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Whitland remain unbeaten

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By Jonathan Twigg

“A HAPPY camp is a winning camp” according to Coach Gareth Bennett and the GD Harries sponsored ‘Green Machine’ of Whitland were in buoyant mood on Saturday (Nov 4) after they kept their unbeaten start to the season in tact after against previously unbeaten visitors Pontardullais.

The Borders are committed to play a style of rugby where they are willing to play the situation which falls before them, where a precarious 9-7 lead at half time in the face of a swirling wind could have led to them wilting in the face of a side intent on leaving Parc Llwyn Ty Gwyn with something to show for their efforts.

They scored the only try of the game two minutes before the break when winger Gethin Williams crossed wide out for fellow winger Paul Geary to add a majestic conversion to put the ‘Ambers’ 7-6 ahead, but had to settle for a losing bonus point as the home sides outside half Nico Setaro kicked them to victory with five penalties.

Setaro took a while to settle into the flow of the game as he was guilty of some poor tactical kicking as his side were second best in the early exchanges in all aspects.

The scrum found itself disrupted from the start, as skipper Marc Thomas lost one against the head and throughout the first half they continually failed to secure line out ball which would have allowed them a platform from which to play on the front foot.

Setaro missed an effort from just beyond the 22m line after six minutes before ‘The Bont’ lost influential Loose Head prop Andrew Williams two minutes later as he found himself exposed to some rough treatment on the floor and the ebb of the game swung in Whitland’s favour.

Hooker Thomas was tenacious in his tackling and driving play supported by the ‘boiler house’ veterans Raff Williams and 47 year old Dai Ebsworth.

Ebsworth experience of playing for three decades, including at Narberth was evident both on and off the ball as he became a go to man in the line out which led to a second penalty failed penalty attempt for Setaro after winger Liam Price had run over 25m with the ball in hand.

Fellow winger Sean Coles also combined in a sweeping 50m run with Price and the home pressure finally paid dividends midway through the half when Setaro’s penalty was successful after Pontyates referee Justin Thomas marched forward for ten metres after some dissent.

The visitors were penalised eight times in the first half, mainly for not releasing the player in the tackle as they slowed the game down with many on field injury assessments.

The tactics galvanised Thomas, Ebsworth, Number 8 Jack Mason and flanker Benji Kirk to put in the hard yards for their side and a second Setaro penalty after 32 minutes extended the lead.  Williams try came about thanks to second row Jordan Daniels and flanker Dean Courtney setting a platform for the winger to cross.

In time added on at the end of the first half a counter attack from their own half saw Setaro’s angled kick fielded by full back Aled Stone, a product of the Clubs junior and youth set up.  Instead of putting the ball out of play to end the half he tried to run from within touching distance of his own posts to be caught by the marauding home back row and the resultant penalty from wide out for not releasing allowed Setaro to lead his side from the field with a 9-7 cushion.

Centre Josh Thomas entered the fray after half time for Whitland as ball player Johnnie Thomas moved to the wing to replace Sean Coles, victim of a dead leg.

The second half game management from the home side saw them stifle any effort by Pontardullais to get ahead with some excellent handling and miss moves shipped the ball wide to winger Thomas and Price ensuring the game was played deep in the visitors territory.

Setaro and full back Scott Newton are composite ball handlers and kickers from hand, alongside Thomas and Price as they dictated both the tempo and tactical play which saw them combine and travel at times over sixty metres with ball in hand.

Coach Dan Mason was complimentary of this play as ‘the players are encouraged to express their ability at all times’.

He added: “There may have been a hangover from our last game at Tumble alongside nerves due to the ‘magnitude of the game’ at the start of the afternoon but we are all confident in our own and our team mates skills.  Bennett, added ‘there is no better feeling for a front five forward to get up from the battle on the floor to see the ball 40m downfield and it keeps a spring in our step and a smile on our faces.”

Replacement Thomas also added a new dimension to the play after the break by taking and carrying the ball to the first defender with fellow centre Alun Davies enjoying the freedom created to ensure Setaro and the back three could perform.

