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Wales 21 – 29 Australia

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AUSTRALIA defeated Wales on Saturday (Nov 11) at the Principality Stadium in the first game of the Under Armour Autumn International series to stretch their run to thirteen consecutive victories over their hosts dating back nearly a decade. Wales now haven’t won their opening match of an Autumn series since 2009 [40-3 v Romania] and this result also extends the Wallabies current unbeaten run to seven, their longest since reaching the 2015 World Cup Final at Twickenham.

Such is their current pedigree they took the scalp of arch rivals New Zealand 23-18 last month and this green and gold side are content to mobilise the ball in direct lines whenever possible, whilst expertly managing the game away from their own try line under pressure.  Their first half dominance laid the foundations for the success as they had 67% possession making the home side make 80 tackles to defend their line, whilst having to make just 30 themselves.

Statistics won’t lie to Head Coach Warren Gatland, who selected a side which included eight Scarlets players and scrum half Aled Davies carded as a substitute. Gatland had changed the game plan which served him so well over the decade he has overseen the national side, looking to develop a line up capable of challenging at the very top come the 2019 World Cup.

He gave a debut to Gloucester playmaker Owen Williams at inside centre and with injuries in the backrow of skipper Sam Warbarton, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric his hand was forced to play exuberance, vigour and players in form alongside Taulupe Faletau.   Stepping up to the plate in the heat of the battle were Josh Navidi and ‘son of Hendy’, flanker Aaron Shingler, both of whom were tenacious in their defence duties.

A nervous Welsh start settled after six minutes when outside half Dan Biggar put a searching kick into the Aussie 22 and winger Liam Williams followed up to charge down the clearance from full back Kurtley Beale.  A scrambled defensive clearance subsequently saw hooker Ken Owens find second row Jake Ball at the front of the line out before third phase ball found winger Steff Evans coming in on the opposite wing to draw a penalty for offside on the 10m line. Leigh Halfpenny, in his first international game under a Scarlets ‘flag’ duly slotted it over for a 3-0 lead, which lasted less than four minutes as the green and gold responded through hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau. He was driven over by his fellow forwards following their first real incision into Welsh territory allowing outside half Ben Foley to convert for 7-3 lead. 

Spurred into action prop Rob Evans, returning after a prolonged absence for a head injury suffered against Connaught in September combined with centre Jonathan Davies for the red machine to move the ball 45m, only to see former Scarlets winger Liam Williams held up with a last ditch tackle.

Wales were now confident and scrum half Gareth Davies made an incisive 30m break.  Quick second phase ball set centre Jonathan Davies clear once again to put Williams away on a 3 v 1 overlap; demonstrating quick hands through Halfpenny it allowed winger Steff Evans to crash over in the corner on his home debut and Halfpenny added the extras for a lead of 10-7. 

The game sea sawed again after 23 absorbing minutes when second row Adam Coleman waltzed over unopposed with Rob Evans guilty of ball watching, for a converted try to see Australia lead 14-10.  The experienced Foley and half back partner Will Gena were vibrant and positive with the ball in hand putting Wales firmly on the back foot. 

Composure was needed under pressure and the go to man in the line out was back row star Shingler, who was winning ball at the front or back of the line.  One such success resulted in a penalty permitting Biggar to kick to the edge of the visitors 22 but to no avail.  In such an open and fast game, where the collisions between players was high on intensity, the difference emerged between the two nations as Australia converted their opportunities into points. 

Wales conceded a penalty after Tom Francis in the front row was penalised for not scrummaging square and the Wallabies accepted another penalty decision from New Zealand referee Glenn Jackson allowing winger Reece Hodge to thump over a monster penalty and a 17-10 lead with five minutes of the half remaining.

Halfpenny responded with a 35m penalty from in front of the posts after Ken Owens had won the ball back for his team, but Australia completed the first half scoring when some sustained drives and slick hands drew the defence allowing flanker Michael Hooper to slew over the line for a superb try, converted by Foley on the cusp of half time for his side to lead 24-13.

Optimism for the second half was held where the Dragon could roar dependent on them making key decisions to clear their lines and play in the opposition territory.  That optimism amongst the crowd was raised when Halfpenny and Faletau put Liam Williams in space and his kick took play midway into the opposition half only to see the ball lost in a tackle on Jonathan Davies. Faletau and Williams again combined on the opposite wing as Foley was putting the ball into the rooftop testing Halfpenny and Evans who fielded the bombardment with aplomb.

