we have achieved that. </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>"But I don’t empathise with anyone. We have so much to concentrate on, my focus is on here, I don’t have time to think about what other people are doing. I’m fully aware of how proud they are, but we’re a good team too." </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas>No nonsense, no banalities. Here’s his take on a suggestion that after Rome, his demeanour suggested disappointment, mission unfulfilled – would this give him additional incentive for this Heineken Cup encounter? </DIV>
                            <DIV =TailParas><FONT s
                            Seas suas agus troid!

                            Comment


                              #15
                              <h1>French rustiness can make Llanelli champions of Europe</h1>








                              Thomas Castaignède
                              Monday March 26, 2007
                              The Guardian





                              </font>


                              <div id="GuardianArticle">Coming
                              back to the Heineken Cup next weekend feels bizarre. The quarter-final
                              line-ups are mouthwatering but after seven weeks of Six Nations and a
                              bit of Guinness Premiership and the Anglo-Welsh competition, many fans
                              will have completely forgotten what happened in the last pool games
                              back in January.

                              The European Cup is scheduled in such a way that it
                              feels like eating a host of dishes prepared by a great chef but never
                              in a single sitting: it's as if you had the hors d'oeuvre and then
                              nipped out for a while before coming back for the main course by which
                              time you have no idea what you had eaten before. And as we don't know
                              what next season holds for this tournament, this one should be savoured
                              to the full.


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                              We all know the structure of the season needs to be changed. I've been
                              writing about it for years on these pages. But it will cause trouble
                              this year for some teams. The French clubs, remember, have just had
                              seven weeks off and then one league game in which to warm up; the same
                              goes for the Irish and Welsh. Coming into matches as big as these,
                              that's not ideal.

                              Additionally
                              after seven weeks of big international games the continued intensity
                              means there is an even greater risk of injury for the players and the
                              destiny of the Heineken Cup may come down to which teams have the most
                              reserves. I'd make Llanelli my favourite because of the way they played
                              in the pool stages and because, like the Irish, they have fewer games
                              in their bodies this season than the English and French clubs.

                              Llanelli
                              made the most striking progress through the pool stages, considering
                              how difficult the opposition was: they eliminated London Irish and
                              Toulouse in fine style, producing some beautiful rugby along the way.
                              To me that says they have the wherewithal and the willpower to go all
                              the way. The only obstacle - and it's not a small one - is Munster, the
                              defending champions, but I would look at the fact that the Scarlets are
                              playing in that cauldron of a stadium of theirs and put a few quid on
                              them nonetheless.

                              The danger for the Irish, on the other ha

                              Comment

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