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JDVII homes in on more records

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JUDGEMENT Day is again on target to break the Guinness PRO14 season attendance record – with 40,000 fans already booked in to see their Grand Slam heroes return to Principality Stadium.

Sales are soaring a month out from the double header, which sees the Scarlets and Dragons go head to head at 3.00pm, before Cardiff Blues take on the Ospreys at 5.15pm on Saturday, April 27, in the annual face-off between Welsh rugby’s four professional sides.

After 36,000 showed for the inaugural Judgement Day event in 2013, supporters have continued to turn out in their droves and the last three events have attracted crowds of over 60,000, providing the lead attendance figures for any round in the competition on each occasion.

At last season’s back-to-back JDVI clash 62,338 again made it the highest attended event in the Guinness PRO14 calendar, beating the Final which was watched by 46,092 at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

“This will be my first experience of Judgement Day and I’m really excited for the occasion,” said the Blues head coach John Mulvihill.

“It’s fantastic to hear that more than 40,000 tickets have already been sold, and having seen the Principality Stadium in full flow over the Six Nations, it’s set to be a memorable evening of rugby in the capital.

“I watched last year’s Judgement Day from Australia and what struck me was the intensity of both matches and the fantastic and unique atmosphere created when you have fans from all four regions coming together.

“This year we could have three teams still in the hunt for a play-off spot, and that added jeopardy could raise the roof at the stadium. I can’t wait.

“One of our aims at the start of the season was to become the best region in Wales.

“There’s no better platform than Judgement Day to prove this and a win over Ospreys would mean we’ve got five victories from our six derby matches this season, so there’s a lot to play for.”

JDIV, in 2016, remains the best attended to date, after it broke every attendance record in the history of Welsh domestic rugby when 68,262 supporters took their places under the national stadium’s famous retractable roof.

The previous Welsh domestic record was set when 58,000 fans attended the Neath v Llanelli WRU Challenge Cup Final in 1989 and the record for any match involving a region had been the Ospreys’ victory over Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in the EDF Energy Cup Final in 2008 – which was watched by a 65,756-strong crowd.

The showpiece JDVII event has extra impetus this year with Wales’ unbeaten 2019 Guinness Six Nations heroes due to collide in regional colours and places in the Guinness PRO14 knock-out stages also likely to be on the line in each game, so a 73,931 capacity crowd has to be the target.

“The play-off race is going to go down to the wire, so there’s no doubt the matches are going to be tasty affairs as they always are,” said Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac, whose side won the competition in 2017 and reached the final in Dublin last year.

“Whenever you get in front of a big crowd like that we all enjoy it as do the coaches. We love a good atmosphere.

“It makes for a good day out for everyone and hopefully we will get another big crowd. It’s a great stadium with massive history.

“Every young player wants to go out there and play. Even our international players who have played there many times think it is a special occasion.

“It’s also a big opportunity for a lot of players who haven’t been playing Test rugby to go and show Warren Gatland that they can perform on the big stage.”

JDVII sees Wales’ four regions play-out the 21st and final round of conference stages in the Guinness PRO14, with places in the knock-out stages likely to be achievable for the Scarlets, Ospreys and Cardiff Blues, dependant on other results over the next few weeks.

The top three teams from each conference progress to the knock-out stages of the competition, with the ultimate aim of a place in the 2019 Guinness PRO14 Final in Celtic Park, Glasgow, in May.

“It’s always a big occasion for Welsh rugby with a huge crowd and a fantastic atmosphere,” said Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke, whose side have won the league, in its various guises, on four occasions themselves (2005, ‘07, ‘10, ‘12) – a feat only surpassed by reigning Champions Leinster who lifted their fifth title last season.

“We hope there’ll be plenty riding on the game in terms of qualification and play-offs.

“However, regardless of league placings there’s always regional rivalry and pride at stake.”

Tickets are priced at £25 middle tier and £15 for both lower and upper tier adult access – with the £10, U16 concession ticket available for all lower and upper seating, to ensure the family event is accessible for all.

