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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

Five-star Old Gold sink students

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AFTER Carmarthen opened their Cymru South League home programme some 12 days ago with a comprehensive victory over Llantwit Major they improved on even that performance with this crushing demolition of Swansea Uni who were kept deep under pressure in their own half for much of the match.

From the start Town launched a series of piercing attacks which the visitors struggled to contain.

On 5 minutes a sweeping move along the right-flank began with Jordan Vickers sprinting upfield and then playing the ball on to Liam Thomas who threaded a fine pass across to Matthew Delaney – from the corner of the penalty area he struck a fierce angled shot that goal-keeper Ben Edwards, at full-stretch, turned aside.

Yet soon afterwards the Old Gold took the lead. After 9 minutes Vickers passed the ball across Jamie Rickard who instantly sent it on to Thomas, inside the penalty area, and Town’s all-time top scorer clinically converted the opportunity.

Then on 12 minutes Delaney, from the right-wing, sent a fine long cross into the goalmouth where Scott Tancock saw his close-range glancing header fly just wide of the goal.

At this stage Town were dominating the game with their pace and movement. On 22 minutes Rickard threaded an excellent pass to Thomas on the edge the penalty area but with defenders nearby his hurried shot went marginally off-target.

In the 25th minute Vickers, a particular constant threat to the opponents’ defenders, fired an inviting cross into the goalmouth where Noah Daley was just unable to reach the ball for a simple tap-in opportunity.

The visitors, during all this time, had managed little in terms of creating a serious attacking threat. However on 30 minutes George Sellick broke clear from the centre-circle and struck a 25 yard volley which Carmarthen ‘keeper Ifan Knott, having raced some way out of his goal, first blocked and then claimed the loose ball.

But that was just a brief interruption to Town’s search for more goals and the certainty of three League points.

On 36 minutes Daley embarked on a remarkable solo run – having taken possession of the ball on the edge of the centre-circle he proceeded to pass 3 defenders and move into the penalty area then dismissively go around Edwards and drive the ball in to the empty net.

Soon afterwards, in the 39th minute, the Old Gold scored again when Thomas, on the half-way line, played a fine pass forward to Bradley Gibbings who raced free towards the penalty area where he neatly side-stepped Edwards, who was bereft of any defensive cover for the second successive time, and slid the ball into the net.

Then, to conclude a most productive 45 minutes a superb long pass out of defence was chased by Jaime Rickard deep into the visitors’ half – as Edwards came well out of his penalty area to challenge him Rickard neatly crossed the ball to Daley who converted an easy tap-in goal.

After the interval, with Carmarthen having such a commanding lead, neither team appeared to show much urgency in the blistering heat of the day. Yet in the 60th minute Town extended their lead with a well-worked move.

Vickers sprinted along the right flank before sending a deep cross to the far side of the goal area where Daley arrived with perfect timing and planted a powerful header past Edwards and into the back of the net.

The Old Gold continued to hold the advantage over the University team, in terms of both possession and territory, but the only further goalmouth action arose after 80 minutes – following a free-kick Rickard struck a promising 20 yard drive that Edwards, at full-stretch, turned around the post.

This was a most welcome result, not only in terms of the quality of the performance but also in that Town have now moved up into 5th place in the League table.

The Old Gold’s League programme now continues with a visit Goytre United on Friday, August 19, k/o 7.30pm.

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Wanderers win to keep promotion hopes alive

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CARMARTHEN Wanderers earned a big win on Saturday (Aug 13) as they beat Ynysygerwn by 162 runs.

The win keeps them in third place in Division 2 of the South Wales Premier League, 29 points off the top two. However, their next fixture is at home against league leaders Ynystawe.

On Saturday, Ynysygerwn won the toss and chose to field and they saw the Wanderers rack up 262-8 from their 50 overs.

Owen Bailey hit three early boundaries (1 six, 2 fours) before being run out on a score of 16 and Tom Davies reached a score of 25 before falling lbw to Emyr Lawrence.

Owain Binding made 17 before being stumped as the Wanderers were reduced to 82-3.

Gareth Thomas and Robbie Crawford took over and they shared 87 runs for the fourth wicket.

