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Wales 21 – 29 Australia

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AUSTRALIA defeated Wales on Saturday (Nov 11) at the Principality Stadium in the first game of the Under Armour Autumn International series to stretch their run to thirteen consecutive victories over their hosts dating back nearly a decade. Wales now haven’t won their opening match of an Autumn series since 2009 [40-3 v Romania] and this result also extends the Wallabies current unbeaten run to seven, their longest since reaching the 2015 World Cup Final at Twickenham.

Such is their current pedigree they took the scalp of arch rivals New Zealand 23-18 last month and this green and gold side are content to mobilise the ball in direct lines whenever possible, whilst expertly managing the game away from their own try line under pressure.  Their first half dominance laid the foundations for the success as they had 67% possession making the home side make 80 tackles to defend their line, whilst having to make just 30 themselves.

Statistics won’t lie to Head Coach Warren Gatland, who selected a side which included eight Scarlets players and scrum half Aled Davies carded as a substitute. Gatland had changed the game plan which served him so well over the decade he has overseen the national side, looking to develop a line up capable of challenging at the very top come the 2019 World Cup.

He gave a debut to Gloucester playmaker Owen Williams at inside centre and with injuries in the backrow of skipper Sam Warbarton, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric his hand was forced to play exuberance, vigour and players in form alongside Taulupe Faletau.   Stepping up to the plate in the heat of the battle were Josh Navidi and ‘son of Hendy’, flanker Aaron Shingler, both of whom were tenacious in their defence duties.

A nervous Welsh start settled after six minutes when outside half Dan Biggar put a searching kick into the Aussie 22 and winger Liam Williams followed up to charge down the clearance from full back Kurtley Beale.  A scrambled defensive clearance subsequently saw hooker Ken Owens find second row Jake Ball at the front of the line out before third phase ball found winger Steff Evans coming in on the opposite wing to draw a penalty for offside on the 10m line. Leigh Halfpenny, in his first international game under a Scarlets ‘flag’ duly slotted it over for a 3-0 lead, which lasted less than four minutes as the green and gold responded through hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau. He was driven over by his fellow forwards following their first real incision into Welsh territory allowing outside half Ben Foley to convert for 7-3 lead. 

Spurred into action prop Rob Evans, returning after a prolonged absence for a head injury suffered against Connaught in September combined with centre Jonathan Davies for the red machine to move the ball 45m, only to see former Scarlets winger Liam Williams held up with a last ditch tackle.

Wales were now confident and scrum half Gareth Davies made an incisive 30m break.  Quick second phase ball set centre Jonathan Davies clear once again to put Williams away on a 3 v 1 overlap; demonstrating quick hands through Halfpenny it allowed winger Steff Evans to crash over in the corner on his home debut and Halfpenny added the extras for a lead of 10-7. 

The game sea sawed again after 23 absorbing minutes when second row Adam Coleman waltzed over unopposed with Rob Evans guilty of ball watching, for a converted try to see Australia lead 14-10.  The experienced Foley and half back partner Will Gena were vibrant and positive with the ball in hand putting Wales firmly on the back foot. 

Composure was needed under pressure and the go to man in the line out was back row star Shingler, who was winning ball at the front or back of the line.  One such success resulted in a penalty permitting Biggar to kick to the edge of the visitors 22 but to no avail.  In such an open and fast game, where the collisions between players was high on intensity, the difference emerged between the two nations as Australia converted their opportunities into points. 

Wales conceded a penalty after Tom Francis in the front row was penalised for not scrummaging square and the Wallabies accepted another penalty decision from New Zealand referee Glenn Jackson allowing winger Reece Hodge to thump over a monster penalty and a 17-10 lead with five minutes of the half remaining.

Halfpenny responded with a 35m penalty from in front of the posts after Ken Owens had won the ball back for his team, but Australia completed the first half scoring when some sustained drives and slick hands drew the defence allowing flanker Michael Hooper to slew over the line for a superb try, converted by Foley on the cusp of half time for his side to lead 24-13.

