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Scarlets seal victory over Connaught

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By Jonathan Twigg

SCARLETS won their Guinness Pro 14 encounter on Friday (Sept 29) at Parc Y Scarlets 34-27 against a spirited Connaught side in a game which saw the teams share nine tries and secure maximum points.

The first half saw seven of those tries, with the Scarlets leading 26-22 thanks to their fourth try of the night, scored by British & Irish Lions full back Leigh Halfpenny.

The Scarlets had opened the scoring after seven minutes following a clean line out ball from second row David Bulbring, where the ball was moved out to an advancing Rhys Patchell, the outside half running a high attacking line, from which he popped the ball into the hands of centre Jonathan Davies, who broke his tackle and created enough space for winger Johnny Mcnicholl to circle around under the posts for Halfpenny to convert.

From the restart, secured by home flanker Wil Boyde the Scarlets moved the ball along their back division until an unfortunate mix up in midfield between centres Scott Williams and Davies saw the ball pop into the hands of outside half Jack Carty who ran in unopposed under the posts and convert his own try.

The mix up typified the game where many errors restricted the momentum in play, with an expectation that both sides would have been frustrated by their inability to take control of the game despite the fact they served up a nine try thriller.

Wales full back Halfpenny also missed two attempts at goal, the first a conversion of man of the match Stefan Evans try on 17 minutes.

The winger was on hand to finish a move which the Scarlets ran nine passes of play before Williams opened the space for Evans to dance around and finish from 40m out.

With Wales coach Warren Gatland and his management team in the stands Evans has now put himself into the slot to be involved in the Autumn International series as the diminutive winger expressed his desire and hunger to run at the opposition defence line, reflecting images of Shane Williams in his heyday.

Carty brought the score back to 12-10 with a penalty conceded from the scrum, with replacement prop Dylan Evans guilty having just come on for Wales international Rob Evans, side lined with a head injury.

Smarting from the setback of losing Evans and three points the Scarlets won possession back as the half hour mark approached thanks to the endeavours of skipper Ken Owens who charged down a clearance from full back Darragh Leader.

Number 8 Will Boyde combined with Josh McCleod and replacement Evans before further good work from Aaron Shingler and Jake Ball put flanker McCleod clear allowing Rhys Patchell to accept an inside pass from Steff Evans to score and Halfpenny to find his kicking boots gain and convert after missing a 40m penalty on 11 minutes.

Referee Nigel Owens took an age to award the try as the TMO viewed numerous angles of the play much to the discontent of the crowd and whilst applauding the innovative way technology can ‘get the decision right’ thought must be given to keeping the game live.

Connaught came back with a try after some sustained phases of play through their pack to release winger Cian Kelleher after good hands from centre Bundee Aki which Carty converted and a mistake from Mcnicholl allowed visiting number 8 John Muldoon to charge 45m through the midfield, linking well with Aki who was tackled and the ball recycled through the efforts of flanker Jarred Butler allowing winger Tim O’Halloran to score an unconverted try.

With the Scarlets behind for the first time in the match with two minutes of the half remaining the they managed to work space once again for Evans to set his wheels in motion and he drew the covering defence for Halfpenny to score and convert for a half time lead of 26-22.

The second half became a much dourer affair as both coaching teams rung the changes and the handling mistakes which epitomised the absorbing first period were there for the 7693 spectators to witness.

Halfpenny extended the lead close to the hour mark with a penalty as Aki was penalised for a double movement in the tackle, with the game drifting aimlessly as both sides were guilty of kicking possession away to allow them to regroup their defensive patterns.

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac used all his replacements, the last of which was prop Simon Gardiner, who returned to a Scarlets shirt with just under ten minutes remaining.

The former Wales Under 21 star last played for the Region in September 2011 and after a journey which took him around Britain he has this season put in some excellent performances for Llanelli in the Principality Premiership and deservedly earned a recall to the match day squad.

On 74 minutes Connaught brought themselves back into contention of winning the game thanks to a second unconverted try by O’Halloran after he combined well with fellow wing Kelleher before the crescendo for a nervous home crowd saw replacement back row Irishman Tadhg Bierne stride over after second row Jake Ball collected the ball in midfield and make a 30m unopposed run, for Halfpenny to convert and the game end 36-27.

On Saturday (Oct 7), the Scarlets take on rivals Ospreys in the Pro 14 at the Liberty Stadium, before welcoming Cardiff Blues to Park Y Scarlets at the end of the month after they travel to Toulouse and entertain Bath in the European Cup.

