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Young Welsh talents shine in Arms Park derby.

Byline: Simon THOMAS

HAVING already had one piece of great news this week, Warren Gatland had another reason to smile last night after watching some of Wales' brightest talents shine in one of the games of the season.

Hearrived at the Arms Parksavouring the news that his coaching pal Shaun Edwards had agreed to stay on with the Six Nations champions.

And he left having relished a classic encounter between two Welsh regions who shared out eight tries in a rip-roaring end of season spectacle, with the Blues twice coming from behind to move up to second in the Magners League table.

"That was a great game," said the New Zealander. "I thoroughly enjoyed it.

"Both teams tried to play a lot of rugby. The Scarlets took their opportunities, while the Blues missed out on three or four but still came out on top.

"I was sitting next to Gareth Edwards and I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than him because as an avid Blues supporter he found it frustrating at times.

"I thought it was a great match played in excellent spirit and it was great to see both teams being very positive."

Gatland would no doubt have been suitably impressed with man-of-the-match Tom James, who was an explosive mixture of power and pace on the Blues left wing.

He scored one try - smashing his way through Dwayne Peel to the line - and set up another for Marc Stcherbina with a blistering break that featured a hand off on the unfortunate Peel, as the Blues fought back from a nightmarish start that had seen them fall 14-0 behind inside six minutes.

Onthis red-hot form, Jamesmust be a certainty for Wales' summer tour of South Africa, while another youngster - Scarlets full-back Morgan Stoddart -will also have advanced his cause with a razor-sharp display after coming on as a half-time sub.

Like James, speedster Stoddart set up one touchdown - for Wales wing Mark Jones - and crossed himself, scorching home for the try of the night to put the Scarlets back in front midway through the second-half.

Blues fit-again outside-half Nicky Robinson also did himself no harmin his bid to stakealate claim for a place on the plane to South Africa.

Making his first start in four months, he grew into the game after a shaky opening, scoring the 32nd minute try that finally rewarded the hosts' incessant pressure after a number of other chances had been bombed.

Then after the break, with the elements behind him, he took control, producing a series of pin-point touch-finders and varying his distribution astutely.

It was his long cut-out pass that created the space for Tom Shanklin to put Ben Blair over for the game's decisive final try - which came with Mark Jones in the bin - and then he sealed the result four minutes from time, with a superbly- struck drop goal.

While Gatland will have been encouraged by the performances from a number of Wales tour hopefuls, there were also excellent displays from some of his tried and trusted Grand Slamstars.

Blues skipper Martyn Williams was into everything asusual, even slotting in at scrum-half while Jason Spice was in the bin during the second half.

Centre Tom Shanklin also made a big impact after coming on as an early replacement for groin injury victim Jamie Robinson.

Shanklin put his Heineken Cup nightmare against Toulouse well and truly behind him as he swiftly got back to his forceful best, constantly testing the defence with his direct running.

As for Scarlets skipper Peel, he may have come off second best to the rampaging James in defence, but he was just as impressive as the big man in his own stylish way in attack.

He was a pivotal figure in both of the tries the visitors scored in quick succession to turn the game on its head when Spice was in the bin, first looping around Simon Easter by ahead of Jones crossing and then sending Stoddart away with an intelligent long floated pass.

The one worrying moment of the night for Gatland would have been the sight of Peel leaving the field holding his shoulder - particularly with Wales scrum-half rival Mike Phillips already out of the South African tour.

But, speaking after the game, Scarlets coach Phil Davies said he was confident it wasn't a serious problem.

Let's hope he's right because it would be sad if such an outstanding advert for Welsh rugby should have an unhappy footnote.



B Blair; G Thomas, J Robinson (T Shanklin 13), M Stcherbina, T James; N Robinson, J Spice (R Rees 64); J Yapp, R Thomas (GWilliams 67), G Powell (T Filise 60), D Jones, S Morgan (P Tito 64), M Molitika, M Lewis (X Rush 56), M Williams (capt).

Scorers: Tries: N Robinson, T James, M Stcherbina, B Blair. Cons: B Blair (3). Pens: B Blair (2). Drop goal: N Robinson.

Yellow card: Jason Spice (52).


C Thomas (M Stoddart h-t); D James, R King, J Davies (R Priestland 33), M Jones; S Jones, D Peel (capt, G Cattle 70); I Thomas (P John 42), M Rees (K Owens 70), B Douglas, V Cooper, S MacLeod, D Jones (S Easterby 44), A Popham, G Thomas.

Scorers: Tries: D Peel, J Davies, M Jones, M Stoddart. Cons: S Jones (3)

Yellow cards: Alix Popham (25), Mark Jones (53)

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)

Attendance: 10,216


ON THE RUN: Stephen Jones tries to hang on to a rampaging Maama Molitika; CELEBRATION TIME: Tom James takes the applause of the Arms Park crowd, while, inset, Nicky Robinson toasts his try PICTURES: West Digital
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 12, 2008
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