THE EXPERIMENT of introducing summer rugby for girls has been a resounding success, with female playing numbers in Wales more than doubling after just one season.
More than 2,000 girls regularly trained and played at the 27 new cluster centres for girls set up all over Wales for spring and summer 2016 and, in conjunction with additional playing opportunities at the 80 school club hubs around Wales, the number of women and girls playing the national sport has gone from a total of around 2,000, to more than 4,000 regular participants.
The cluster centres were so successful in creating a vibrant, sustainable environment for girls’ rugby that 15 new teams have already been established to allow girls to continue to play rugby in the traditional rugby season. These will fall into the Under 15, Under 18 and senior structures already in place, while the girls-only clusters will be back next spring for minis and juniors.
WRU National’s Women’s and Girls Manager, Caroline Spanton, said: “The clusters were set up to overcome some of the barriers girls felt were preventing them from enjoying rugby. Playing girls-only rugby in the summer months were key factors, combined with volunteers, parents, hub officers and WRU staff all pulling in the same direction to create a fun environment for girls from under nines to under 15s.
“The clusters were particularly popular for under nines to under 11s, and the figures for teenage girls has bucked the trend of girls dropping out of sport at that age. The clusters adopted a philosophy of stage not age, so if girls want to carry on playing touch or non-contact rugby, they can do so. We have catered for the demand from some new clusters to keep playing in the traditional season by setting up new under 15 and under 18 teams and ensuring they have everything in place to be sustainable.
“Girls clearly want to play rugby and we will keep working hard to ensure opportunities continue to increase for women and girls at all levels around Wales.”
The Arrows Under 18s in Pontypool is one of the new teams recently set up due to a strong desire from the players to carry on playing once the summer, cluster season ended.
Wales international prop Meg York coaches the side. “The vast majority of these players didn’t play rugby before the Arrows cluster centre was set up but enjoyed it so much that the girls begged us to set up an Under 15 and Under 18 side so that they could keep playing. The players are so enthusiastic, they just want to play rugby and since school has started back, they’ve brought their friends with them too, so numbers are increasing every week.
“They are so keen to learn and I certainly have my eyes on a number of players who could go on and play at a higher level. Coming from Pontypool myself, my idols were the Pontypool front row and if these girls see that I’ve achieved my dream of playing for Wales, hopefully they will see that it’s possible for them too; there is certainly no shortage of talent.”
Arrows player Nicole Smith said: “When I saw on Facebook that the Arrows cluster was setting up, I just had to get involved as I played rugby in primary school and thoroughly enjoyed it. Having Meg as a coach makes a huge difference as she gives us confidence and passes on her skills to us. I would love to play for the Dragons and Wales one day.”
Developing women’s and girls’ rugby at all levels is a key priority for the Welsh Rugby Union.
High profile appointments in the 15 and seven-a-side women’s game recently have been an indication of that at an elite level – along with WRU support for Jasmine Joyce and Laurie Harries to train with GB, Jaz Joyce going on to represent Team GB at the Olympics and a commitment to invest in Wales – places in the Women Sevens, with qualification for the Commonwealth Games and the World Sevens Series, are up for grabs.
At grassroots level, the 80 school club hub officers around Wales have hugely increased opportunities for girls to play rugby in school and helped to transfer girls to the clusters.
To find out about opportunities for women and girls to play rugby, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scarlets set up Toulon showdown
SCARLETS head coach Wayne Pivac, as an ex-policeman, orchestrated a crime of immense proportions at the Recreation Ground in Bath on Friday (Jan 12), when his Scarlet side won their must win European encounter 35-17.
Greeted onto the pitch by Greenhill School’s year 10 students as flag bearers, the game got off to an electric opening when Wales international centre Scott Williams caught the kick off and immediately referee Jerome Garcos awarded a penalty.
Outside half Dan Jones line kicks missed touch in the initial stages and his nervousness in such a titanic game was obvious.
Second row, Irish international Tadgh Beirne, rescued the situation by taking the line out ball against the throw, with the tackling strong from the visitors who were unable to recycle the ball as the game settled.
A blooded nose for skipper Ken Owen as ‘Bread of Heaven’ rang loudly from the Thatcher’s terrace, alongside sympathy for former outside half Rhys Priestland, whose birthday celebration were ruined when he limped off with a pulled hamstring to be replaced by Freddie Burns.
The Scarlets, now set and stable and got a nudge on at the scrum to establish the mantra for the evening with scrum half Gareth Davies darting clear on the blindside; England international full back Anthony Watson showed a clean pair of heels himself in response when running 40 metres from deep in his danger zone with flanker Sam Underhill in support.
