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Old Gold edge past gutsy Ammanford

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CARMARTHEN Town made it through to the fourth round of the JD Welsh Cup on Saturday (Dec 2), as they beat local rivals Ammanford 3-2 in a thoroughly entertaining game.

The Old Gold made the short journey to Welsh League Division 2 side Ammanford knowing that progress in the Welsh Cup would provide a major boost to the Club at a time when Welsh Premier League performances, so far, have generally been so disappointing.

After a keenly contested match, during which fortunes swung back and forth, Town achieved exactly that aim to the delight and relief of the numerous supporters in attendance who helped generate a truly “local derby” atmosphere.

After a brief opening period of fairly unproductive midfield exchanges between the teams, the game sprang into life on 7 minutes when Luke Cummings made a powerful run along the right flank before firing a cross-field pass to Liam Thomas who cut past a defender then struck a crisp 20 yard shot that ‘keeper James Kirkwood denied with a fine full-length save.

But in the 10th minute the Old Gold, having continued to keep the home defence under pressure, took the lead when Kieran Lewis, from 25 yards, dispatched a promising free-kick that helpfully took a deflection off a defender and finished in the corner of the net.

From then on the match quickly developed into a competitive end-to-end affair with Ammanford, who seemed to be adapting to the heavy, unpredictable surface much better than the visitors who this season have been far more accustomed to playing on 3G pitches, looking especially lively going forward from midfield.

Carmarthen, however, were resisting that pressure quite comfortably with the central defensive pairing of Dave Vincent and Jordan Knott, in particular, performing with great awareness and composure.

Indeed, it was only in the 16th minute that the home side forced ‘keeper Lee Idzi into any anxious, meaningful action – Rhys Davies from wide on the right flank fired the ball high into the goalmouth but as it drifted towards the goal Idzi reacted swiftly, stretching high to turn it narrowly over the bar.

The rest of his first-half was limited to dealing with a number of crosses and corner-kicks, which Town’s experienced custodian accomplished with his customary confidence and safe handling.

However the Old Gold were still creating more chances and on 33 minutes Lewis, with another smart free-kick, saw the ball crash against the bar then bounce safely away.

Moments later he again sent a free-kick deep into the goalmouth where Vincent, rising above a pack of defenders, watched his close-range header fly just too high.

In the 39th minute they stretched their lead when, almost predictably, Lewis delivered a free-kick from wide on the left flank that reached Liam Thomas deep inside the penalty area and he instantly struck a fierce drive that left Kirkwood well-beaten.

With this goal, his 77th, Liam Thomas becomes the Old Gold’s top all-time goal scorer in all competitions surpassing the previous best, jointly achieved by Tim Hicks and Danny Thomas.

After the interval the Welsh League side immediately began playing with commendable spirit and determination as they launched a series of penetrating attacks which the Town defence struggled to contain.

Within just five minutes of the re-start they were awarded a penalty following what seemed to be a tame infringement by Kyle Bassett – Matthew Fisher stepped forward and drove the spot-kick past Idzi and into the net.

Spurred by that early success Ammanford continued to take the initiative and as the pitch began cutting-up badly they seemed to relish those conditions, while the Old Gold laboured.

Remarkably, after another spell of enterprising attacking play the hosts got back on level terms – in the 61st minute a long cross-field pass reached Fisher and he quickly threaded the ball through to Gavin Jones who raced clear into the penalty area before confidently firing home.

Carmarthen, shaken by having now lost a comfortable two-goal lead within the space of ten minutes, were now on the back foot as Ammanford pressed for a goal that would have taken them into the lead.

They felt they should have had a penalty soon after when an Ammanford player appeared to be brought down just inside the box but the referee instead awarded a free kick on the edge of the box.

The resultant free kick was blocked and Carmarthen began to strike back and put the home defence under pressure.

In the 72nd minute they regained the lead – Cummings, with a strong run and determined challenge, won possession off a defender near to the corner flag then fired a searching cross towards the goalmouth where Liam Thomas claimed the ball and swiftly struck a rasping drive that flew beyond Kirkwood’s reach and into the corner of the net.

Ammanford had no answer to that as the Old Gold proceeded to protect their lead with some solid defensive work and industrious midfield activity which starved the resolute Welsh League side of further scoring opportunities.

In fact Carmarthen produced the only genuine late chance when, on 90 minutes, Bassett burst past three defenders to reach the penalty area then drove the ball into the goalmouth where substitute Tyler Brock hit a crisp close-range shot that was blocked by a defender right in front of the goal.

So, with Town’s continuing interest in the Welsh Cup secured by this hard-earned victory, they now return to the more pressing business of WPL survival on Saturday (December 9 (k/o 2.30pm) when they entertain Llandudno at Richmond Park.

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Nuemann set to make first start for Wales

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FULLBACK Lisa Neumann will make her first start for Wales at Donnybrook this Sunday (Feb 25) (15:00) in Round Three of the Women’s Six Nations.

The 23-year-old from Pembrokeshire is the only new player in the starting line-up to face Ireland. Meanwhile, loosehead prop Cara Hope could win her first international cap from the bench.

“Lisa has been pushing hard for a place in the starting team and she deserves her opportunity this Sunday,” said Phillips, who has enjoyed the benefit of having former Wales international Gareth Wyatt coaching the backs since the start of the tournament. “We have a lot of talented back-three players in the squad, so we think Lisa will slot in well alongside Hannah Bluck and Jess Kavanagh-Williams – two players who pose threats from the wing.”

Phillips recently spoke about his team not being burdened by an “emotional hangover” from the result at the Twickenham Stoop, and insists that preparations for Ireland have been geared towards one thing. “We need to show that we’re improving in the areas that we’ve been working on this year,” said Phillips. “This will be a game between two very evenly-matched teams, and coming off the back of the last match we’re very keen to give a good account of ourselves.”

The last time both teams met in competition was during the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August – a game Wales won by 10 points at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. However, Phillips says that result won’t count for much come Sunday in Donnybrook, particularly after Ireland’s winning performance in a pre-Women’s Six Nations friendly with Wales in Ystrad Mynach earlier this year.

“Ireland were competing for a Grand Slam going into the final game of the competition last year, so we know how much of a strong team they are. The World Cup was a bit of an anomaly for them, so they’ve had a point to prove since then.

“They’ve got a lot of new personnel across the board, but the team is settled and experienced. It’s up for us to  show what we’re about as a team. We’ll certainly be prepared for a hugely competitive match in front of a boisterous Irish crowd this Sunday.”

Wales Women team to face Ireland:

15 Lisa Neumann (Scarlets)

14 Hannah Bluck (Cardiff Blues)

13 Kerin Lake (Ospreys)

12 Rebecca De Filippo (Dragons)

11 Jess Kavanagh-Williams (RGC)

10 Elinor Snowsill (Dragons)

9 Rhiannon Parker (Cardiff Blues)

1 Caryl Thomas (Scarlets)

2 Carys Phillips (c) (Ospreys)

3 Amy Evans (Ospreys)

4 Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys)

5 Mel Clay (Ospreys)

6 Alisha Butchers (Scarlets)

7 Beth Lewis (Scarlets)

8 Sioned Harries (Scarlets)

Replacements

16 Kelsey Jones (Ospreys)

17 Cara Hope (Ospreys)*

18 Meg York (Dragons)

19 Natalia John (Ospreys)

20 Nia Elen Davies (Scarlets)

21 Jade Knight (Scarlets)

22 Robyn Wilkins (Ospreys)

23 Hannah Jones (Scarlets)

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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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