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Captain Bony calms the ship

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By Jonathan Twigg

A MAN of the match performance from Captain Wilfried Bony led the charge for Swansea City on Saturday (Dec 9) when his second goal in consecutive games sealed a dour 1-0 victory on a dark and gloomy afternoon over West Bromwich Albion at the Liberty Stadium.

Securing a valuable three points lifted Paul Clements under pressure Swans side off the foot of the Premier League table as Bony’s winner sparked a chorus of ‘Hymns and Arias’ with nine minutes remaining.

Substitute Tammy Abraham’s effort was cleared off the line at the far post from a Ki Sung-Yueng corner before the Ivory Coast strikers’ driven right foot shot which thundered beyond former England goalkeeper Ben Foster.

The Swans started the game at the foot of the table but took solace from the fact they had won five out of six fixtures when they had been in a similar situation previously. Their visitors hadn’t won a game in the Premier League for four months and were on a run of three consecutive defeats in their travels to West Wales.

The green shirted Albion started brightly keeping the ball and moving it around across the floor much unlike teams who play under their new manager Alan Pardew’s banner.

Without creating opportunities apart from a Jake Livermore shot midway through the half to punish the home side, the play meandered precariously towards stalemate at half time, unsurprisingly perhaps as former Bayern Munich Assistant Manager Paul Clements side had netted just eight goals in 15 league games.

Winger Nathan Dyer drew a foul from Claudio Yacob after 18 minutes which earned him yellow card which proved to be a catalyst for the apprehension surrounding Swansea’s play subsiding for the remainder of the first half as they gained superiority in terms of possession and territory.

The closest they came was when midfielder Livermore headed against his own post from a dipping Tom Carroll free kick as the visitors screened the play well through skipper Jonny Evans and his centre back partner Yacob across the 18 yard box.

Bony’s opportunities were restricted despite midfielders Carroll, Ki and Roque Mesa enterprising combinations  with Dyer and full back Martin Olsson getting behind the opposition defence through the outside channels, where Sam Field collected a yellow card after 35 minutes as he tried to disrupt the inter play.

Centre half Alfie Mawson squandered a great opportunity to head an opening goal when he found space six yards out with seven minutes remaining before Swansea came out for the second half on the front foot.

Bony managed to break the defensive shackles on him with a strong and direct run but pulled a driven shot wide of the post, which added to the derisory tally of 27 shots on target this season for his side, the worst across any of the major European leagues.

Clement’s introduction of Jordan Ayew after 54 minutes for Wayne Routledge injected more spirit and it created opportunities to test Foster, from which Bony drew heart to become an influential figure on the game as the Baggies eventually wilted under the pressure and conceded the only goal.

Tammy Abraham should have sealed the victory in injury time when he was worked free to stride beyond the covering defenders only to wrench his effort wide when one on one with Foster, an effort which the eighteenth created in the match, but only three were on target.

Mesa picked up a second half yellow card as did Carroll before he was replaced by Luciano Narsingh, with Evans and substitute Chris Brunt for the Albion, alongside Welsh striker Hal Robson Kanu as he berated referee Dean on his way off the field to be replaced just before the goal, by Oliver Burke.

The crowd of 19,590 greeted the final whistle knowing they find themselves a point adrift Alan Pardew’s side who hover one place outside the relegation places; two wins would catapult Swansea to mid-table, which would be a welcome festive tonic as the January transfer window opens, allowing Clement an opportunity to re-inforce his squad which for most of this season has looked short on the quality required for survival in the Premier League.

Their first win since October was certainly scrappy where the immaculately dressed Clements’ initial reaction to Bony’s strike was to dance down the touchline coupled with a huge sigh of relief to go with his elation.

His bold offensive substitutions achieved the result he required as unbeaten table toppers Manchester City visit on Wednesday evening to fully test Clements’ skills and aptitude as a focused and thoughtful tactician.

The roadshow then heads to Goodison Park to take on an Everton side themselves on a run of four unbeaten games since former England supremo Sam Allardyce took the reins before fellow relegation rivals Crystal Palace arrive at the Liberty for a key Yuletide fixture on Saturday (Dec 23).

Swansea head on the road after Christmas, firstly again to Merseyside to face Liverpool at Anfield on  Boxing Day and Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday (Dec 30) before hosting Tottenham Hotspur at home on Saturday (Jan 2).

Clement and his side will take confidence from Saturday’s victory which has eased the pressure in the cauldron after Club owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien afforded Clement their ‘public support’.

