By Jonathan Twigg, photos by Sue Bows
HENDY remained top of the Division 2 West table with a bonus point 28-17 victory over Carmarthen Athletic, in the only league game to survive the weather on Saturday (Mar 3).
In a year which will see them celebrate their 125th Anniversary Season with a gala dinner at the Strady Park Hotel on Saturday (June 1) promotion remains a priority for the coaching team of Dorian Jones, Chris Morgan and the Shingler brothers, Aaron and Steven.
The icing on the cake would be to pip challengers Whitland to the title, their showdown game scheduled for Saturday (May 5) at Hendy but there is a lot of rugby to be played before that date.
The micro climate that hovered over the village on Saturday allowed the aptly named groundsman Steve ‘Snowy’ Williams to perform wonders in ensuring the game was played. The ground resembled conditions akin to an early season friendly, the pitch able to take a stud but was hard in places.
Snowy, a local landscape gardener had his work cut out to maintain the surface to allow it to go ahead, after close dialogue with Llangennach based referee Jack Boswell and East Wales based match referee Lee Gibbs.
The Beast from the East certainly wasn’t Gibbs and once the game was under way the home side broke the deadlock through centre Josh Davies, who benefitted from the silky hands of full back Jake Newman putting him into space to score under the posts.
Versatile player Josh Batcup, playing at outside half as regular Rhydian Morris was unable to travel due to the snow in Cardiff slotted over the conversion. The move started with off the top line out ball from second row Rhodri Hughes who alongside prop Ben Batcup had outstanding games, not only at the set piece but also around the park with their tackling and tracking back.
Such play was reminiscent of former flanker Max Easey who tragically passed away recently, the two sides showing impeccable respect for his life before kick-off, the first opportunity Hendy have had to pull on the ‘jersey’ in seven weeks to acknowledge such an emotional tribute.
Athletic full back Robbie Thomas skated over to equalise the scores after winger Tom Gravell kicked the conversion, before Newman intercepted the ball on the ten metre line to race clear and just manage to touchdown despite pressure from his opposite number Thomas.
Gravell kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit to two points at 12-10 before the well drilled home set piece set up two more tries from driving line outs. Hughes was again the key component in the tries, the first to boiler house partner Ashley Banford and the second to live wire flanker Matthew Wotherspoon to establish a 22-10 half time lead.
The Athletic scored the only try of the second half through Marcus Francis-Curtis converted by Gravell to bring the game back within a score, which was a just reward for the physical and direct play from the red and blacks.
Hendy skipper Chris Bowen had led his side well in the second half, kicking for touch to set up the game deep in the opposition half and capitalising on the mistakes made, eventually opting for two long range penalties from Newman to ensure the victory.
Guest speaker Scott Quinnell will have a lot to talk about at the gala dinner and the situation surrounding the only game to be played, although the Athletic are no strangers to being involved in games when everything else is postponed. In 1985 their fixture survived the frost as did the only other game played involving Cardiff RFC.
Chris Morgan, Hendy coach said: “We are delighted with the result, with the conditions difficult, with the hard ground and late afternoon rain making it difficult for the players. We have kept the players spirits high but missing games for such a long period was bound to leave us rusty.
“Opportunities arose in the second half, but we didn’t capitalise on the territory we had fought for, especially as the Athletic were tenacious at the breakdown and probably edged the play on the gain line.”
Hendy make the trip to Llanybydder on Saturday (Mar 10), whom they defeated in the reverse fixture 38-6. Morgan has an ‘expectation for another physical encounter, against a side whose bottom of the table position doesn’t give a true reflection of their ability’.
The Athletic meanwhile welcome local rivals Tumble to Ystrad Fields hoping to record a double over the Magpies after the 24-13 victory in November and in doing so consolidate their position in the top four with six games of the season remaining.
Half-century for Caryl Thomas against France
CARYL Thomas will win her 50th Wales cap in this Friday’s Women’s Six Nations match against table-toppers France in Colwyn Bay (18:00).
