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Scarlets soar into European Cup Semis

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Report by Jon Twigg, photos by Darren Harries

SUCH a magnificent occasion on Friday (Mar 30), a Quarter Final of the Heinekein European Cup in the depth of West Wales at Parc Y Scarlets, French giants, metaphorically and physically La Rochelle in town; reminiscent of King William in 1066, to conquer, greeted by a capacity 16,000 natives.

A warm message of welcome from European Rugby’s Chairman Simon Halliday, a flying England winger from the last millennium his roots stretched with longevity to his birth place, Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire.

Like King William, having conquered the struggle for La Rochelle was to consolidate their assets, something they failed to do after securing an early 7-3 lead after six minutes, through a converted try by second row Romain Sazy.

Full back Leigh Halfpenny had struck with not five minutes played, a penalty for offside and reduced the lead a minute after the western based side on the Bay of Biscay’s touchdown, with an immaculate reproduction, this time from just inside his opponent’s half.

The Scarlets are a team of Samson Lees, the props uncompromising style making him a fans favourite, anchoring the choral Hymns and Arias at crescendo level. Prop Uini Atonio was stopped in his tracks likewise number 8 Afa Amosa, the Scarlets also winning the crucial first engagement at the scrum set piece, against a heavyweight eight, looking then to play their open game.

‘Try of the round in this seasons Champions Cup for the Scarlets’ Halliday had pronounced, not once but on two occasions. That is no mean feat looking at the quality on show in this seasons tournament, where Wayne Pivac’s charges have a skills set to crunch the shells of any snail in its way; able to up their game to push unseen boundaries making the Easter date of 2018 on par with 1066 for notability.

The fringes were rough and ready, robust tackling and yardage measured in centimetres on the gain line, drawing a mistake, Halfpenny obliging on 17 minutes for a 9-7 lead. Enter a new gladiator, Pontyberem junior Josh Mcloed to the amphitheatre for an injured Paul Asquith, feeding the crowd their ‘bread of heaven’ destructive if the truck and trailer before them, which would last all through the night.

Second row David Bullring dominated the front of the line out, scrum half Gareth Davies afforded time and space to punctuate holes and Ospreys bound centre Scott Williams darting arrow like after 25 minutes, Welsh international Halfpenny, a former adversary with Toulon, majestic going four from four.

‘Freestyle’ rugby witnessed in the cauldron a throwback to the ‘billy can’ victories over Bath at the Rec and Toulon acted as catalysts, the home side with a full complement internationals back in harness, awash with history from eleven years ago, Munster the fall guys, hooker Ken Owens the only player to have witnessed such an occasion before.

Kiwi centre Hadleigh Parkes couldn’t release a scoring pass as the outside cover closed in the twilight, the crowd aware that the breeze would favour the home side in the second half. Rhys Patchell at outside half was dictating direction as players lay strewn across the hallowed turf, the intensity of the conflict taking its toll, with scrum half Alexi Bales slotting a penalty on the half time whistle, his second successful kick for score of 12-10.

Man of the match Owens, an unbloodied hero took not one step back, leading his forwards into the mix in the second half, Aaron Shingler and Tadgh Beirne standing like beacons atop of Snowdon. Crammed to the rafters, the atmosphere electric the crowd played their part as the visiting juggernaut was stopped in its tracks as the Dragon roared fire. Puff the magic dragon, lived by the sea but in this case, unlike little boys, the Dragon would live long as the air from the Lougor estuary built mountains of men. Halfpenny stretched the lead, centre Arthur Retiere sensing his team needed some gusto cleverly built a pathway to the Scarlets line, as his side searched a first victory away from home in 2018.

The penalty count rose quickly, the Scarlets defence holding firm, as did English referee Luke Pearce issuing warnings as try scorer Sazy catch and drive was stopped, wave after wave of French delivery succumbing and the Scarlets, who released the tension as Davies quick tap and go took play over the halfway line.

‘Escargots’ are usually served as a starter in France and it was the dynamic home back row who broke this snails shell, as the definition suggests ‘eating them alive’ a slow and absorbing feast, garlic emanating from within the broken mollusc.

Expensive these French snails maybe, both as a delicacy where 500,000,000 are consumed annually and from their bank role, which saw centre Pierrre Aguillon and Steve Barry wear their black coloured jersey. Snails, 80% water and 15% protein are easily consumed from the tongue, but beware of a marine cone snail, able to paralyse a fish instantly; a new nickname perhaps for the newest Welsh cap James Davies, Cubby now anything but a young fox, developing a name in his own right.

The final quarter saw Carmarthen Quins former star Dan Jones replace Steff Evans, the back line were ‘mustard’ as the diminutive youngster plays with a Gaelic flamboyance. Beirne set a driving maul from the line out, Parkes made a 20 metre break and Patchell, now at full back strode over before Halfpenny, with no nerves and his side led by twelve points at 22-10.

