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PHIL BENNETT: Scarlets victory in Paris sent out firm message to powers-that-be

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 14, 2014

By Robert Lloyd

Phil Bennett was full of praise for Aaron Shingler’s performance in Paris.

Phil Bennett was full of praise for Aaron Shingler’s performance in Paris.

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LLANELLI and Wales great Phil Bennett believes the events in Paris on Friday night sent out a passionate message to those at the helm of the domestic game.

The Scarlets defied the odds and the weight of the French chequebook to claim a 19-13 victory over Racing Metro in a display that was built on bucketloads of grit and determination.

Bennett was guest of honour at the game, having made his international debut as a replacement at the same Stade Yves-du-Manoir in Colombes in 1969.

That day Wales were held to an 8-8 draw by a French side containing such greats as Pierre Villepreux, Jo Maso and Walter Spanghero.

But on Friday night, it was Welsh voices being heard loud and clear as the Scarlets claimed yet another memorable win on French soil.

The victory may not have been enough to prevent the Scarlets’ exit at the Heineken Cup pool stages for another year.

But, for Bennett, it showed that there is plenty of fight in the regional game.

“With all that is going on in Welsh rugby, it is great to be talking about rugby and a fantastic win for a Welsh side in Europe,” he said.

“I looked at Racing Metro with all their star players, three British and Irish Lions, France internationals, South Africans, Argentineans, but they just didn’t have the heart or togetherness of the Scarlets, who went out and played for the jersey.

“You had someone like Aaron Shingler, who was outstanding, tackling himself to a standstill, Jake Ball carrying in the second row and two 21-year-old props (Rob Evans and Samson Lee) not giving an inch at the scrum.

“It was a fantastic effort and sent a message out to those who are messing about with our game.

“I was at a meeting last week with a number of other former internationals where we told a lot of the things that were going on.

“We came out of that meeting and everyone said, surely we can find a solution to this for the good of the game?

“What saddens me more than anything is that we slammed England in Cardiff to win another Six Nations, we had ten Lions in that final Test in Australia this summer, yet we are fighting amongst ourselves.

“And what worries me is that at a time when every grassroots club in Wales is struggling, this could end up in the courts in London and millions of pounds, which could be pumped back in Welsh rugby, could be wasted on lawyers.

“Heads need to be knocked together.”

With no resolution imminent in the bitter row between the four regions and the Welsh Rugby Union, the chances of a European competition taking place next season are diminishing by the day.

But if this is the last Heineken Cup in its current format, the Scarlets, with such a proud history in the tournament, are in no mood to bid farewell with a whimper.

If Simon Easterby’s side can beat Harlequins in Llanelli on Sunday they will finish runners-up in Pool 4 and if other results go their way, could claim a place in the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup — a fine achievement for a side tipped as also-rans when this so-called pool of death was drawn.

“Hopefully, we can keep this going on Sunday and beat Harlequins again,” added Bennett.

“We are struggling to make the top four in the Pro12 so it would really keep the season going.

“It would be wonderful to see a big crowd at Parc y Scarlets because the supporters in Paris were fantastic.

“Four buses left Parc y Scarlets at 3am on Friday and the supporters were in great voice throughout.

“It was fantastic to see them come on the pitch afterwards and the players go back out to thank them.”

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