Optimism for the second half was held where the Dragon could roar dependent on them making key decisions to clear their lines and play in the opposition territory.  That optimism amongst the crowd was raised when Halfpenny and Faletau put Liam Williams in space and his kick took play midway into the opposition half only to see the ball lost in a tackle on Jonathan Davies. Faletau and Williams again combined on the opposite wing as Foley was putting the ball into the rooftop testing Halfpenny and Evans who fielded the bombardment with aplomb.

Biggar set up a line out from 15m after a penalty was awarded for holding the ball and after several phases of driving play Halfpenny nailed a straight forward penalty from 20m out, leaving Wales eight adrift at 24-16 with half an hour to play.

Turnover ball on halfway saw some enterprise around the hands of Rob Evans as he again sounded the battle cry for his team mates to grow in stature and play the situation which panned out before them.  A scrum free kick moved skipper Alun Wyn Jones to call for a second set piece where Faletau and Williams combined on the blindside making 30m as pressure was imposed on the visitors 22 line.  Wales were now like a pack of hounds who had found a scent and were firmly hunting for the jugular of a Wallaby side who were pinned inside their own half.

Evans grubber kick was collected by Jonathan Davies as the red tide built momentum to a chorus of hymns ‘n arias.  A penalty conceded for not rolling away saw discussion between Jones, Biggar and Halfpenny before the full back pushed his kick wide of the right hand post from just inside his own half. 

Bancyfelin born Davies was on fire, bringing his ‘Lions’ form from the summer to the banquet and he collected the restart as play returned deep into Australian terrain.

An expansive Welsh back line moved the ball at will as the halfway point of the half passed, with winger Evans, his namesake Rob and Shingler to the fore in rugby more akin to a Barbarian’s style.  On small margins games at the highest level are won and lost; full back Beale performed a sublime tackle to not only stop a flying Evans in his prime but emerge with the ball and race from his own half to score under the posts before anyone in the 70,275 could draw breath.  Foley converted for a 29-16 lead as the crowds astonishment at what they had witnessed in a match changing split second slowly dawned and their appreciation followed.

The high tempo of the game saw substitutes enter the amphitheatre and Hodge land short with a penalty from inside his own half as the time wound down to the final 15 minutes. Back came the Men of Harlech and Hooper was yellow carded with Jackson’s patience was eliminated with the build up of infringements.  From the dominant scrum Wales applied pressure through Biggar’s touch finder with eight minutes to play.  His forwards secured good line out ball to draw another penalty in front of the posts as scrum after scrum ensued in the anticipation of tasting the ‘Bread of Heaven’ from the top table.  Scrum half Davies emerged into space to make good ground only for his skipper Jones to spill the ball with the line agonisingly close.

Aled Davies came on at scrum half and fellow replacement Hallem Amos was held up just short of the line as Wales went through a plethora of moves to test the wilting golden wattle to the brink.  Biggars hopes of a quick play were called back by Jackson and from the resultant penalty ball was again secured at the line out which allowed for some enterprising handling before Amos harvested his first international since the 2015 World Cup.  Halfpenny missed the touchline conversion which would have put Wales within a score of victory and the game ended 29-21 and parity in terms of possession and territory, a startling turn around on the first half statistics.

Gatland will be pleased, if he can be in defeat where the set piece was dominant, the defence successfully making 98% of their 264 tackles but most importantly seeing his attacking options bear fruit.  In an offensive display his runners beat their man on 20 occasions and off loaded 18 times as they had a 100% success from mauls and 95% success rate at rucks, conceding just three penalties, ten less than their opponents.