“Derby matches are always the games that players, fans and coaches look forward to most in a season and to finish the PRO14 fixtures with a real sense of occasion and an end of season finale makes it an exciting for all involved,” added Dragons head coach Ceri Jones.

“Playing the Scarlets is always a massive challenge, but coming up against one of our local rivals off the back of the Wales Grand Slam success at Principality Stadium is a fitting climax to the season as players go head to head in pushing their claims for involvement in the Rugby World Cup and for regional pride.

“It’s sure to be a fantastic experience for all four teams and the fans.”

Print at home tickets, which don’t incur a postage charge, are available in all categories, with normal booking fees at £1 per ticket and post & packaging at £3 via www.wru.co.uk/tickets

JUDGEMENT DAY VII, Saturday, April 27, Principality Stadium:

Dragons v Scarlets – Kick Off 1500hrs

Cardiff Blues v Ospreys – Kick Off 1715hrs

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Ammanford suffer heaviest defeat

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AFTER two successive victories, Ammanford crashed to their heaviest defeat of the season at St Helen’s, losing to Swansea by a humiliating 240 runs on Saturday (July 24).

Swansea must have regretted their decision to bat first when Daniel Roberts had them at 12 for 2.

But that regret was transitory as their middle order went on to build a massive total of 295 for 7.

Half centuries came from the bats of Gareth Haydn (73), Osian Webber (66) and Adnan Ghori (56), whilst Hasan Hayat came painfully close with 49.

Daniel Roberts carried the Ammanford bowling with 4 for 51 from his 10 overs.

With several first team regulars missing, Ammanford’s batsmen had no answer to the bowling of Kazi Szymanski (5-19), Waqas Tanveer (3-27) and Brad Wadlan (2-4).

The only resistance came from Josef Davies (25) as the visitors crumbled to 55 all out in 14 overs.

Ammanford will want to forget this episode as they fight to get themselves clear of the pack at the foot of Premier One.

Seconds lose by seven wickets

Ammanford seconds lost by seven wickets to table-toppers Carmarthen Wanderers at the Park on Saturday.

Batting first, Ammanford were all out for 133, late resistance to the Wanderers bowling coming from Llyr Morgan (22) and Sion Evans (21).

Liam Rogers was Carmarthen’s chief wicket taker with 3 for 24.

Despite losing a wicket without a run on the board, Carmarthen’s middle order patiently stood their ground and took 32 overs to achieve their target for the loss of three wickets.

Opener Giles Thomas made 47 while Joshua Thomas was unbeaten on 49.

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Two late Thomas goals seal remarkable Cwm comeback

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TEN-MAN Cwmamman United staged a late rally to break South Gower hearts when captain Ryan Thomas popped up in the 78th and 90th minutes with two opportunist goals to see Cwm progress to the next round of the Welsh Cup.

It had been a match of few clear chances with neither keeper being challenged until much later in the game.

It started slowly and in their first competitive match of the season Cwm struggled to establish a pattern of play while their opponents who were playing their 3rd competitive match settled down quickly playing some neat football.

For Cwm Gareth Howarth and Elian Evans’ experience at the back was settling the side while Sean Howells continuously tried to seek options for the Blues in midfield.

In the 32nd minute with neither side really creating much a South Gower free kick was perfectly swung across the Cwm goal where centre back Morris flung himself between two Cwm defenders to put it beyond Cwm keeper Kyle Marsh.

The second half continued in the same vein as the first with both sides struggling in the final third of the pitch. The only noteworthy incident was a piledriver by Cwm’s Craig Gordon form outside the box spectacularly tipped by South Gower keeper Sam Williams.

The turning point strangely came with the sending off of Cwm’s Ryan Hurlow in the 55th minute. Flying down the wing he managed to leap over a dangerous incoming tackle but in venting his frustration at the player he incurred the wrath of the referee for raising his hands and suffered a straight red card.

This changed Cwm’s approach and a more urgent faster style increased both possession and frequency of attacks.

