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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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Felinfoel celebrate second successive title

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ON Wednesday (Apr 17), Felinfoel celebrated their second successive League 1 West title win as they beat Llanelli Wanderers 33-14.

Llanelli took the lead early on though as Rhydian Morgan scored a penalty. Felinfoel though hit back with two penalties of their own scored by Aled Roberts.

Rhydian Morgan then scored his second penalty to level the scores at 6-6. The home side then scored their first try of the night but the conversion was missed.

Shortly before the break Morgan completed his hat trick of penalties for the Wanderers to make it 11-9 at half time.

The Wanderers were keen to give the Champions a good game and early in the second half they went ahead as Lloyd Thomas touched down but the conversion was missed.

That gave the visitors as 11-14 lead but it was then that Felinfoel took control of the game.

They regained the lead shortly after with an unconverted try to take them two points ahead.

Felinfoel then scored a second unconverted try to make the score 21-14.

The champions then all but secured their eighteenth victory with their fourth try to earn another bonus point and the conversion from Roberts made it 28-14.

There was still time for one more try for the home side and the missed conversion left the score at 33-14.

Leon Randell scored two tries for the home side with others coming from Elliot Dawe, Jason Frater and Rhys Evans.

After the game Felinfoel received the league trophy and the celebrations began. Felinfoel now wait to see who they will play in the two-leg Championship play-off.

Mike King, Felinfoel RFC Head Coach told the Herald: “It’s a great achievement from everyone involved in the club.

Credit has to go to the players and support staff, who without their buy in to what I wanted to achieve this would not have been impossible.

The whole club is aligned and the continued success of the Junior structure and Youth set up has allowed us to bring in to the first team system some younger, talented players to ensure the continued success of the club.

Credit must also be given to the Club Committee for the continued support and proactive approach to what has been a tremendous season for the Club as a whole!”

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Great Welsh Marathon ‘overwhelming success’

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THE Great Welsh Marathon took place in Llanelli on Sunday (Apr 14), with over 1100 athletes taking part across two races.

The third edition of the Great Welsh Marathon & Half Marathon organised by Front Runner Events was hailed an overwhelming success, with a record number of runners taking on both sold-out races.

Despite the windy Welsh weather, the runners taking on this year’s race were supported by hundreds of volunteers who turned out in their numbers to cheer the athletes. The event has almost doubled in size since 2018 and included many first timers, charity runners and club runners.

This year, the race also welcomed the largest international field so far, with over 15 nationalities represented, with some travelling as far as Australia, India, and the USA. Although the Llanelli coast may not have the tropical climate of California or Perth but it certainly has it’s own Welsh charm and stunning coastline.

One runner commented: “My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed the race, it was challenging but brilliant. My friends travelled over from San Francisco to visit and take part in the race.

It was their first marathon and first time visiting Wales. It was a great experience and excellent course with plenty of marshals on the route helping you along the way.”

Local running clubs provided a team of race pacers helping many runners achieve their personal best’s and hitting their target time on the day.

The fully marshalled race took place on the Millennium coastal path, included Brecon Carreg water stations, energy gel stops, bespoke medal, a technical finisher t-shirt and goody bag for all race finishers. Runners were also able to benefit from a much-needed pre or post-race massage provided by Gower College Swansea.

Both the full and half marathon started at Festival Fields, Llanelli before heading out to Burry Port, where the runners turned and headed back along the Millennium Coastal Path to Machynys and then back to Festival Fields.

General feedback has been fantastic, as runners took to social media to share their successes and photos with friends. The race, which was a regarded as a complete success saw lots of personal best times achieved, with the top 3 male half marathon course records beaten and most notably; the women’s first place half marathon winner shaved an impressive 12 minutes off last years record.