The error count ultimately proved the difference for Wales between success and failure as Australia outscored them four tries to two.  To a man those Scarlets players who drew on their countries colours did themselves, their Region and nation proud, where the tourists clinical execution of turn over possession to points was key. Youngster Evans will reflect on a positive try scoring attacking display with some concern over his defensive decision making.  He will do well to remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Scarlets style of play is certainly a blueprint Gatland and his staff are embracing for the future.

Injuries to Evans plus more concerningly Lions star centre Davies may cause some player rotation before Wales take on Georgia tomorrow [2:30pm] with an eye on New Zealand the week after, coached by former Wales head honcho Steve Hanson who bring an unbeaten record stretching back 64 years.

One Scarlets player who will not be playing in these games will be New Zealand born centre Hadleigh Parkes, who is earmarked for a debut in December against South Africa.  Parks was reunited with Scarlets Head Coach Wayne Pivac when he came to Parc Y Scarlets in 2014 and he will be a beneficiary of the three year residency rule, allowing him to make his debut three years to the day from his signing for the Scarlets.

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Sport

We take life too lightly and sport too seriously

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By Jonathan Twigg

DEBATE rages in Wales at present, where rugby has infiltrated the summer domain of cricket, which has held unparalleled dominance of the summer sunshine.

There has been a culture change, whereby summer tours and early season fixtures of the traditional winter sports means earlier starts.

Look no further than next seasons football league championship season for Swansea City, starting on Saturday (Aug 5) until Sunday (May 26) 2019.

The outcry from the boundary ropes comes more about how mini ruby has become a summer sport, bulldozered through, as opposed to negotiated.

WRU figurehead in this Ryan Jones, former Wales captain and British Lion parading the paraphernalia, Cricket Wales Development Officer Keri Chahal, having face to face meetings to form common ground.

The winner, undoubtedly now rugby as their mini game is happening in front of our eyes, but has cricket lost?

Jason Roy: In action against Australia

Not looking at the participation statistics in the new ‘All Stars’ programme, where children bestowed in blue attire are bouncing around cricket fields in the sunshine, the magic there to entice the next generation.

What sells it to parents, who undoubtedly influence their siblings?  The paradox of ‘I played the game, so you must do also’ may live in both sports, but it’s more than that.

Attendances at international matches, in cricket’s case by supporting England, well the England and Wales Cricket Board side, the pathway? Saturday (Jun 16) saw them rock up in Cardiff, rugby capital of Wales, the Swalec Stadium to be precise, skirting the River Taff through Bute Park, the hosts leading a five match series against Australia 1-0.

Sell out you would think? Far from it; the Principality Stadium, bestowed with a retractable roof, unequivocally is, if Australia are the visitors, the Swalec attracted around 13,000, a fifth of their rugby rivals capacity.

Does cricket lack that panache to attract the floating spectator, often then with the family in tow?  The game has stand out stars, opening batsman Jason Roy pulverising the Aussie attack, the Richardson’s, Jhye and Kane, of no blood synchronisation, a rarity in this sport for two with the same name to be sharing the new ball. Root 66, the featured face of the cricketing market, Joe, England Captain present, alongside former Glamorgan opening bowler Alex Wharf, making his ODI debut, as an umpire.

Coloured clothing, blue against yellow for the 11am start, the Aussie public back home having a choice of watching cricket, World Cup football against France, or rugby as the Wallabies welcomed Ireland to Melbourne.

Cricket is sensational down under, the viewing figures from Saturday would make an interesting comparative, lifting some of the ‘doom and gloom’ emanating from our ‘middle England’ type dulcet tones of the cricketing ‘I know best brigade’.

Food for thought, or is it time for the Blazers and prawn sandwiches to be confined to the attic, relics of periods passed? 100 ball ‘City’ cricket is another gurus dream, not welcomed by the current ‘Blazers’, where Saturday’s game produced 102 runs for one wicket, from just a third of the games total deliveries.

Believe me, there was a following of supporters, some perhaps beer monsters, in fancy dress but the majority of paying punters here, at £65 were from a generation brought up on John Arlott, a commentator remembered with fondness, his soupy‑thick Hampshire vowels drawling “we take life too lightly and sport too seriously.”