Biggar set up a line out from 15m after a penalty was awarded for holding the ball and after several phases of driving play Halfpenny nailed a straight forward penalty from 20m out, leaving Wales eight adrift at 24-16 with half an hour to play.

Turnover ball on halfway saw some enterprise around the hands of Rob Evans as he again sounded the battle cry for his team mates to grow in stature and play the situation which panned out before them.  A scrum free kick moved skipper Alun Wyn Jones to call for a second set piece where Faletau and Williams combined on the blindside making 30m as pressure was imposed on the visitors 22 line.  Wales were now like a pack of hounds who had found a scent and were firmly hunting for the jugular of a Wallaby side who were pinned inside their own half.

Evans grubber kick was collected by Jonathan Davies as the red tide built momentum to a chorus of hymns ‘n arias.  A penalty conceded for not rolling away saw discussion between Jones, Biggar and Halfpenny before the full back pushed his kick wide of the right hand post from just inside his own half. 

Bancyfelin born Davies was on fire, bringing his ‘Lions’ form from the summer to the banquet and he collected the restart as play returned deep into Australian terrain.

An expansive Welsh back line moved the ball at will as the halfway point of the half passed, with winger Evans, his namesake Rob and Shingler to the fore in rugby more akin to a Barbarian’s style.  On small margins games at the highest level are won and lost; full back Beale performed a sublime tackle to not only stop a flying Evans in his prime but emerge with the ball and race from his own half to score under the posts before anyone in the 70,275 could draw breath.  Foley converted for a 29-16 lead as the crowds astonishment at what they had witnessed in a match changing split second slowly dawned and their appreciation followed.

The high tempo of the game saw substitutes enter the amphitheatre and Hodge land short with a penalty from inside his own half as the time wound down to the final 15 minutes. Back came the Men of Harlech and Hooper was yellow carded with Jackson’s patience was eliminated with the build up of infringements.  From the dominant scrum Wales applied pressure through Biggar’s touch finder with eight minutes to play.  His forwards secured good line out ball to draw another penalty in front of the posts as scrum after scrum ensued in the anticipation of tasting the ‘Bread of Heaven’ from the top table.  Scrum half Davies emerged into space to make good ground only for his skipper Jones to spill the ball with the line agonisingly close.

Aled Davies came on at scrum half and fellow replacement Hallem Amos was held up just short of the line as Wales went through a plethora of moves to test the wilting golden wattle to the brink.  Biggars hopes of a quick play were called back by Jackson and from the resultant penalty ball was again secured at the line out which allowed for some enterprising handling before Amos harvested his first international since the 2015 World Cup.  Halfpenny missed the touchline conversion which would have put Wales within a score of victory and the game ended 29-21 and parity in terms of possession and territory, a startling turn around on the first half statistics.

Gatland will be pleased, if he can be in defeat where the set piece was dominant, the defence successfully making 98% of their 264 tackles but most importantly seeing his attacking options bear fruit.  In an offensive display his runners beat their man on 20 occasions and off loaded 18 times as they had a 100% success from mauls and 95% success rate at rucks, conceding just three penalties, ten less than their opponents.

The error count ultimately proved the difference for Wales between success and failure as Australia outscored them four tries to two.  To a man those Scarlets players who drew on their countries colours did themselves, their Region and nation proud, where the tourists clinical execution of turn over possession to points was key. Youngster Evans will reflect on a positive try scoring attacking display with some concern over his defensive decision making.  He will do well to remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Scarlets style of play is certainly a blueprint Gatland and his staff are embracing for the future.

Injuries to Evans plus more concerningly Lions star centre Davies may cause some player rotation before Wales take on Georgia tomorrow [2:30pm] with an eye on New Zealand the week after, coached by former Wales head honcho Steve Hanson who bring an unbeaten record stretching back 64 years.

One Scarlets player who will not be playing in these games will be New Zealand born centre Hadleigh Parkes, who is earmarked for a debut in December against South Africa.  Parks was reunited with Scarlets Head Coach Wayne Pivac when he came to Parc Y Scarlets in 2014 and he will be a beneficiary of the three year residency rule, allowing him to make his debut three years to the day from his signing for the Scarlets.