Craig Gordon and Geraint Rees were now seeing more of the ball and subs Scott Thomas and Lewis Byng were stretching the tiring Gower defence.  You knew something was coming and in the 78th minute Ryan Thomas took his opportunity well to equalise.

With penalties on the spectators’ minds and Cwm continuing the pressure in the 90th minute a long free kick into the box was half cleared, headed back across to Thomas who calmly slotted it home to great celebrations.

South Gower could justifiably feel unlucky after such a solid performance but it is Cwmamman who went through to the next round.

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Old Gold denied win by late penalty

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Pontypridd Town 1-1 Carmarthen Town

CARMARTHEN TOWN, since their relegation from the Cymru Premier League, had been waiting for the first opportunity to begin their campaign to restore their top tier status – and, having taken the lead late in this match against a competitive Pontypridd side, it seemed that they had made a perfect start.

But, sadly, deep into added time the home side were awarded a hotly disputed penalty and the Old Gold had to settle for a share of the points in this their first ever Cymru South League match.

However even before the start of the match the gathering of Town supporters were delighted to see the presence of a very familiar face in the pitch-side dug-out, namely that of Mark Aizlewood who had just been appointed Head Coach – a role similar to that which he had held on three earlier occasions often coinciding with times of some notable success for the Club.

In the early stages of the game it quickly became clear that these two teams were quite evenly balanced but while the play switched quickly from end to end, no serious scoring chances emerged.  At the heart of the visitors’ defence Lee Surman and Lewis Rocke were strong and assured while on the flanks Michael George and Corey Saunders gave them firm support – goal-keeper Scott James was never troubled during this spell.

At the other end of the pitch strikers Liam Thomas and Noah Daley could make little early impression on the Pontypridd defence, prominent within which were long-term Town defenders Dave Vincent and Jordan Knott.

But eventually the game livened up and on 19 minutes the first notable scoring opportunity arose for the hosts when Sam Johnson, from the corner of the penalty area, released a fierce angled drive that James watched carefully slip wide of the post.  Then moments later Aiden Lewis struck a stunning 30 yard free-kick that flew comfortably over the bar.

Pontypridd continued this spell of pressure when the ball reached Luke Gullick inside the penalty area – he turned sharply then fired a crisp volley that James turned aside with a smart reflex safe.  Then on 26 minutes Lewis threatened the visitors’ goal once more when he dispatched a promising 20 yard strike that James denied with a stunning full-length save.

The Old Gold at last managed to threaten the home goal in the 34th minute when Jordan Vickers sent a fine pass through to Thomas just inside the penalty area – from a very sharp angle Town’s all-time top goal-scorer drove the ball beyond the reach of ‘keeper Morgan Davies but, sadly, into the side-netting.

Yet the final action of the first-half was at the other end of the pitch – after 40 minutes Lee Baldock fired a long free-kick into the crowded penalty area where Drew Fahiya struck a fierce volley that James carefully watched safely fly over the bar.

After the interval Carmarthen began far more positively but apart from a Rocke header on 60 minutes that flew just over the bar following Keiran Howard’s corner they had nothing to show for their efforts – the hosts failed to achieve even that meagre “success”.

However as the match seemed to be drifting to a goal-less conclusion an unexpected frenzy of activity erupted.

On 88 minutes Thomas released a fierce drive that struck the post and the ball rebounded out – it was promptly returned into the goalmouth where Daley, reacting quicker than several other players, stabbed it into the net from close-range.

That setback seemed to galvanise the hosts into frenzied activity and as the match drifted into added time they were rewarded when the referee decided that Vickers’ clumsy challenge on the edge of the penalty area merited a spot-kick.

Baldock stepped forward and fired the ball beyond James’ reach and into the corner of the net.  A few minutes later the referee blew the final whistle.

Town’s next fixture is against Llantwit Major on Tuesday, July 27, k/o 7.30pm at Richmond Park, while on the following Saturday, July 31, k/o 2.30pm Risca United visit Richmond Park – both are Cymru South League matches.

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