‘Wise up or weep’ is the cry for cricket, as this game on paper had everything, including the proverbial rain, which has so impacted the winter sports programme to influence the thinking of the WRU game management board.

England’s batsman rattled up for the first time in history five consecutive 50 plus run partnerships with stand in skipper Josh Butler ‘ramping’ sixes over the wicket keepers head; text book they are not but part of the modern game as he brought up his own 50 in the forty first over, with 17 runs in five balls!

What are the indicators for success? Tactical understanding from a blooded skipper Tim Paine, Jason Roy 120, Josh Butler 91 not out and Johnny Bairstow 42, in England’s highest ever ODI total of 342-8, where the expectation nowadays is 300 plus. Certainly, making sunshine on a rainy day sings Zoe, although those in the know were drumming Mambo number 5 with a cucumber sandwich during the interval.

Australia, looking to save some grace on a day when their rugby and football comrades were dispensed made a fist of it, Maxwell striking 31 alongside Glamorgan star Shaun Marsh.

Marsh handled the pressure but the crowd sensed the game slipping into the memory bank, in the lowering sunlight, buoyed by the beach ball antics of amongst others, Baywatch, tennis players and the Smurfs who embraced the evening’s ambiance, before the jobsworth lumbered in.

Marsh passed 2000 white ball runs on his way to 131, the end coming through Roy’s match winning catch to secure the star player award as over 600 runs were chalked in the scorebook. Something was missing, no pyrotechnics from which to salivate. Down to the pitch maybe, a slow burner typifying middle England in the centre of Wales, or is the product label just too predictable.  Maybe a famous son of Yorkshire can answer that, after all he was called upon to ring the five minute ‘bell’ to signal the start of play.

That Yorkshireman; Neil Warnock; the irony, Manager of the newest Premier League football team, Cardiff City, promoted last season from the Championship, brought in for ‘iconic value’. Can the traditional sports share the space before time is called one wonders, with no frills, no fuss, depicted serenely by Arlott.

That memory is worth a toast, of his favourite Beaujolais tipple, for this is cricket as we know it, but for how much longer?

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Raiders battle hard in defeat

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West Wales Raiders        12

Hemel Stags       48

By Ian Golden at Stebonheath Park

HEMEL Stags produced their first win of the season against a West Wales Raiders side who made them fight all the way on Saturday (Jun 9).

Both teams had failed to record a victory this year before this game so something had to give, and as RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer watched from the stands, West Wales wasted their most realistic chance this season to get a win on the board, but at least they conceded less than 50 points for the first time.

It was a competitive encounter up to a point. There wasn’t a great difference in quality between the sides but Raiders, who were without influential but injured Welsh international forwards Morgan Evans and Connor Farrer, produced the most handling errors, whilst Hemel defended well and took their chances.

Raiders had the first chance to score early on. Phil Cowburn started the move with a strong run through the centre, but his pass to Brad Kislingbury was a bit short and rather than letting the ball bounce before recovering it, he knocked on and the chance was lost.

Hemel took the lead on seven minutes. A dropped ball gifted James Thornton with the try and Keiran Smith converted.

From kick-off they doubled their advantage. Jordan Fitzpatrick-Parry going in under the sticks and Smith converting.

Raiders’ luck wasn’t improving. Steve Parry looked to have grounded then was pushed back up, but the referee ruled it out.

Eventually they got a try back. Cowburn kicked a neat grubber and Harrison Elliot collected well to score under the sticks. Fraser Stroud converted.

West Wales were close to levelling the score but it was Hemel who extended their lead. After receiving a debatable forward pass, Louis Sheriff was unchallenged to run under the posts. Smith converted.

