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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

Old Gold made to work for win

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CARMARTHEN progressed to the Fourth Round of the Welsh Cup with an ultimately comfortable victory over Goytre United on Saturday (Dec 8) – but they were made to work hard for that achievement by the competitive Welsh League side and only secured success thanks to three moments of clinical finishing by experienced strikers Luke Bowen and Liam Thomas.

United almost took an early lead when after only 4 minutes Joe Hopkins produced a speculative long-range shot that skidded unpredictably off the saturated turf, catching Lee Idzi by surprise and forcing the experienced ‘keeper to bundle the ball clumsily around the post.

From thereon the match quickly developed into a fast-paced, end-to-end affair although, with both defences looking quite secure, no further early scoring chances arose until the 16th minute when the Old Gold went ahead after a brief spell of pressure.  Luke Cummings fired a searching corner-kick into the crowded goalmouth where Bowen arrived with perfect timing to plant his close-range header past ‘keeper Luke Martin and into the back of the net.

Goytre immediately responded with a series of spirited counter-attacks but Town’s experienced and well-established back-line of Lee Surman, Dave Vincent and Jordan Knott were, as so often in recent games, in commanding form and capably resisted any serious threat to their goal – and directly ahead of them, industrious midfielders Mael Davies, Greg Walters, Cummings and Declan Carroll eagerly provided a further valuable layer of defensive support whenever necessary.  Consequently, Idzi was never really tested again during this period.

Meanwhile Carmarthen’s strikers were always an available outlet, willingly using their pace and mobility to keep the home defenders fully occupied – and on 35 minutes they went close to extending their lead when, after a slick interchange of passes with Bowen on the edge of the penalty area, Sean Hanbury released a rasping strike that Martin, diving swiftly down at full length, resisted.

In the 41st minute the Old Gold were successful.  Cummings, an increasingly influential figure in midfield, surged forward from the centre-circle before producing a sublime pass that set Thomas racing towards the penalty area and Town’s all-time top scorer completed this incisive move with his customary composure, smartly driving the ball beyond Martin’s reach and into the corner of the net.

After the interval the same pattern of end-to-end football soon emerged but the pace of the game had noticeably quickened with United pouring forward at every opportunity, clearly intent on reducing the deficit.  However the Old Gold defence again comfortably withstood that early pressure – moreover, from those positions, deep inside their own half, they were frequently able to launch rapid counter-attacks.

On 74 minutes Carmarthen further increased their lead in just that fashion.  The ball was played out of defence to Hanbury who moved forward along the left flank before firing a long cross deep into the penalty area where Bowen, with impressive anticipation of the scoring opportunity,  created the time and space to power another close-range header into the net leaving Martin well beaten.

Goytre, stung by that further setback, immediately swarmed upfield and soon went close to reducing the deficit when Hopkins, from 25 yards, struck a promising drive that drew a fine save from Idzi, diving low at full stretch to turn the ball around the post.

Then on 77 minutes Rhodri Cole, from near the left touchline, delivered an inviting free-kick into the packed goalmouth but saw Adam Jenkins direct his close-range header just wide of the goal.

The Old Gold, with some rapid counter-attacking, were still posing a serious threat at the other end of the pitch.  After 81 minutes Walters moved in from the left-wing and, from the corner of the penalty area, released a stunning angled volley that Martin, with a spectacular flying save, turned past the far post.

The exhilarating end-to-end pattern of play continued to the end of the match.  In the 89th minute Hanbury, enjoying possibly his best performance for Town since he joined the club at the start of this season, made ground along the left touchline then lifted a huge cross-field pass that reached Bowen on the right-wing – he, in turn, fired the ball across the goalmouth where Hanbury, having enthusiastically continued his run, sadly managed only a weak shot that Martin easily gathered.

Then in added time at the end of 90 minutes a corner from United substitute Zac Brown reached Thomas Doidge in the goalmouth but from a good position he wastefully sent his looping header over the bar.

This was a highly satisfactory performance by Carmarthen playing away from home against a very capable Welsh League side (that included several former WPL players in its squad), and on a pitch made increasingly difficult by poor weather conditions which was in complete contrast to the 3G surfaces which they have regularly encountered so far this season – all the ingredients for a typical Cup upset were there but, thankfully, overcome by the Old Gold.

For their next fixture Town return to League action when they entertain Barry Town United at Richmond Park on Friday, December 14, k/o 7.30pm.

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Llangennech hold off Crymych charge

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LLANGENNECH secured their seventh victory of the season on Saturday (Dec 8) but only after they withstood a late Crymych fightback to win 27-24.