Beirne was a culprit as the visitors tactics of five metre line outs were stopped illegally, referee Pearce lenient, before heroic defence saw the lines cleared, the crowd restored to full voice. Inexplicably Halfpenny blotted his copybook after Bullring and replacement Werner Kruger dug deep the game in its final throws of glory.

The French side were unable to invade Scarlets territory, Owens and Parkes making headway before McLoed burnt a furrow on the touchline, Williams taking up the mantle, crossing from 25 metres unopposed, Halfpenny resumed normal service and the party in the park bellowed loud and clear.

The final score, at 29-17, a length of the field consolation try from replacement Pierre Boudehent secured the Scarlets place in the European Champions Cup semi-final, as Glynneath’s President Max Boyces signature tune danced the yellow brick road.

Following the other quarter finals, Scarlets will now play Leinster in Dublin’s Aviva stadium on Saturday (April 21), the heart and soul of Llanelli left many a head ‘felinfoel’ the following day. Rest assured, Llanelli and the whole region are ‘quite alright’ as they entertain Glasgow Warriors on Saturday (Apr 7), no thought yet of the semi-final date with destiny.

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Sport

Swans still sweet on Premier League survival

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By Jonathan Twigg

SWANSEA’s clamber through the trials and tribulations of the Premier League can be compared to that of a child running amok in a sweet shop, so many tantalising favourites to devour, with the occasional reminder that not all sweets are sweet.

A retro walk down the Bridge Meadow Lane would have taken a child past the shop run by Connie Clarke, renowned for her welcome on the bell clanging. Supporters of Haverfordwest County and their opponents on match day, welcomed with few words but with the knowledge her confectionary delights never failed to deliver.

Following Saturday’s (Apr 14) 1-1 draw with Everton, who arrived without former Swans stars Ashley Williams and Gylfi Sigurdsson in their line-up, supporters left knowing the sweet taste of success held by the Premier League is still within their grasp.

With two of the bottom three to visit the Liberty in the final week of the season this point is one gained in search of extending their Premier League status to an eighth season, although manager Carlos Carvalhal nearly led his side to five consecutive home wins, something no other manager has done since the heady days of John Toshack in 1981.

Swansea welcomed Jordan Ayew back from a three game suspension to partner elder brother Andre as Bolton based referee Lee Mason began the game in front of 20,933, the returning brother setting the tone alongside Andy King at a sun drenched Liberty Stadium.

Carvalhal has worked some magic since his arrival on the cusp of Christmas, tactically leaving opposite number former England supremo Sam Allerdyce to venture to the touchline with his pocket ball side kick Sammy Lee to stem the tide; the blues were overrun in midfield, Jordan Ayew having a wonderful chance cleared off the line as was captain Frederico Fernadez header from the resultant corner, before Andre’s sight of goal was saved by England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Alfie Mawson has grown to be imperial at the back for the Swans, attracting the interest of Manchester United, one of those mints that the longer you savour, the better it lingers. Luciano Narsingh however can be likened more to a quickly dissolving peppermint cream, releasing the taste with speed, rousing the Jack Army with an immediate hit, succulent whilst it lasts, inspiring the Swans to drive forward.

Former England captain Wayne Rooney had one of those games, like an aniseed ball, many unable to relish his taste as he left his mark, literally with some raking tackles; his class, undoubted, when it finally came to the fore.

An opening goal came with the aid of goal line technology, just before half time, Lucas Fabianski brilliantly making a double save from Bolasie, before a ricochet off Kyle Naughton and a half time lead, Fabianski thankfully however saving from Cenk Tosun a minute later.

Jordan became the first recipient of a yellow card in the second half, substitute Nathan Dyer creating a stir as the game went up by a level with a sugar surge, the vocal chords tingled with honey from a locket, in the form of striker Tammy Abraham’s arrival.

Full backs McNaughton and Martin Olsson created chances, Tom Carroll serving buckets of sweet balls, to no avail; Dyer driving forward over from twenty yards, Abraham and the Ayews creating half chances, Mawson’s header cleared off the line before the full quarter was served, Jordan levelling the game with a right foot half volley.

The final fifteen minutes rocked the stadium once more, after dinner mints were all Swansea’s, although Seamus Coleman thundered a shot against the woodwork, Abraham missed a gilt edged opportunity at the other end, whilst a tall and well positioned defensive wall directed Rooney’s set piece opportunity over the bar.

Extra strong mints were needed, alas unavailable as the toffees held firm, not fudging their lines with Beni Baningime taking a yellow card for the team, the games conclusion seeing a share of the spoils.

Carvalhal’s magic stars will have to be at their best to out fox and unwrap three points on Sunday (Apr 22) when opponents Manchester City will have champagne liquor chocolates on hand, having been crowned Premier League champions.

