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.
Under strength Raiders beaten
By Sian Golden at Stebonheath Park
IF anything showed up the farcical registration rules inflicted by the RFL, it was Keighley’s club record win on Saturday (Sept 15).
Ordinarily a 112-6 rout would be celebrated, but West Wales were only able to field 12 fit players and after frustrating red and yellow cards, were down to 10 by the end of the game.
There are Welsh players who would have turned out, and perhaps the RFL should allow clubs to register community lads, who have never played professionally, to make up the numbers?
New Raiders coach Kim Williams arrives this week and his presence is much needed. It’s been a long season in Llanelli and, as plenty of arguing showed during the game, it’s a camp which needs a boost and fast.
Raiders held out for three minutes before Andy Gabriel caught Benn Hardcastle’s kick to score in the corner. Hardcastle converted.
Cameron Leeming tore through the defence to ground the second try with another expert Hardcastle sideline kick.
A short kick-off led to the third as Dan Parker raced down the wing, the fourth came from a catch by Emmerson Whittell from a high kick by Hardcastle, who converted, before another short kick-off led to the fifth, this one scored by Ritchie Hawkyard and converted by Hardcastle.
Jose Kenga was next over, Leeming got his second, and James Feather scored a length of the field try. Three more Hardcastle goals made the score 46-0 on 25 minutes.
The biggest round of applause came on 33 minutes when Raiders finally broke their duck with an Alan Pope scramble to the line. Harrison Elliot converted.
There was still time for two more first half Cougars tries. Andy Gabriel was too fast for the Raiders defence, and Parker also raced over for his second. Hardcastle converted both. 58-6 at the interval.
Alfie Seeley scored the first try of the second half with Hardcastle converting, but that was before the game turned into more of a charade when Craig Lewis saw red for alleged backchat, this surely prompting Raiders’ chairman Andrew Thorne to tweet “As a chairman of a club of a club losing is hard to take but when you have 14 men on a pitch it’s an impossible task.”
Hawkyard scored in the corner four minutes later with Hardcastle converting, and former South Wales Scorpion Billy Gaylor was next. Hardcastle missed the kick but got the next try, which he improved, before Chris Cullimore scored under the sticks, Hardcastle’s goal making it 86-6.
It was good work by Seeley, who weaved his way through the defence for his second, Hardcastle’s conversion bouncing in off the posts, but the game was to finish on 12 v 10 as the referee, who was evidently finding it tough to control the game, showed Hardcastle and Dalton Desmond-Walker yellow after a lengthy fight.
Gabriel claimed his hat-trick with Gaylor slicing the ball low under the sticks. Seeley sealed his hat-trick to take Cougars to 100 with Leeming also claiming his third. Gaylor, who was closer with his second conversion attempt, got this one over.
A length of the field Hawkyard try in the final minute gave him a triple and Gaylor’s goal brought down the curtain on the farce that Oscar Wilde would have been proud of writing.
Draw made for Bowl second round
THE draw for the second round of the WRU National Bowl has been made with a number of exciting ties to look forward to.
New Dock Stars’ reward for knocking out League 3 West A opponents Llangwm is another home tie against fellow League 3 West A side Llanybydder.
Former WRU Bowl Champions Amman United were given a walkover in the first round and they will be at home in the second round having been drawn to play South Gower.
Haverfordwest, who beat Pantyffynnon 69-5 on Saturday (Sept 15) have been rewarded with another home tie against Llangadog who won 50-14 away to Pontyates in their first round game.
Aberaeron, who beat Milford Haven in the first round, face a local derby with Lampeter Town who had a walkover against Pembroke Dock Quins in the first round.
Neyland, who had also had a walkover in the first round, have been given a home tie against Carmarthenshire side Cefneithin.
The two sides met in the same stage of last season’s competition and it was Cefneithin who came out on top on that occasion winning 25-3.
Laugharne have been drawn away to Trimsaran while Betws have also been drawn away to Cwmgors.
All matches will be played on Saturday, October 6.
Selected WRU Bowl second round fixtures:
Amman Utd v South Gower
Cardigan v Nantgaredig
Cwmgors v Betws (Ammanford)
Haverfordwest v Llangadog
Lampeter Town v Aberaeron
New Dock Stars v Llanybydder
Neyland v Cefneithin
Trimsaran v Laugharne
Wanderers snatch late victory
LLANELLI Wanderers earned their second win of the season on Saturday (Sept 15) as they beat Dunvant 22-19 thanks to a late try.
The powerful Dunvant pack helped their side to a 16-12 lead at half time but the Wanderers were still very much in the game.
Josh Leeds and Jordan Evans scored the tries for Llanelli while Rhydian Morgan added the rest of their first half points with the boot.
Dunvant held on to their lead in the second half as they defended well whenever the Wanderers came forward.
However, with ten minutes to go the tables turned as the Wanderers cranked up the pressure even more.
Gruff Mathias, making his debut for the senior side having played in the youth team last season, went up for a Dunvant lineout and he knocked the ball down for Ryan Tovey who went on to score what would prove to be the winning try.
Morgan then added the extra two points and they were able to see the game out for an excellent win.
On Saturday (Sept 22), Llanelli Wanderers will look for another win when they take on Gorseinon away from home.
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