The loosehead from Carmarthenshire made her international debut against Ireland in 2006, and is part of an unchanged front row to face the Grand Slam-chasing French at Stadiwm ZipWorld.
Wales’ starting XV is unchanged following Sunday’s Principality Stadium loss to Italy. Five players named in Team Wales’ Commonwealth Games sevens squad earlier this week are named in that line-up: fullback Hannah Jones, wing Jaz Joyce, fly-half Elinor Snowsill, flanker Alisha Butchers and number eight Sioned Harries.
Head coach Rowland Phillips says: “We know we’re playing against the best team in the competition. We’ve got to meet their physicality. It’s an outstanding test for us, and to get something out of this game we need all the near-misses and fine margins that have affected us to this point to go our way this time.
“If we can capitalise on some of the opportunities we’ll be looking to create, we can challenge one of the best teams in the women’s game in front of what will be a strong crowd in Colwyn Bay.”
The game is part of a Wales v France double-header, with the U20 Six Nations match kicking off in Stadiwm ZipWorld at the later time of 20:15.
Wales Women team to face France
15 Hannah Jones (Scarlets)
14 Jaz Joyce (Scarlets)
13 Kerin Lake (Ospreys)
12 Robyn Wilkins (Ospreys)
11 Jess Kavanagh-Williams (RGC)
10 Elinor Snowsill (Dragons)
9 Keira Bevan (Ospreys)
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 Bethan Lewis (Scarlets)
8 Sioned Harries (Scarlets)
16 Kelsey Jones (Ospreys)
17 Gwenllian Pyrs (RGC)
18 Cerys Hale (Dragons)
19 Natalia John (Ospreys)
20 Nia Elen Davies (Scarlets)
21 Jade Knight (Scarlets)
22 Lisa Neumann (Scarlets)
23 Alecs Donovan (Ospreys)
Joyce named in sevens squad for Commonwealths
ST Davids’ Jasmine Joyce has been named in the women’s sevens squad that will represent Team Wales in next month’s Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Five of the 12-player squad are currently involved in Wales’ Women’s Six Nations campaign: Alisha Butchers, Sioned Harries, Hannah Jones, Jaz Joyce (all Scarlets), and Elinor Snowsill (Dragons). The ‘One Programme’ approach taken by Wales Women has allowed certain players to spend time in both sevens and 15s camps this season.
Head coach Nick Wakley has the benefit of a number of leaders in his squad: the experienced Philippa Tuttiett, captain of Cardiff Blues; two members of the Armed Forces in Army Rugby Union captain Gemma Rowland and the RAF’s Sian Williams (both Dragons); and Shona Powell-Hughes (Ospreys), who won the most recent of her 46 caps in last year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup,
Powell-Hughes is one of a quartet of players with over 40 caps to their name, along with Butchers, Harries and Snowsill, for what is women’s sevens’ first appearance in the Games in its 88-year existence.
Other sevens specialists selected include Sinead Breeze and Laurie Harries, with Kayleigh Powell (Ospreys) the youngest in the side at 18 years of age.
The sevens will be held at the 27,500-capacity Robina Stadium from 13th-15th April. Team Wales have been drawn in a competitive Pool B with Australia, Fiji and England.
The Wales Women squad acquainted themselves with the conditions on the Gold Coast by participating in Brisbane’s Super 7s competition in early February. Before that, they were in action in Dubai’s invitational competition in December.
Nick Wakley, Women’s Sevens head coach, said: “We’re very excited and honoured to be representing Team Wales next month. In regards to the ‘One Programme’ approach through the Women’s Six Nations campaign, Commonwealth Games and World Series Qualifier prep, we have had our players exposed to international rugby week in, week out.
“We have been building up to these tournaments for two years and we have developed a real mental toughness which will be tested in the two weeks post-Six Nations to get us back up to speed. It is a real credit to all of the players’ commitment and dedication that they find themselves in these huge global tournaments which could go a long way towards sculpting the environment for the next generation of Welsh women rugby players.”