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Carmarthenshire man with PTSD to run Cardiff Half for veterans

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A VETERAN from Pont-Henri in Carmarthenshire is putting his best foot forward to supporting wounded, injured and sick military personnel and veterans.

Anthony Spencer, 34 – who suffers with PTSD after serving two tours of Afghanistan – will be on the start-line of the Wizz Air Cardiff Half Marathon on 2 October.

And while he laughs at his “abysmal” training ahead of the event, he says he will pound the streets of Cardiff in order to raise money for True Heroes Racing – the UK’s only motorcycle race team dedicated to supporting UK Service personnel and veterans who are wounded, injured and sick:

“As a military veteran myself who still suffers with PTSD, I understand the difficulty that face those who leave the military with mental, physical or social difficulties. True Heroes Racing is a family open to anyone with military ties and I’m hoping to raise much-needed funds to continue my support for this great cause.”

Spencer joined the military as a Royal Engineer when he turned 16:

“Over the course of my career in the army, I was involved in many incidents. I was part of a frontline patrol unit working with the Afghanistan National Army.

“Perhaps the most catastrophic event was a roadside IED – an improvised explosive device – in Helmand province. It hit me a year or two later and I started drinking more and I was becoming more distant and reserved.

“Even now, it affects me. It impacts on my sleep – I only get a few hours here and there a night. And it affects my anxiety levels which make tasks such as travelling incredibly stressful. Loud noises and day-to-day stresses can seem unbearable.”

He was discharged in 2016 and since then he has thrown himself into work. Now a Chief Technical Officer for a Global Technology company.

“I managed to get a successful job. After having a rough ride of things myself but coming out the other end, I decided to try and do something good.

“There isn’t much support for veterans – medical or financial – so what this race team does is absolutely astonishing. We currently have two riders who are amputees and they are both racing at incredibly high competitive levels against able-bodied riders.”

The bikes are customised so that riders who have disabilities can race:

“The customisation is ground-breaking. We have a variety of veterans and serving personnel racing including an arm amputee so True Heroes Racing have been able to adapt the bike for him. But it all comes at a cost. Racing is an expensive sport and in many cases it can cost £40,000 or more per year to run a bike.

“We’re one big family and lots of people can get involved whether it’s as a mechanic, a photographer, a rider or helping to sell merchandise. It’s a great thing to throw your energy into after leaving the military.”

You can donate to Anthony’s  Justgiving page here: Crowdfunding to Raise vital money for a great cause http://trueheroesracing.co.uk. A unique team for military veterans and serving personal on JustGiving

The Wizz Air Cardiff Half Marathon sold out earlier this summer, just three and half months after entries going on sale.

The race is on track to generate its £20 millionth pound in fundraising at the 19th edition of the event this year. Race organisers are urging the public to get behind the event to help it reach this incredible milestone. Over £3 million is raised each year via partnerships with over 90 charities.

A record number of runners from outside Wales (both across the UK and overseas) are registered to take part this year. To celebrate, organisers will be using the event as a platform to celebrate Wales; showcasing everything that is so special and distinct about Cymru and to offer visitors a warm Welsh welcome.

The race is now a part of the SuperHalfs – an international half marathon series including races in Lisbon, Prague, Valencia, Copenhagen and Cardiff. It challengers runners to complete the five race circuit in 36 months in order to earn a ‘SuperMedal’ and other exclusive benefits/prizes.

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Old Gold earn big win over Ynyshir

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CARMARTHEN put the disappointment of the defeat against Barry Town in their last Cymru South League match well and truly behind them by inflicting this crushing victory on Ynyshir in this first ever meeting between these clubs.

And the Old Gold put the hosts under pressure from the very start with a series of penetrating attacks. As early as the 1st minute Greg Walters, in his own half, sent a superb pass through to Will Rikard who in turn set Noah Daley racing clear and into the penalty area – however, while his subtle lofted shot defeated goal-keeper Howe the ball flew narrowly over the bar.

Then on 3 minutes Bradley Gibbings sprinted along the right flank and threaded the ball through to Liam Thomas just inside the penalty area but Town’s all-time top scorer saw his crisp drive denied by Howe diving swiftly down to claim the ball.