Llangennech started the game well and held a 17-5 lead at half time with Brandon Wood getting himself on the score sheet again.

Richard Thomas and Rhys Davies also went over for the home side while Wood was successful with one conversion.

Nick Bevan replied for Crymych to keep his side in the game going into the break.

In the second half Wood added his second try of the game which he converted and he later added a penalty to seemingly put the game out of Crymych’s reach.

Photo by Darren Harries

Crymych had other ideas though as Iwan Mullin and Guto Davies both went over for tries while Ifan Phillips added two conversions.

Llywellyn Rees also scored for the visitors but the conversion was missed and Crymych were only three points down with some time left to play.

Try as they might they were unable to find a winning score as Llangennech held on for the win.

Crymych’s late surge ensured they would earn a bonus point for their four tries and another point for being within a score of their opponents, all of which could prove crucial come the end of the season.

On Saturday (Dec 15), Llangennech will go in search of another win as they make the long journey up to Aberystwyth. Crymych will look to bounce back as they take on Tenby United at Heywood Lane.

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Spirited Blues knocked out by Aber

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CWMAMMAN United bowed out of the JD Welsh Cup on Saturday (Dec 8), as they were beaten 4-3 by Aberystwyth Town at Grenig Park.

It took a late pitch inspection by the match officials to deem this cup tie on but in the end the match officials were proved correct and a real old fashioned cup tie ensued.

Both teams were keen to play and the crowd were treated to a seven-goal thriller.

Aberystwyth Town were always the favourites to win this game and they were on the front foot from the kick off.

As early as the 12th minute Aber striker Ashley Ruane rounded Blues’ keeper Chris Curtis but side footed his shot wide of the goal.

A few minutes later Aber captain Declan Walker forced a good save from Curtis.

After 20 minutes Aber got the goal that their attacking play deserved and a pin point cross by Matthew Jones found his team mate Porya Ahmadi who as unmarked and the striker controlled his shot well and hit the ball into the back of the Cwm net, 0-1.

Cwmamman’s never gave up attitude was there in abundance for all to see and the game became more of an open affair.

With 37 minutes gone Aber striker Ashley Ruane rounded Curtis again and had his effort cleared off the line.

Two minutes later Cwm played themselves down to the Aber end and from a resulting corner the visitors failed to clear the cross and  Cwm’s James Bryan finally poked the ball into the back of the Aber net to level the score 1-1.

Photo by Darren Harries

The half time whistle blew and it was Cwmamman who were buoyant as they headed for their half time pep talk.

Aberystwyth would have been a little disappointed that they hadn’t capitalised on their first half chances.

The second half was only two minutes old when a cross found the head of Ashley Ruane who powered his header into the roof of the Cwm net, 1-2.

Less than 10 minutes later it was that man again, Ashley Ruane who added the visitors’ third goal despite appeals from the home defence, 1-3.

Several minutes later the same player Ashley Ruane grabbed his hat trick as Cwm had failed to clear a thunderous shot that had rattled the Cwm crossbar and Ruane did the rest to make it 1-4 to Aber.

For most this would have been game set and match. But this Cwm team didn’t give up the cause.

Cwm responded and within three minutes they had won a free kick some 30 yards out from the Aber goal and a well-rehearsed move ended with a cross into the Aber box which was headed into the back of the net by Blues striker Chrissy Allen, 2-4.

With time running out Cwm were dominating the last 14 minutes of this cup tie and it took a fine save from Aber keeper Terry McCormick to deny Cwm a third goal.

But hold the back page as Cwm weren’t finished and continued to push forward and it was defender James Bryan who had been pushed forward from defence who found a gap in the Aber defence and found himself in a one on one with the Aber keeper.

James Bryan kept his nerve and despite a hand from Aber keeper Terry McCormick couldn’t stop the shot from going into the net off the inside of the post to make it 3-4.

With minutes to go it was Aber taking the ball to the corners to run down the clock.

Cwmamman’s players to a man had tried hard for the equaliser but as the referee’s whistle blew it was the visitors Aberystwyth who were celebrating but there were lots of tired players on both sides after a gruelling encounter on an energy sapping pitch.

On balance of chances in this game then Aberystwyth deserved to progress to the next round of the JD Welsh Cup and certainly avoided this potential banana skin but make no mistake that this Cwmamman team are a quality outfit and showed their Premier League opponents why they are in the top half of their division.

Aberystwyth Town Manager Neville Powell was obviously very pleased to be in the next round of the cup but very complimentary about the Cwmamman team in his post-match comments.

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