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FAW disappointed at EURO 2020 snub

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THE Football Association of Wales (FAW) and all its stakeholders are extremely disappointed with the news that its bid to secure four UEFA EURO 2020 matches at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff has been unsuccessful.

Over the past four years, Wales has successfully staged three UEFA events – firstly, the UEFA Super Cup Final in 2014, followed by the UEFA Men’s and Women’s Champions League Finals in June this year.

UEFA ranked the UEFA Champions League Final as one of their best events and praised the way in which the Cardiff 2017 Local Organising Committee delivered the showpiece.

The concept of taking UEFA EURO 2020 to 13 different countries was devised to allow smaller countries, like Wales, to have a unique opportunity of being involved in staging a major tournament.

Wales has never staged a EURO or World Cup Final and this was its one and only chance of doing so.

The FAW complied with all of the bid requirements and has written to UEFA to request feedback on the decision so that it can understand the reasons behind the vote for future reference.

The FAW wishes the FA and Wembley Stadium the very best for UEFA EURO 2020, which is sure to be a fantastic tournament.

The FAW will now fully concentrate its efforts on ensuring that the Wales National Team has the very best opportunity to qualify for and participate at UEFA EURO 2020.

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Wales’ 6 Nations tickets on public sale

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WALES’ home 2018 NatWest 6 Nations matches against France and Italy go on public sale from 10am tomorrow, Friday, December 8, at wru.wales/tickets.

It was also announced today that Warren Gatland’s side will open their campaign against Scotland on February 3 (2.15pm) in front of a sold-out Principality Stadium crowd.

Wales then hit the road to take on England and then Ireland, before returning to home soil on March 11 to host Italy (3pm) – where up to 48,000 new junior concessionary tickets have been made available – and welcoming France a week later, on the final weekend of the Championship (March 17, 5pm).

For the first time in the Championship a concessionary price ticket has been introduced for the round-four meeting with the Azzurri, meaning U16s can access this game for £20.

In another first for the national stadium,  a unique ‘curtain-raiser’ also means supporters will be treated to two-matches-for-the-price-of-one that weekend, as the double-headed Sunday fixture includes the Wales Women clash with Italy – making it a must-see occasion for all the family.

Wales take winning momentum from their climactic Under Armour Series victory over South Africa into the tournament, after supporters turned-out in their greatest numbers for almost a decade, across the four-match series (a total of 265,071 attended Principality Stadium this autumn, the highest overall attendance for the campaign since 2008).

All three equivalent Six Nations home fixtures, against Scotland, France and Italy, sold-out at Principality Stadium in 2016 before the tournament started and a high demand for tickets is once again expected.

The Scotland game sold-out this week via Welsh rugby clubs, WRU supporters club members and debenture holders, who have had access to tickets since September, and a limited number remain for the clash with Les Bleus means that game is expected to sell-out before Christmas.

A seasonal guarantee means any orders before December 19 will be received by Christmas Day, with a festive-card option also available at the time of purchase (this option must be chosen at online check-out)

“We are blessed with the greatest supporters in world sport in Welsh rugby and we expect the hottest tickets in town to be snapped up in record time once again for this mouth-watering 2018 Natwest Six Nations campaign,” said WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips.

“The concessionary tickets, which are available in their thousands for the Italy game, will be particularly popular, just as they proved to be for our Under Armour Series this autumn.

“Round four is set to be a real family rugby occasion at Principality Stadium, with the extra value of seeing two games for the price of one, as the Wales Women Six Nations international clash against Italy kicks-off ahead of the men’s game, at 11.45am.

“As a not for profit organisation, all WRU proceeds are invested back into the game at all levels.”

The WRU has guaranteed its lowest price ticket for a Six Nations match at Principality Stadium will be frozen at £40 for at least the next two seasons, until 2020.

REMAINING Tickets to watch Wales face France are priced at £80, £85 and £95, the Italy match has a concessionary ticket for U16s for the first time, priced at £20, with remaining prices at £50, £60, £65 and £75.

Official Hospitality Packages for Six Nations fixtures are available from 02920 822 413 or visit www.wru.wales/hospitality and official travel packages can be purchased from the WRU’s official travel supplier, Gullivers Sports Travel by visiting  here

The WRU’s official resale marketplace, which gives clubs the opportunity to re-sell a limited selection of their allocated tickets to the general public, can also be found at www.seatwave.com/wru

For all other ticket enquiries contact wru.wales/tickets – which is now fully mobile responsive making it easier than ever to purchase tickets – or visit your local rugby club.

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