Flanker Ryan Michael was instrumental in leading a high defence line alongside scrum half Adam Davies who edged out his more experienced counterpart Adrian Killa or the visitors as the game wore on, which restricted the ability for Stone et al to run back from deep, resulting into the kicks into the hands of Newton, Setaro and Thomas.

Setaro landed two more penalties as the graft of his forwards put their side 15-7 ahead with ten minutes remaining although it could have been different had Geary not slipped when attempting a straight forward penalty attempt a minute later; he made amends with five minutes left after work from Daniels drew Michael offside as his side felt the loss just when his side most needed him most of Number 8 Jacob Miles, an attacking dynamo alongside his scrum half Killa all afternoon.

A vociferous visiting contingent in the stands became frustrated as the play couldn’t transfer to give their idols an opportunity to win the game where a Club spokesman at the end of the game praised ‘Whitland’s second half performance, which ended our unbeaten league start, although the losing bonus point may prove crucial as the season draws to its climax.”

The final word on an absorbing Whitland Ladies sponsored top of table encounter was left to Bennett. “As coaches it’s a case of osmosis as these players just want to take everything we are giving them onto the pitch.  We have no expectations beyond our next game and we are able to use players out of position when the need arises; our philosophy of trying to play rugby beyond our outside centre will remain.”

Next week Pontarddulais entertain St Clears whilst the unbeaten Green Machine travel to Mumbles to take on a side which were unable to field a team last weekend.

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Biggar, Williams and Halfpenny in Wales team to face Ireland

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WALES have made three changes to their starting XV to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (KO 14.15) with British & Irish Lions trio Dan Biggar, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny all returning to the side.

Biggar has recovered from a shoulder injury to make his 61st appearance for his country and will line up alongside Gareth Davies at half-back.

Halfpenny and Williams join Steff Evans in the back-three with Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams continuing their partnership in the midfield.

Wales have named an unchanged pack for the trip to Dublin.  The all-Scarlets front-row of Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee feature for a third consecutive game.  Cory Hill partners captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row with Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty comprising the back-row.

“It is great to be able to bring so much experience back into the starting XV and into the backline,” said head coach Warren Gatland, who will take charge of Wales for the 100th time.

“It is the first week we have had everyone in the ‘green’ in terms of availability which is a nice luxury to have and a positive ahead of what is a very important test match against a very good Ireland side.

“We have been pleased with the depth we have developed in the back-three and pleased with how those players have gone but having the experience of Dan, Liam and Leigh coming back in is hugely important.

“We have been pleased with how the forward pack has been going and how they have worked as a unit but as always there is pressure for them to perform too.”

Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis are named as the front-row replacements with Bradley Davies and Justin Tipuric completing the forward contingent.  Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe and George North provide the back-line cover.

Wales Team to play Ireland:

Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets) (75 Caps)

Liam Williams (Saracens) (45 Caps)

Scott Williams (Scarlets) (53 Caps)

Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (3 Caps)

Steff Evans (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Dan Biggar (Ospreys) (60 Caps)

Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (29 Caps)

Rob Evans (Scarlets) (22 Caps)

Ken Owens (Scarlets) (54 Caps)

Samson Lee (Scarlets) (35 Caps)

Cory Hill (Dragons) (12 Caps)

Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (115 Caps) CAPT

Aaron Shingler (Scarlets) (15 Caps)

Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues) (9 Caps)

Ross Moriarty (Gloucester) (19 Caps)

Replacements:

Elliot Dee (Dragons) (4 Caps)

Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (28 Caps)

Bradley Davies (Ospreys) (59 Caps)

Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (54 Caps)

Aled Davies (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues) (13 Caps)

George North (Northampton Saints) (70 Caps)

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Pontarddualis withstand Fishguard fightback

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A MONUMENTAL effort by the Fishguard forwards on the Moors in the several minutes of overtime on Saturday (Feb 17) failed to secure a bonus point for the home side as promotion chasing Pontarddulais took a maximum five points from their 28-20 victory.