Results (provisional) – Great Welsh Half Marathon 2019

Male:

1. Luke Williams (San Domenico) 01:14:19
2. Dean Summers (Llanelli AC) 01:16:43
3. Finn Arentz (Unattached) 01:17:29

Female:

1. Melanie Wilkins (Winchester) 01:18:18
2. Carys Mai Hughes (Cardiff AC) 01:21:19
3. Amy Evans (Clwb Rhedeg Pontardawe RC) 01:33:29

Results (provisional) – Great Welsh Marathon 2019

Male:

1. Gethin Davies (Unattached) 02:45:44
2. Joseph Murray (Unattached) 02:46:13
3. Richard Foster (Spirit of Monmouth) 02:49:05

Female:

1. Katie Warren (Unattached) 03:04:47
2. Lizzie Diamond (Lliswerry Runners) 03:12:07
3. Crystal Goecker (Harrogate Harriers & AC) 03:12:15
The winning team of the Corporate Challenge was Carmarthenshire Actif Sport and Leisure, who also took the crown at the 2019 Llanelli Half Marathon. The full RACE RESULTS and official photos are available on the website:
www.greatwelshmarathon.co.uk

Race Director, David Martin-Jewell said: “The Great Welsh Marathon and Half Marathon has grown in its size and stature since we took it over in late 2016, we are thankful to the local runners who continue to support us across all of our races, however it has been fantastic to see the number on international runners travelling to Carmarthenshire to take on the Great Welsh races.

We have a strong team of Sector Heads and volunteers who continue to assist us at each of our events, without them, we would not be able to hold such successful events so we would like to thank them for their help and support.

We would also like to thank Brecon Carreg (Hydration Partner) for supplying water for the runners during and after the event. Also, a huge thank you to Carmarthenshire Council for continuing to support our events and letting us showcase what Carmarthenshire has to offer.”

The event was supported by a number of local businesses, event delivery partners and also received backing from Carmarthenshire County Council Event Support Grant in 2019.

The 2020 Great Welsh Full and Half Marathon will take place on Sunday, April 5, 2020, and will have a NEW route starting and finishing in the magnificent Pembrey Country Park.

Runners will be delighted to know that registration is now open, and they can reserve their place on the start line, just head to: www.greatwelshmarathon.co.uk

Further details and full race results can be found on the website, and you can also keep up to date with news and see the latest photos by liking the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GreatWelshMarathon or follow @WelshMarathon #RunCymru #WalesLovesRunning on Twitter.

If you are inspired by the Great Welsh Marathon and Half Marathon, why not sign up to the 2019 JCP Swansea Half Marathon which takes place on Sunday, June 23.

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Old Gold seal win late on

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CARMARTHEN Town eventually beat rivals Llanelli Town 3-1 on Saturday (Apr 13) after dominating for large parts of the first half.

Relegated Llanelli did take the lead but the Old Gold came from behind to lead but it wasn’t until late on that they secured the three points.

As last week, a much less impressive second-half performance allowed the opposition to maintain a serious interest in the match until a late third goal ensured victory for the Old Gold.

Town completely dominated the opening stages with frequent fast incisive raids through the midfield which the visitors’ overworked defence struggled to resist – yet despite forcing a series of early corner-kicks, it was not until the 9th minute that a genuine scoring opportunity arose.

Greg Walters sent a long pass down the left touchline to find Jordan Knott who neatly slipped the ball inside to Lewis Harling on the edge of the penalty area – he instantly released a delightful curling shot that went beyond the reach of ‘keeper Scott Coughlan but drifted just wide of the far post.

Shortly afterwards the ball was played through to Liam Thomas who, from 30 yards out, sprinted effortlessly past two defenders to reach the penalty area then dispatched a stunning angled drive that defeated Coughlan but flew just narrowly over the bar.

During this opening spell Llanelli had barely managed to make any meaningful progress going forward and the home defence had been put under no real pressure – but in the 15th minute all that changed.