Helen Phillips, Chair of the Commonwealth Games Wales Board, said: “Congratulations to all the players who have made it to the final squad for Gold Coast. It’s excellent to have such a strong Team Wales squad heading to Australia for what will be the first time ever women’s rugby sevens tournament in the history of the Commonwealth Games.”
She added: “Women’s rugby in Wales has seen a huge growth over the past few years, and we congratulate the WRU for all the development work that’s been done to put the Welsh squad in such a strong position to qualify for Gold Coast 2018.”
Prior to travelling to the Gold Coast, the same squad will compete in the Hong Kong Sevens (6th-8th April) as Wales Women seek to qualify for next year’s World Rugby Sevens Series.
Team Wales Women’s Sevens: Alisha Butchers; Elinor Snowsill; Gemma Rowland; Hannah Jones; Jasmine Joyce; Kayleigh Powell; Laurie Harries; Philippa Tuttiett (c); Shona Powell-Hughes; Sian Williams; Sinead Breeze; Sioned Harries.
Joyce stars as Wales beaten by Italy
WALES’ Women were beaten by Italy on Sunday (Mar 11), in front of a crowd of just over 11,000 fans at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
It was the visitors who opened the scoring as Isabella Locatelli ran over for the try which Beatrice Rigoni converted.
St Davids’ own Jaz Joyce was back in the fold having been with the Wales 7s team out in Australia but she showed no signs of jetlag as she made a bursting run to put the home side in a good position.
Hannah Jones also went on a good run and after she was brought down, Italy were guilty of an infringement and Robyn Wilkins sent the resulting penalty through the posts to reduce the gap.
Another good move involving Alisha Butchers, Elinor Snowsill, Wilkins and Kerin Lake came to an end as Italy defended well.
Butchers then passed to Lake who juggled the ball, doing well to keep hold of it, before passing to Jones who was held up just before the line. They kept at it and it was Butchers who made her way over to put the home side into the lead. Wilkins then sent the conversion wide but Wales led 8-7.
Joyce then picked the ball up inside the Wales 22 and beat two players and was only halted by the third just past the half way line.
Italy won the ball back and Manuela Furlan found Maria Magatti who made her way over for their second try to put them back in front. Rigoni’s kick looked to be going over but it fell just short of the posts and that was the end of the first half.
Ten minutes into the second half the Italians increased their lead as Rigoni went over for a try in the corner but she couldn’t add the conversion and the visitors held an 8-17 lead.
Just past the hour mark Butchers was given a yellow card for a tip tackle but much to their credit, they did not concede any points during that period.
Joyce again showed what she could do with another powerful run but she was brought down. Alecs Donovan also made a good burst through before winning a penalty for her side.
Wales were forced to bring Joyce off for a head injury assessment and fellow Pembrokeshire woman Lisa Neumann was brought on in her place.
With seven minutes to go Wales finally made the breakthrough as Sioned Harries picked up the ball and touched down in the right corner and Wilkins added the extras to bring Wales to within two points of Italy.
Italy hit back and put the pressure on as they kicked to into the 22 before the ball bounced out. Wales looked to play out of their own 22 but dropped the ball only to win it back again moments later.
However, Harries was then given a yellow card meaning her match was over and Wales would finish with 14 women on the field.
Thankfully for Wales, Joyce was ok and she was brought back onto the field for the remaining minutes.
With three minutes to go Italy worked the ball out wide and Michela Sillari made her way over for the try despite the best efforts of Joyce to stop her. Sillari then sent the conversion wide and Italy led 22-15 with little time left to play.
Wales were unable to find a way back despite their best efforts but they did earn a losing bonus point for being within one score.
Defeat for Wales is their third of the season while Italy celebrated their first win in nine Six Nations matches.
Wales may be fifth in the table but they could still have a say in who wins the title in the final round of fixtures.
On Friday (Mar 16), Wales take on leaders France knowing that a win could open the door for England to win the title, should they beat Ireland on the same day.
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