The silver streaked No. 8 Simon James claimed a try, his second of the game as the Seagulls never say die attitude epitomised the battle scars of Luke Harding, whose life was remembered with an impeccable minute’s silence for ‘The Gambler’ before kick off.

Luke, since his diagnosis of lung cancer 16 months ago had fought on the coal face every step of the way, raising more than £30,000 for Withybush Hospital but succumbed when his skills were required elsewhere and he knew ‘when he didn’t have the aces’ needed to win the game.

Having secured their third try outside half Kial Keane was unable to convert for the bonus point and referee Darren Randell signalled the end of the Division 2 encounter.

Referee Rendell had irked both sets of supporters during the game, his empathy for the underfoot conditions and numerous marginal decisions on the gain line, perhaps not seen impartially.

The Llanelli butcher did well to keep thirty players on the field as the physical encounter saw several flare ups with handbags flying and his shrill whistle echoing around the Paraddog towards the Irish Sea.

Fishguard line out: Flanker Chris Sousha rises high

Those final minutes saw Fishguard skipper Kevin Walsh elect for two scrums alongside some tap and goes as the visiting defence, so strong throughout the game overstepped the offside line to ignite the blue touch paper.

The opening score came from teenage Pontardullais scrum half Ethan Dunne who marked his senior debut with a try after nearly twenty minutes.

Fishguard had enjoyed possession and territory in the lead up to the try with scrum half Andrew Williams dynamic before full back Liam Lazarus picked up the loose ball inside his own half, kicked over the top from which Dunne won the foot chase with some neat dribbling skills to tumble across the line.

Lazarus converted as he did for all the visitors four tries, alongside a commanding performance in defence and with ball in hand, comfortable to back his own skills, pace and decision making.

Lazarus wasn’t the only player to show an aptitude for direct running, opposite number Mike Jenkins and winger Sam Kurtz were anything but conservative in their running angles and support play, the hosts having flankers Chris Sousha and Luke Freebury on hand to keep their momentum alive.

Keane landed a penalty for a 7-3 score line before the ‘Bont’ crossed for a second try, Lazurus converting his own touchdown after winger Jared Walters created the space.

Second row Jacob Miles began the second period in a marauding style finding centre Gareth Thomas and outside half George Mbjoma willing ally’s as the ‘Ambers’ took control of the game.

Despite calls for offside at a line out and for a knock on in midfield, Thomas was able to cross for a converted try with six minutes played to extend the lead to 21-3.

Some ferocious and uncompromising tackles in midfield from both sides saw the back rows exchanging pleasantries on the ground, the visitors Rhys Samuel and fellow flanker Dean Courtney on par with James et al.

Winger Thomas George rounded off some excellent team play to reduce the deficit with an unconverted try, where hooker Walsh and fellow front row men Ryan McVeigh and Andrew Morrilo found a second wind, allowing centre Ben John and Narberth’s Dan Birch, on permit for a return to action after a metatarsal injury on the opening day of the season some space to run, with Kurtz crabbing in the background to link the play.

Gethin Williams, Thomas and co centre Paul Geary also took the opportunity to take the game forward, their play creating the bonus point try for No 8. Craig Davies, with replacement prop Andrew Williams of Woodpecker Carpentry a splinter in the home defence with his tenacity.

Fishguard to their credit responded by keeping the ball alive despite the fact second rows Jac and Gwylim Evans had parity in the line out, both involved in the open play with Walsh in gaining hard yards.

James scored the first of his brace, which Keane converted to set up the grandstand overtime finish, where John and Jenkins, alongside McVeigh were in the thick of the action to set up the final try from James.

‘You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away and know when to run; no need to count the money’ at this time, more the blessings and the reflection post-match should be on the future and not the past.

Bill Shankley may not have been right with his ramblings and I’m sure Luke will now have told him, his legacy being one of having that final ace.

The Seagulls will carry that with them to Mumbles on Saturday (Mar 3), as they stand four points clear of relegation whilst Pontarddulais will be geared up for a top of the table encounter when Whitland arrive at Coedback Parc.

