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Disappointing end to Scarlets campaign

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Munster 31

Scarlets 15

Liam Williams: Catches the ball mid air

Liam Williams: Catches the ball mid air

MUNSTER will play Champions Cup rugby next season after Rory Scannell’s two tries helped them beat Scarlets 31-15 – bringing an end to the Welsh club’s top-four hopes in the process.

Scarlets needed to win and hope Ospreys were able to beat Ulster to extend their season into the playoffs but neither of those scenarios materialised as Munster signed off their season on a win in front of their home fans.

Francis Saili and Scannell both crossed in the first half but three penalties from Steve Shingler kept the visitors in touch.

.But the hosts strengthened their hold on the game after the break with Ronan O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Scannell crossing.

Chasing a play-off spot, all the pressure in the early stages came from Scarlets and they duly got their reward on nine minutes when Shingler sent over a penalty.

But when another attacking move broke down minutes afterwards, the visitors were stung on the break in devastating fashion.

Saili picked the ball up after the ball had been turned over in front of Munster’s own posts before feeding in a grubber kick for Keith Earls. Earls still had plenty to do but side stepped the onrushing Scarlets defence before returning the ball to Saili to canter over, with Johnny Holland converting for 7-3.

The game was certainly being played at a high speed and Scarlets though they had got a try back almost immediately when Steffan Evans went over the corner but Nigel Owens eventually ruled it out for an earlier forward pass.

Play was instead pulled back for a scrum and when Scarlets then won a penalty, they at least got three points on the board when Shingler sent over his kick.

The next attack went the way of Munster and they again proved clinical when they entered their opponents half, walking away with their second try of the match when Scannell darted over after strong work from the forwards.

Holland again added the conversion to take the scoreboard to 14-6 after 26 minutes.

Scarlets knew they needed tries to keep their play-off hopes alive but they had to make do a series of penalties instead before half-time – both through Shingler – as the visitors entered the break trailing 14-12.

The hosts started the second half strongly and when Scarlets were caught going off their feet, Holland had a chance to extend his side’s lead but he pulled his effort off target.

James Davies then made a break for Scarlets but with no teammates in support he was held up, but the visitors kept up the pressure and Shingler looked to chip forward to towards the posts but he was unable to gather and Earls cleared.

Munster were soon starting to see more of the ball but despite getting themselves a line out close to Scarlets line, they were unable to make it count.

But their third try of the match did eventually arrive just short of the hour mark when a defensive mistake in midfield between Scarlets duo John Barclay and Hadleigh Parkes saw Scannell gobble up the ball before playing in O’Mahony to run over. Holland was off target with the conversion with the scoreline at 19- 12.

Shingler slotted over another penalty to make it 19-15 but Munster were not done and a powerful driving maul on 68 minutes resulted in another try – this time for Stander after consultation with the TMO.

Holland was off target with his conversion but with Scarlets tiring, the hosts were able to add a fifth try late on as Scannell went over after being played in by Stander.

Holland had the final say with his conversion as Munster ran out comfortable winners although Scarlets themselves can also at least look forward to Champions Cup rugby next season.

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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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Two wins in two for Aber Ladies

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Going for the ball: Aber Ladies and Llanidloes do battle

ABERYSTWYTH TOWN LADIES continued their recent run of good form with two victories in as many games.

Last Sunday (Oct 29), they were 5-1 winners over Cascade YC in the Welsh Women’s League (WWL) and before that they won 4-0 against Llanidloes Ladies in the Central Wales Cup Quarter Final.

Town made an impressive start to their league game on Sunday as Ffiona Evans came extremely close to opening the lead in the opening couple of minutes but her effort hit the far post.

Town didn’t need to wait long to open the lead though as, just a couple of minutes later, last season’s Player of the Season Helen Evans managed to lob the home side goalkeeper from the edge of the box.

Visiting goalkeeper Ffion Ashman kept the away side ahead after making a great save with her feet from close range and the Black and Greens then doubled their lead.

A Caroline Cooper free kick was headed in by Helen Evans for her second of the match. Cascade then had a huge chance to get back in the game from the spot but unfortunately for the home side the ball smashed against the post and Aber kept their two-goal lead.