Swansea then have the opportunity to welcome Chelsea to ‘fortress’ Liberty the week after; wispa it quietly, as many have their eyes on the final weeks’ trio of games, starting with a trip to the South Coast in search of the bounty available at Dean Park, Bournemouth, before a starburst performance at home to Southampton on the Tuesday and Stoke City for a final day picnic. There can be no wine gums on show, just the everlasting gobstopper which is Premier League football.

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Sport

Super Reds reach Cup final

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Report by Alan Evans

LLANELLI Town have their sights firmly fixed on another double to emulate the achievement of last season, as they currently top the league table and look favourites for the title, while they are also through to the Welsh League Cup final, a trophy they won in 2016/17, after comfortably seeing off Cwmbran Celtic at Afan Lido’s Marston’s Stadium in the semi-final on Tuesday (Apr 10).

A dire first half seemed to consist solely of how far downfield either team could send the ball, although the Reds looked the more likely to score in the few chances which were created.

When Chris Jones swung a corner into the goalmouth, Ryan Fleming in the Celtic goal punched it clear where it rebounded off Joe Clarke and then another Reds player before ending in a harmless goal kick.

Chris Thomas brought off a saving tackle on Josh Bull when the Celtic striker threatened to break up the middle, before Kurtis March glanced a header wide from close in from another Jones delivery.

When a loose pass by Jones intended for Antonio Facciuto was instead intercepted by Callum Wakeham, he made ground into the Reds` box, but some good defending snuffed out the danger.

Celtic then suffered a blow when Bull was forced off injured on 38 minutes to be replaced by Lloyd Kinsella, and when Simon Prangley picked out Iolo Jones wide on the Celtic left, he whipped a ball across the face of the goal before it was gathered safely by Craig Morris.

The second half had to be an improvement on the first, and so it turned out with the Reds, at least, displaying some modicum of a passing game, with Lee Trundle accepting a ball from Jones only to see his finish cleared off the line.

James Loveridge, with a surging run, forced Luke Jones to concede a corner taken by Trundle, whose delivery to the far post was met by Lee Bevan who powered his header past Fleming on 56 minutes to put the Reds ahead.

Ten minutes later, March played a pass into the feet of Trundle whose instant reaction to meet it left the Celtic keeper helpless as it nestled in the bottom corner.

Now totally in control, the Reds were looking capable of adding to their lead, with Loveridge forcing Fleming to turn his well struck shot around the post, before the tie was finally wrapped up six minutes from time when Trundle got his brace, picking up a long clearance from Morris before making room and firing into the net.

There was still time for Loveridge to see his finish pushed over by the Celtic keeper, but the Reds ran out worthy winners and now face either Pontypridd Town or Trefelin BGC in the final on Friday, May 18, at a venue still to be decided.

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Laugharne too good for Quins

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LAUGHARNE now sit third in League 3 West A after they beat Pembroke Dock Quins 55-10 on Saturday (Mar 31), before beating St Davids 10-49 on Easter Monday (Apr 2).

Saturday’s game was well orchestrated by Outside Half Stefan Evans and it was he who opened up the scoring for the afternoon after 10 minutes when he cut through the Quins defence to score close to the Posts. He then converted himself to put his side 7 points up.

The Quins at this stage were matching their bigger and more experienced opponents with the whole pack especially showing full commitment. It was the Quins who were next on the scoresheet with a well worked try for No 8 Harry Owen, as he showed some neat footwork before scoring halfway out, Full Back Lewis Davies pushed his conversion narrowly wide.

Laugharne soon responded with two quick fire tries from Full Back Thomas Davies, Stefan Evans converted both and for good measure kicked a penalty with the last kick of the half to send his side in with a 5-24 lead.

The Quins were under more pressure as the second half started as they were finding it more and more difficult to handle Stefan Evans as they attacked at every opportunity.

On 55 minutes Scrum Half Gethin Jones scored the all-important Bonus Point try which was converted by Stefan Evans. No 8 Mike Williams soon followed with a fine try in the corner which was converted by Stefan Evans with a magnificent kick.

Right Wing Gareth Spiers and Gethin Jones soon added two more tries with the latter being converted by Stefan Evans.

Tom Davies rounded off his sides’ scoring by completing his hat trick for the afternoon, Stefan Evans stroked over his seventh conversion of the afternoon to end with a match haul of 22 Points.

Young Left Winger Will Nicot finished off the Quins’ best move of the Match with a fine unconverted try in the corner with just five minutes left.

The Quins ended the game on the attack and were unlucky not to grab a third try, which spoke volumes for the effort and spirit that the Quins’ young side put in.

Laugharne will look to keep their good run of form going as they travel back to Pembrokeshire on Saturday (Apr 7), to take on a Neyland side buoyed by their last gasp win over Cardigan last weekend.

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