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Old Gold boost survival hopes

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CARMARTHEN continued their promising opening to their Welsh Premier League second-phase programme with a valuable 3-2 victory over Newtown on Saturday (Feb 10) in a match that genuinely was the proverbial ‘game of two halves’.

With the accumulation of League points an essential requirement at this stage of the season the Old Gold, under the guidance of new interim Manager Neil Smothers for the first time, made a positive start with several incisive attacks that tested the visitors’ defence.

The only notable scoring chance in a fairly uneventful opening spell arose at the other end of the pitch – on 9 minutes, following a Ryan Kershaw free-kick, the ball rebounded off Town’s defensive ‘wall’ and fell nicely for Alex Fletcher who struck a 25 yard effort just wide of the far post.

However that heralded a thrilling and productive period of attacking football from the Old Gold which, as in last week’s Prestatyn match, heavily featured their recently-assembled triple strike-force.

In the 16th minute Luke Cummings, from the right flank, delivered a searching cross into the crowded goalmouth where Mark Jones set up the chance for Town’s all-time top goalscorer Liam Thomas to fire the ball home from close-range.

Then on 23 minutes a Cummings’ corner-kick was claimed by Jones who released a crisp drive that was blocked by ‘keeper Jack Perry – the loose ball was quickly played back to Aidan O’Kelly who from 20 yards struck a stunning volley that flew through a pack of defenders and into the back of the net.

Moments later, following a swift break out of defence the ball was sent upfield to Jones who took it forward to the edge of the penalty area then released a fierce drive that went just narrowly wide of the post.

During this spell Newtown had their fair share of possession but, with the Old Gold defence performing soundly, they were unable to create any serious goal threat from open play – their best opportunity arose after 33 minutes when Jay Denny hit a 30 yard free-kick that ‘keeper Lewis Thomas was forced to block before the ball was cleared safely away.

Then in the 39th minute Carmarthen’s refreshing attacking play was further rewarded – Cummings sent a fine pass through to Luke Bowen who, from close to the by-line, sent an inviting cross into the goalmouth where Liam Thomas, rising high above his marker, produced a firm header that went beyond  Perry’s reach and into the roof of the net.

This concluded what had undoubtedly been Town’s best 45 minutes of football this season.

After the interval Newtown, unsurprisingly, were straightaway totally committed to attack as they monopolised possession and kept the home defence under sustained pressure. As before, the Old Gold were defending with composure and discipline and it was not until the 61st minute that any meaningful scoring opportunity arose – Kershaw moved forward to the edge of the penalty area before releasing a fierce strike that Lewis Thomas denied, turning the ball aside with an impressive full-length save.

Shortly afterwards Kershaw again suffered as he watched his long-range drive defeated by another spectacular flying save from Town’s on-loan ‘keeper.

Eventually on 68 minutes Carmarthen’s resistance was broken when Ethan Jones broke into the penalty area and fired a sharp cross into the goalmouth where Nick Rushton stabbed the ball home from close-range.

This inspired the visitors to swarm forward with even greater intensity and after 79 minutes Rushton, from the by-line, fired a dangerous in-swinging free-kick into the goalmouth where Thomas, surrounded by a number of players, managed to punch the ball safely away.

That was just one of several instances, with the Old Gold under serious pressure in their own penalty area, where the young ‘keeper bravely dived down amongst opponents’ feet to claim or clear the ball.

Ahead of him Town were fully committed to defending their lead, often with only Jones operating upfield as an isolated attacking force – and they were successful up until the 90th minute when Kieran Mills-Evans, with a close-range header, converted Rushton’s right-wing cross.

Even more anxious moments followed for Carmarthen supporters as they endured several minutes of added time before the referee blew the final whistle to confirm that three precious League points were secure and another step towards WPL survival had been achieved.

The Old Gold must now make the long journey up to Llandudno for their next League fixture on Saturday, February 17, (k/o 2.30pm).

With the Seasiders having gained just two points from their last four matches, Town have reason to hope that another decent performance will further boost those survival prospects.

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