Again Raiders looked to get a try back but Nye Walker and Steve Parry were both held up over the line. Wayne Jowitt suffered the same fate at the other end, but his side did win a goal-line drop-out from the next play. From that resulting set, Paul Stamp grounded and Smith improved to give Hemel a 24-6 half-time lead.

Stamp increased Hemel’s lead further seven minutes into the second half after making a clean break to score under the posts, before going over for his hat-trick six minutes later. Smith converted both.

Handling errors continued to let Raiders down, but this time when on the attack. A good set and great passing move set up Sam Baker to dive in the corner, but the ball slipped from his grasp when going for the line.

However as soon as West Wales regained the ball, they scored. The mercurial Cowburn, surely one of the best signings Raiders have made this year, tore through the defence to score his side’s second try of the game. Stroud converted.

But it was mere respite. Smith set up the experienced Sheriff for his second of the day to bring up 40 points, before hitting the post with the goal attempt.

James Thornton was next over the line for Hemel, with Alex Williams completing the scoring two minutes from time, producing celebrations in the sheds which would have continued long into their journey north.

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Felinfoel beaten but Llangennech win again

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IN Division 1 of the South Wales Cricket Association, there were defeats for two of the three Carmarthenshire teams while the other game was abandoned.

Dafen were all out for 66 in their game at Aberdare with only Matthew Evans scoring 14 and Jeremy Dawes scoring 17.

Jac Morgan made a late score of 10 but five wickets from Nathan Spain ensured a quick dismissal for Dafen.

Gareth Wesley scored 26 for Aberdare and Luke Garthwaite finished not out on 36 to give his side an easy victory.

Bronwydd suffered defeat as they were all out for 182 in reply to Merthyr Tydfil’s score of 201-8.

Merthyr had Kerry Morgan scored 39 for his side and Andrew Murphy made the same score. Jamie Murphy scored 35.

Bronwydd’s George Gleeson scored 33 in reply and Meirion Davies added 29 runs. Oliver Furneaux top scored with 65 but that was as good as it got for Bronwydd.

Blaine Harris took six wickets for Merthyr to help his side to victory.

Llandysul’s game with Swansea Civil Service had to be abandoned because of the weather. Llandysul had made 235-8 from their 50 overs with Ben Edkins scoring 59, Andrew Edwards adding 44 and Llewelyn Hughes finishing not out on 64.

Unfortunately the rain intervened and the game was abandoned.

On Saturday, Bronwydd are at home to Aberdare, Dafen host Gowerton and Llandysul travel to Maesteg Celtic.

In Division 2, leaders Llangennech earned another victory as they beat Briton Ferry Town by 96 runs.

Llangennech scored 237-6 in their innings with David Williams scoring 30, Matthew Jones scoring 62 while Scott Lloyd finished not out on 78.

In reply, Yakoob Ali scored 25 and Neil Baggrideg added 45 for Briton Ferry while Ben Probert later scored 34.

It wasn’t enough for the Town as they were all out for 141 with Jack Williams, Bav Patel, Stephen Lloyd and Matthew Jones all taking two wickets.

Drefach suffered defeat as they were all out for 124 in reply to Baglan’s score of 221-5.

Lee Williams finished not out on 77 for Baglan and Jason Carpenter was also unbeaten on 65.

Rob Seymour top scored for Drefach with 42 and Harry McBryde added 16

Tomos Ellis-Williams scored 28 and Morgan Davies added 19 but that was as good as it got for Drefach as John O’Leary took four wickets for Baglan.

Felinfoel were also beaten despite making 195-4 in their innings. Rhys Harries scored 33 and Andrew Thomas added 41 as they made a good start.

Julian Griffiths top scored with 55 and Tom Jones was not out on 42.

In reply, a score of 89 from Craig Evans set Briton Ferry Steel on their way to victory while Steve Maddock added 44 and 17 not out from Rhodri Maddock gave the Steel the win.

On Sarturday, Drefach host Cimla, Llangennech are at home to Baglan and Felinfoel travel to Skewen.

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