The two-goal lead soon became three when Naomi Evans scored her seventh of the season. Her strike found the top corner of the net.

A quarter of an hour into the second half the home side did pull one back. Cascade’s Stevie Cleverly shot found the back of the net after being put through on goal, but just minutes later Aber got a fourth: Helen Evans completed a superb hat-trick when her strike found the top corner.

The drama wasn’t over yet as Cascade won another penalty but amazingly hit the post again and just a few minutes later Aber made it five. The home side goalie was unable to keep hold of the ball and Nia Witts reacted quickest to score her first of the season.

On a poor pitch Aber put in a very good performance and thoroughly deserved the victory.

Last Friday (Oct 27), the Ladies made it through to the Central Wales Cup Semi-Finals with another convincing victory to make it three successive victories in all competitions without conceding.

A few months ago, Aber won the Central Wales Cup for the fifth year in a row and their first match of this year’s competition was a home match against Llanidloes Ladies.

With 19 minutes gone, Aberystwyth were already ahead after a Tania Wylde corner was headed in by midfielder Kelly Thomas for her first goal of the season.

Town deservedly doubled their lead on 36 minutes when Stephanie Land’s shot from the edge of the area ended up in the bottom corner, and in first half added time it was three as another excellent corner was turned in by centre back, Josie Pugh.

Aber dominated the early stages of the second half as they pushed for a fourth. Land, Helen Evans, Sian Evans, Kelly Thomas and Hannah Pusey’s efforts all went just wide of the post, but eventually that fourth goal did come.

Tania Wylde’s shot from the edge of the box beat the keeper, hit the inside of the post and crossed the line. The Black and Greens could have extended their lead on a few occasions. Pusey and Helen Evans both came close late on but 4-0 was the final score.

Aber have now scored a fantastic 17 goals in just three matches and will hope this winning run continues. The team would also like to thank everyone that came to watch the match and hope to see you all at their next home game.

They now have a week off and their next match will be away against Cwmbran away on November 12.

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Town looking to emulate away form

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Out: Geoff Kellaway will be unable to play due to a groin injury

ABERYSTWYTH TOWN will look to emulate their recent away form and pick up their first home victory of the season against Cefn Druids at Park Avenue on Friday night (Nov 3).

Town go into the game off the back of another fine victory away from home at Prestatyn last weekend, with late goals from John Owen and Declan Walker securing all three points. Manager Nev Powell will now be looking for a similar outcome at Park Avenue on Friday night to kick-start Aber’s home results in the JD Welsh Premier League.

Aber head into tonight’s clash in a rich vein of form, having picked up eight points from their last five league games, with seven of those points coming away from home.

Aber boss Nev Powell will now be looking for an improvement in his side’s home form, as they search for their first victory of the season at Park Avenue.

In an interview with Aber Town’s Youtube channel last weekend Powell stated: “The spirit and the character we’ve got inside that dressing room goes a long way, and we’re starting to play with a lot more freedom and the lads are enjoying their football now.”

Indeed, Aber’s manager will be looking for similar performance levels to that in their previous home game, where Town were cruelly beaten by league champions The New Saints.

Aber captain Jonny Spittle is back in contention for Friday night’s game after missing last weekend’s victory at Prestatyn through suspension, whilst Geoff Kellaway remains side-lined as he continues to recover from a groin injury.

Cefn Druids travel to Park Avenue in fine form themselves, having won 1-0 away at Bangor City last weekend and currently lying in 4th place in the JD Welsh Premier League. Cefn Druids ran out comfortable 2-0 victors against Aber in the reverse clash earlier in the season at The Rock.

Kick-off is at 8pm, in what is sure to be a Halloween Humdinger of a game.

Get yourselves down to Park Avenue and cheer Aber on to climb up the JD Welsh Premier League table.

In what is a Halloween Special, supporters turning up in fancy dress will only be charged half price for entry, meaning that those still in costume can enjoy Welsh Premier Football for a bargain of £3.50 for adults, £2 concessions and 50p for kids. You don’t want to miss out!

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