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RUGBY UNION: Ieuan, a hero in both camps, backs Llanelli to triumph; HEINEKEN EUROPEAN CUP: QUARTER -FINAL: BATH v LLANELLI, TODAY, 3PM.

Byline: HUGH STEPHENS

IEUAN EVANS has backed his old club Llanelli to beat his newer one Bath in the great Anglo-Welsh European shootout today.

Evans spent a decade with the Scarlets before crossing the Severn Bridge in 1997 and winning the Heineken Cup with Bath a year later.

The legendary wing was a favourite with the supporters of both teams but believes it will be the Welsh fans who are singing their club's praises after this afternoon's quarter final clash at The Rec.

"If Llanelli could have chosen any club left in the tournament to visit at this stage then they would have gone for Bath," says Evans.

"The way Bath play will suit Llanelli and I get the feeling a lot of English clubs are a little bit wary of this current Llanelli side."

Evans shares the view put forward by Welsh Mirror columnist Jonathan Davies that English clubs have moved away from a physical approach and are disarmed by the strong-arm tactics of Scott Quinnell and his men.

It was that approach which gave Llanelli their magnificent 24-12 victory over Leicester a fortnight ago - a result which has already been added to the book of Stradey Park folklore.

"English clubs tend not to place as much emphasis on pure forward strength, especially in the tight areas, as they used to.

"That is why they not only respect Llanelli's direct approach but they are also a little bit unused to it.

"I've seen Llanelli this season and although they have sometimes been inconsistent they have been at their best for the big matches and are irrepressible up front.

"Scott Quinnell has been awesome at times and Leicester were simply unable to handle him.

"He's an exceptional ball carrier but Llanelli also have plenty of others who can knock holes in a defence like Martyn Madden, John Davies and Chris Wyatt.

"For that reason I think Bath will suit Llanelli. Bath have a good lineout but their scrum is not particularly strong and they haven't got the best tight five in the game at the moment.

"It will need Llanelli to be at their best because few teams play poorly at The Rec and still win. But if they can put it together I think they are well capable of going through to the semi-final."

Evans played 72 times for Wales and scored 33 tries but he is best known in the West Country for a saving tackle he made for Bath during the 1998 Heineken Cup final against Brive.

It denied the French club a certain try and allowed Bath to become the first English team to conquer Europe.

Bath's form in their own Zurich Premiership this season has been poor but they were the only side to win all six of their pool matches in Europe to earn them No.1 seeding in the last eight.

Llanelli scraped in thanks to their heavy try count but coach Gareth Jenkins could not hide his delight when he realised they were heading for Bath rather than Castres, Stade Francais or a return trip to meet Leicester at Welford Road.

Evans also thinks Llanelli will feel at home at his former club even though Swansea, Cardiff and Pontypridd have all lost there in Europe in recent seasons.

"Bath was the closest I ever found to a Welsh club," adds Evans.

"It had a great sense of its own community and there was a friendliness about the place which made me feel very welcome.

"There are strong links between the clubs and before the game went professional it was a fixture everyone looked forward to."

The Welsh links with Bath are retained thanks to three players who followed Evans across the Bridge. Bath include forwards Gavin Thomas and Nathan Thomas in their back row as well as promising Welsh teenager Andy Williams at scrum half.

A fourth Welshman, Gareth Cooper, is among the replacements and will sit next to American Dan Lyle on the bench who was surprisingly left out of the team by coach John Callard.

England full back Iain Balshaw returns to the side at full back while Llanelli field the same team which tamed the Tigers.

Evans adds: "Bath have done well in Europe this season but if Llanelli can stop Mike Catt then I think they can definitely win this game.

"Catt orchestrates everything at Bath but if he is tightly marked then they can sometimes run out of ideas."

Llanelli forwards John Davies and Dave Hodges have both been passed fit following knee problems while the form of powerful Salesi Finau on the left wing means Wales wing Mark Jones stays on the bench.

FIXTURES

HEINEKEN CUP.- Qtr-finals: Bath v Llanelli (3.00)

Castres v Montferrand (1.45); Stade Francais v Munster (3.15).

PARKER PEN.- Qtr-finals:

Pau v London Irish (6.30).

ZURICH PREMIERSHIP

Harlequins v Northampton.

TOMORROW.- HEINEKEN CUP.- Qtr-finals:

Leicester v Leinster (3.00_)

PARKER PEN.- Qtr-finals: Saracens v Pontypridd.

ZURICH PREMIERSHIP.

Newcastle v |Wasps (1.00).

CAPTION(S):

FEARSOME: Scott Quinnell in his match-winning display against Leicester earlier this month; EURO WINNER: Iestyn Harris in his playing days for Llanelli - but he also helped Bath to Cup glory
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 26, 2002
Words:865
Previous Article:Rugby Union: CATT READY TO BE THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION.
Next Article:RUGBY UNION: PONTY STAR BLAZING.


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