Town continued to dominate these early stages of the game and, almost predictably, they soon took the lead. In the 13th minute Thomas, from the half-way line, sent a fine pass forward to Rikard who in turn swiftly fed the ball onto Gibbings – the influential midfielder then finished this delightful move by drilling a 15-yard shot beyond Howe’s reach and into the back of the net.

While the Old Gold maintained their hold of the game, for a short spell they seemed unable to test the Ynyshir defence in any meaningful way and with both teams too often guilty of misplacing passes there was little prospect of goalmouth action.

Yet that all changed after 37 minutes. A poor back-pass by an Albions’ defender forced Howe into making a hurried clearance – however Thomas, alert to the situation, blocked the ball at close-range and it rebounded into the net much to his delight.

Encouraged by that success Carmarthen once more began to dominate the play and on 43 minutes they extended their lead. Mathew Delaney embarked on a determined run from the half-way line to reach the by-line before sending a fine cross into the goalmouth where Thomas found space to drive the ball past Howe and into the back of the net.

Then after 45 minutes Gibbings made a strong run into the penalty area and held off two defenders before releasing a fierce shot that Howe, dropping smartly down, managed to turn around the post.

After the interval Ynyshir began positively and were soon rewarded with an early goal. On 48 minutes a smart passing move from the right-wing opened up the Town defence and finished with Cambell, in clear space on the edge of the goal area, firing the ball past goal-keeper Ivan Knott and into the back of the net.

For a spell the Old Gold defence remained under some pressure but it coped capably and no further significant threat to their goal arose.

While the rest of the match was quite evenly-balanced in open play, it was evident that Carmarthen were far more of a threat in sight of goal – and, almost predictably, they extended their lead when on 59 minutes Delaney, from the left flank, sent an inviting free-kick across the face of the goal area and saw Daley, at the far post, tap the ball into the net.

Town went close to scoring again after 71 minutes. Adam John fired a free-kick deep into the goalmouth where Lee Surman saw his close-range header blocked on the goal-line – the ball rebounded to Sam Parsons but his follow-up shot was also cleared.

However, the late frenzy of activity in and around the Albions’ penalty area did have a productive ending for the Old Gold when, deep into added time, another corner-kick reached Scott Tancock beyond the far post – he headed the ball back into the packed goalmouth where Parsons forced it into the net.

This win has consolidated Carmarthen’s position in the top six of the Cymru South League and with just 3 points currently separating those clubs every point from forthcoming matches is clearly vital – the next being against Afan Lido on October 1, at Richmond Park k/o 2.30pm.

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Late goal sees Lido beat Ammanford

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Report and photo courtesy of Ian Parfitt

AMMANFORD suffered the heartbreak of late defeat at Afan Lido on Friday night with an 87th minute winner from Liam Griffiths securing a 2-1 win and all three points for the hosts.

Afan Lido started the match on the front foot and Ammanford were clearly struggling with the pace on Lido’s flanks. A foul in the box led to a penalty for Lido in the 11th minute which was dispatched by Chris Jones.

Afan Lido were largely on top in the first half however were unable to add to their goal. Ammanford were restricted to half chances although Callum Silcox did hit the post with an angled shot.

Ammanford would have hoped for an early goal in the second half and that’s exactly what they got in the 48th minute, the excellent Jordan Langley spotting the keeper off his line and hitting a looping shot into the net from 30 yards.

This goal clearly settled Ammanford and spurred on by a vociferous away support went in search of a second goal.

Afan Lido rode their luck in the 63rd minute when Owyn Airey smashed a shot against the bar.
Callum Silcox then forced Lido keeper Steve Cann into an excellent save in the 74th minute with a rasping, long range effort.

Ammanford looked the most likely team to score and had several other opportunities which they failed to convert.

Ammanford were playing well with Morgan Clarke particularly influential in midfield.

Just when it looked as if a hard fought contest was heading for a draw Griffiths swept home from close range in the 87th minute following a Lido corner.

Ammanford frantically went in search of a second equaliser in the time that remained but this eluded them and the final whistle brought about feelings of what could have been for the away team.

Ammanford will look to put things right in their next match, a home encounter against Goytre Utd on Friday (Sept 30).

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