The Marshall plan... and those 'upstarts' men against boys... ' stun THEALL Blacks.
Just a couple of weeks earlier, it had been revealed that Mike Phillips would be leaving Cardiff Blues at the end of the season to join the Ospreys.
That meant he was going to be scrapping it out with All Blacks great Justin Marshall for the number nine shirt at the Liberty Stadium.
So, it was with delicious timing that the two scrum-halves found themselves going head-to-head at the Millennium Stadium in the EDF Energy Cup semi-final.
There were plenty of big names on either side, with the likes of Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush and Ben Blair in the Blues team and Shane Williams, Ryan Jones, James Hook, Alun Wyn Jones, Lee Byrne and Adam Jones on duty for the Galacticos.
But it was the scrum-half showdown which hogged the headlines before the game... and after it as well.
Both men sported white boots with matching white wristbands, with Marshall standing out with his peroxide mop of hair, while Phillips had gone for a business-like close crop of his dark locks.
It was the street-wise Kiwi who was to come out on top as he picked up the man-of-the-match award, showing his class and experience to help the Ospreys record a 27-10 victory and book a place in the Twickenham final against Leicester. The battle didn't end at the final whistle, however, far from it. The two rivals had to be pulled apart as they headed for the dressing rooms after Marshall had offered a handshake to Phillips in the tunnel and received a shoulder charge in return.
Giving his account of the incident, the then 33-year-old New Zealander - who freely admitted to sledging his young opponent during the match - said there had been "a bit of argybargy".
"I offered to shake hands with him as we came off, but it wasn't accepted," he said.
"The disagreement and argument which followed was, let's say, about mirror space next season when we're going to be teammates.
"We're both competitive people, but he can have it if he wants it because I'm getting on a bit. He's a young fellow and maybe he'll become more mature in the future.
"I'm well settled in Swansea and I'm going nowhere, so we'll be teammates next year."
The Blues' hopes had been dented by the sin-binning of forwards Scott Morgan, Deiniol Jones and Rob Sidoli, with Hook landing six shots at goal to complement tries from Byrne and Sonny Parker.
But, above all, this was the day when the Marshall plan held sway. Result: Cardiff Blues 10-27 Ospreys Mark Orders: The rebels yell! (Swansea trounce Llanelli, May 1999) THERE may not have been a match like it in Welsh rugby history.
Two rugby worlds collided in the unlikely setting of Ninian Park, home of Cardiff City Football Club, on a bright spring day 17 years ago, to play out a derby that could not have been hyped more had boxing promoter Don King been parachuted in from America to do the job.
All season arguments had raged throughout the Welsh game.
Fed up with the financial constraints of the domestic scene, Swansea and Cardiff had broken away to play a season of friendlies against leading sides in England. The two city clubs were cast as rebels.
Llanelli had stayed in Welsh rugby and won the Premier Division title. They had overwhelmed Cardiff in the cup semi-final at Bridgend and boasted a fine side that featured Scott Quinnell, Rupert Moon, Stephen Jones, Chris Wyatt, Robin McBryde, John Davies, Wayne Proctor, Nigel Davies and Salesi Finau. They were seen as loyalists.
Which team were the stronger? After Llanelli's win over Cardiff, the suggestion was the two city clubs had been playing soft rugby. In 80 eye-opening minutes, such a claim was emphatically refuted.
Swansea were extraordinary, playing a Super Rugby-type game which was too fast and too physical for their arch rivals. Scott Gibbs and Mark Taylor obliterated the threat of Finau, who had terrorised midfield defences in the Welsh league.
Colin Charvis brought Test-quality physicality to a Swansea back row in which Paul Moriarty roamed the pitch imperiously, while Tyrone Maullin gave the Whites a hard edge at lock and Garin Jenkins, Darren Morris and Ben Evans ensured their scrum dominance.
There was also a display of shimmering class from Arwel Thomas, the official man of the match, who set up a try for Maullin with a dummy and landed his second drop goal from 40 yards.
It was Llanelli's heaviest defeat in 141 cup ties.
The following morning there were 'Men against Boys' headlines after some post-match quotes from Gibbs.
Standing outside the dressing room clad in just a towel, with mayhem all around, he had actually said: "Our games have been far more meaningful than any games in the domestic league in Wales. From what I have seen, Llanelli have been playing against boys all season. They were outweighted, outmuscled and outplayed today."
But it went down as -Men against Boys-, and no-one was prepared to argue otherwise. It was the day the rebels truly yelled.
Result: Swansea 37-10 Llanelli Andy Howell: The Chief's warning! (Pontypridd's comeback against Neath, May 1996) IT was May 1996 and Cardiff Arms Park National Stadium was bathed in sunshine as Neath and Pontypridd went head-to-head in front of a packed crowd in a glorious Welsh Cup final.
Neath had been the team of much the late 1980s and early 1990s with their legendary manager Brian Thomas, the former Wales lock, having dubbed Valley Commandos Ponty "upstarts".
Ponty had been edged out in the final the previous season by Swansea, but Neil Jenkins, Paul John, Martyn Williams, Dale McIntosh and company were a year older, wiser and better.
It's often said the side with the most hunger wins matches and both teams looked like they had been starved, such was the ferocity of the challenges, the intensity, passion and skill.
Pontypridd needed plenty of guts, after being on the rack at 22-9 behind early in the second half, to pull off a great escape and emerge worthy winners.
Then Wales outside-half Jenkins struck first with a crisp drop-goal following a maul, but that was the signal for Neath to hit top gear.
A diagonal kick from playmaker Paul Williams provoked a defensive mix-up between Ponty winger David Manley and full-back Crispin Cormack.
Wales centre sensation Leigh Davies was on to it in a flash, scooping the loose ball up and scoring before running along the touchline in front of adoring Neath supporters doing a 'Paul Merson', raising imaginary pints of beer to his lips as the Arsenal and England footballer used to do after finding the back of the net.
Jenkins responded with a penalty but Neath again hit the accelerator with full-back Richard Jones picking up on the half-volley to score a fine try.
Scrum-half Patrick Horgan converted and then intercepted a pass from McIntosh to touch down and give the Welsh All Blacks an eightpoint advantage at the interval. Horgan scored a second try almost immediately after the break following a powerful drive by No.8 Steve Williams, sparking wild celebrations on and off the pitch.
"Their hooker Barry Williams was jumping about yelling: 'We've done it'," recalled McIntosh.
"I said: 'You've done sod all yet bro'. That was my attitude and we knew we were a good side. We had our backs against the wall, but came through and won that game."
Pontypridd expertly employed a three-man line-out on their throw to ensure a plentiful supply of possession from lock Mark 'Tiny' Rowley and negate the effect of the Llewellyn brothers, Gareth and Glyn.
Inspirational man of the match, livewire scrum-half Paul John, was driven over for a try. Jenkins converted and it was game on.
A streaker didn't put the 'Ginger Monster' off kicking a penalty and there were just three points in it with eight minutes remaining.
Manley burst onto a pass in midfield and beat a couple of defenders before lobbing an overhead pass for left-wing Geraint Lewis to score.
That put Pontypridd ahead and Lewis made certain of a first cup final triumph for the Valley Commandos by sprinting onto a grubberkick from centre Steele Lewis for a 29-22 victory, which put the icing on a rip-roaring game of rugby.
Result: Neath 22-29 Pontypridd
<B Swansea celebrate their crushing Swalec Cup final win over Llanelli at Ninian Park and, inset, Pontypridd talisman Dale 'Chief ' McIntosh
<B Justin Marshall gets to grips, quite literally, with Mike Phillips
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Oct 7, 2016|
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