An Old Gold attack broke down well inside the visitors’ half and the ball was quickly played forward beyond the half-way line where Town central defenders Lee Surman and Dave Vincent found themselves outnumbered by three Reds forwards – Joe Clarke sent the ball forward to Tristan Jenkins who raced clear towards the edge of the penalty area then fired a crisp strike past ‘keeper Lee Idzi and into the far corner of the net.

Stung by that setback Carmarthen straightaway swarmed upfield with even greater intensity than before – yet still they were unable to produce a shot on target or test Coughlan in any significant way.

Then on 23 minutes they deservedly got back on level terms. Knott sent a throw-in to Thomas on the corner of the penalty area and he swiftly lifted a high cross to the far side of the goalmouth where Luke Bowen stabbed the ball past Coughlan and into the back of the net.

Town continued their dominance of the play and went close to taking the lead after 28 minutes – Mael Davies, from the centre-circle, sent a neat pass through to Walters who took the ball forward then released a powerful 30 yard drive that defeated Coughlan but slid marginally wide of the post.

They achieved their aim just moments later – Bowen slipped a smart pass on to Knott who raced into the penalty area then ‘squared’ the ball across to Thomas and, with typical confidence and precision, Town’s top scorer fired it past Coughlan and into the back of the net.

The Old Gold kept up the pressure and on 38 minutes Jordan Vickers launched a long pass down the right touchline that found Bowen who sprinted past Joe Hunt then sent an inviting cross into the penalty area where Ceri Morgan arrived with perfect timing but, under pressure from two defenders, he drove the ball straight at Coughlan.

In the closing stages of the first-half Vincent fired a long clearance upfield which Bowen, again, collected – he took the ball forward to the by-line then crossed it into the penalty area but saw Davies, from 15 yards, wastefully fire his shot wide of the goal.

The initial period after the interval was a decidedly scrappy affair with neither side seemingly able to keep possession of the ball long enough to make any meaningful progress, let alone create a decent scoring opportunity.

However eventually on 61 minutes the match livened up when Davies’ corner-kick was headed away but only as far as Harling who from 20 yards struck a fierce volley that Coughlan, at full length, spectacularly turned around the post.

Straightaway the game became more evenly-balanced as it opened up with some lively end-to-end play.

The Old Gold defence dealt capably with the intermittent pressure due principally to another sound performance from experienced defenders Surman, Vincent and Knott, while Idzi once more looked sound and secure whenever his involvement was necessary.

By contrast the visitors’ defence seemed more vulnerable and Coughlan was certainly the busier ‘keeper, particularly in the closing stages of the match when Town were once again attacking with more pace and purpose.

After 80 minutes Declan Carroll sent the ball across to Thomas who moved swiftly forward into the penalty area then neatly slipped past a defender before dispatching a rasping drive that Coughlan, with an impressive reflex save, turned around the post.

In the 87th minute he was powerless to prevent the Old Gold from increasing their lead and settling the result. Luke Cummings finished a surging run along the right flank with a smart cross into the penalty area where Thomas, with a neat touch, sent the ball further on to Bowen who from 15 yards struck a sharp volley beyond Coughlan’s reach and into the back of the net.

This was Luke’s 11th WPL goal of the season – he and Liam Thomas have now scored 31 League goals between them out of Town’s current total of 42 which, remarkably, represents close to 75% of that figure. The next highest scorers are Mael Davies, Greg Walters and Declan Carroll all with just 2 WPL goals each. All of which graphically demonstrates the value of these two experienced strikers to the team throughout this season.

Then in added time Coughlan denied Town a fourth goal – Davies, from the right touchline slid a fine pass through to Thomas who outpaced a defender to reach the edge of the penalty area then released a fierce angled shot that the overworked ‘keeper just managed to block.

The three points gained from this victory have lifted Carmarthen closer to the 9th placed team in the WPL table, Cefn Druids, and with just two more matches to play there remains the possibility of overtaking them.

But to preserve this chance Town must win their penultimate match, at Cefn, next Saturday, April 20, (k/o 2.30pm) and then hope for favourable results in the final round of fixtures the following week.

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