Thomas hit seven fours and two sixes in his score of 63 from 58 balls but he was then caught by Adam Davies off the bowling of Nathan Davies.

Carl Holding was also stumped and Liam Rogers fell on a score of 10 when he was caught and bowled by Nathan Davies.

Crawford then reached his half century as he and Eddie Byng added 34 runs for the seventh wicket but Byng became the third batsman to be stumped.

Ian Hughes was out for a third-ball duck before Crawford and Harry Conick finished unbeaten.

Conick hit a late six to finish not out on 8 while Crawford was unbeaten on 71 after hitting six fours and two sixes.

Ynysygerwn were in trouble early on in their reply as they slipped to 16-3. Ryan Sylvester made a score of 29 before falling lbw to Owen Bailey.

Adam Davies made a score of 15 for the home side but it wasn’t enough as they were bowled out for 100.

Binding was the pick of the bowlers as he finished with 5-22. Chris Turrell, Ian Hughes, Tom Davies and Owen Bailey all picked up a wicket each.

The Wanderers’ game with leaders Ynystawe starts at 12:30pm on Saturday, August 20.

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Ammanford seal place in top flight

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AMMANFORD sealed their place in next season’s top flight with a thrilling one wicket victory over Bridgend at the Park.

Bridgend won the toss and batted first, losing three quick wickets to the excellent bowling of Matthew Davies (2-20) and Dan Roberts (1-30).

However, captain Tom Baker joined opener Sam Wood at the crease and these two provided Bridgend’s main partnership of 81.

The hard track and fast outfield promised a big score but Ammanford’s bowlers stuck to their task and dismissed the visitors for 199 in their penultimate over.

Xavier Clarke bowled well for his 2 for 31 and Owen Davies cleaned up at the end with 3 for 61.

Ammanford got off to a poor start, losing regular wickets until, at 56 for 4, Rhys-Huw Davies joined opener Kurtis Marsh to provide a steadying half century partnership.

However, with the departure of Marsh for 42, three wickets fell for the addition of a single run, and Ammanford were staring down the barrel of another disappointing defeat.

Enter skipper Alun Evans, coming in at number 9 after recovering from a long afternoon in the field.

Evans and Davies added a quick 21 runs before Davies departed for an invaluable 33.

Ammanford were now well into the tail, 8 wickets down and still 68 runs short of their target. Their two last batsmen faced the daunting task of staying in with their skipper while he tried to knock off the runs.

Which, to their credit, is exactly what they did. First, Owen Davies (18) added 33 priceless runs with his captain while last man Matthew Davies (9no) courageously stuck in until the winning runs were scored. Evans finished a true captain’s innings unbeaten on 49.

Ammanford are now safe in 7th place, 60 points clear of bottom club Clydach whom they welcome to the Park next Saturday.

On Wednesday evening, Ammanford travel to Port Talbot to play the semi-final of the SWCA T20
knockout cup. Wickets pitched at 5.45pm.

Ammanford seconds lose by 67 runs

Ammanford seconds lost by 67 runs to Carmarthen Wanderers at Trinity Fields. Carmarthen batted first and were dismissed for 177 in the 42nd over

Top scorer was skipper Giles Thomas (41), supported by Oliver John (27) and James Connick (24).

Tomos Roach was Ammanford’s top wicket taker with 4 for 20. Cian Roach and Iwan Matthews picked up a couple of wickets each.

In reply, Ammanford’s batsmen just couldn’t stay in long enough to make an impression on the scoreboard. Cian Roach (27) and Steffan Williams (22) did their best but the overall response simply
wasn’t good enough and they were all out for 110 after just 25 overs.

Third XI lose by eight wickets

Ammanford thirds went down by 8 wickets to Llandarcy.

Ammanford reached 150 for 9 in their 40 overs, thanks to opener Steve Hagget (45) and skipper Neville Pritchard (35). Llandarcy’s Jon Pryce took 4 for 18.

Despite losing two early wickets, Llandarcy took just 22 overs to pass the Ammanford total, with unbeaten half centuries from David Noall and Gareth Richards.

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