A score was inevitable with such a frantic opening and it was the Scarlets who got the scoreboard rolling in a scintillating manner after nine minutes, starting from Beirne’s clawed line out ball.
Williams made the initial break, finding the support of second row David Bullring; centre Hadleigh Parkes took up the mantle finding Australian winger Paul Asquith, to flanker Aaron Shingler as they moved the ball with silky hands hitting gaps before it fell once again to the marauding Beirne.
From 15 metres out, he produced a Phil Bennett sidestep to screech in for a try converted by outside half Dan Jones.
Hymns and Arias was resounding into the cold air but the try was sweet, Neil Diamond’s appreciation of Caroline perhaps a better analogy for possibly the try of the season from the Land of my Fathers.
Freddie Burns pinged the Bath opening score after No. 8 John Barclay stopped their forward impetus and left the field for ten minutes on the French referee’s direction.
It was the Scarlets however who then dug deep, making ground and managing the game time superbly.
Shingler, running straight and with purpose made the gain line.
Full back Rhys Patchell and Parkes endeavour had the 13,822 crowd on the edge of their seats, which put Asquith in corner for a score despite being down to 14 men.
There was no stopping the red tide as five minutes later scrum half Davies rumbled 25 metres and found Welsh international Parkes on his shoulder and the centre crossed for his ninth try in 71 appearances, under duress, for a converted score and a 19-3 lead.
Williams was on fire, making another break to set up a scrum when the Scarlets were living in the moment; if he timed the pass his side were clear again for a score and perhaps on reflection needed just to consolidate their exuberance and make half time with their tail feathers unruffled may have suited.
A war of attrition with short passes and yardage in the tight areas wore down the clock and with it the Bath players and supporter’s hearts. The dominant scrum was verbalised loudly from prop Rob Evans and Jones slipped over the penalty for a half time lead of 22-3.
Bath as a city welcomes an array of nationalities but the atmosphere that trounced around the English fortress in January was full of ‘Heart and Soul’.
The Welsh contingent were delirious with their melody for a team of ‘Samson Lees’ eloquently reverberating around a city’s proclaimed architecture. Having been missing from the front row for many weeks before Christmas the prop was quite superb alongside fellow international Evans and his skipper, Ken Owens anchored between them.
Pivac has been coaching for 22 years since his first footstep on the rung in Northland, New Zealand but the victory in the back yard of the Aviva Premiership rugby giants was surely up with his best moments. Pro 12 champions last season having beaten Munster in Dublin to return a week later and rumble Leinster in the same venue included.
The ‘Rec’ was a cultural phenomenon, when Scarlets rugby once more came of age as they sat on the brink of a place in the European quarter final for the first time in 11 years. Bath rugby had lifted this trophy 20 years ago under the leadership of Scottish scrum half Andy Nicol’s but through their parade at half time, would have been in awe of the first half performance.
Music and Wales go hand in hand. Greenhill School, on tour at Backwell with the year ten students playing football, rugby and netball had the experience of a lifetime arranged through PE teacher Phil ‘Taffy’ Williams.
A school whose equally renowned musical talent under Samantha Hughes would have taken the Irish love ballad ‘Fields of Athenry’ to new heights given the opportunity.
Innate to the Irish famine of 1845 this anthem of the ‘underdog’ often resonating at Landsdowne Road or even Anfield a mercurial throw back to the task that sat before the visitors.
Top of Conference B the Scarlets took control early in the second half as they went in search of their bonus point try. The home eight were not match at the scrum set piece as Owens didn’t hesitate in choosing a rumble instead of taking a pot at goal.
Three times they drained the time and the Bath spirit, perilously close to crossing the try line through forward drives. Six minutes into the second half Patchell received the ball to deftly put a grubber kick through, allowing Williams to dab down wide out and Jones add the extras for 29-3.
The red tide were feeding the baying supporters cries for evangelical bread, where the ‘manna’ and intensity was unyielding. The team of Samson Lee lost their talisman on 55 minutes as his replacement Werner Kruger was rock sold as the choristers ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ resonated loudly and proudly.
Bath coaching guru Todd Blackadder needed his side to develop a pattern of play as they refused a kick at goal in search of a try, which came when winger Matt Banahan caught Burns kick in the corner allowing the outside half to convert with an hour played.
‘Long John’ Welsh second row Luke Charteris, a man with a biochemist degree and a fluent French speaker to boot took the hand-me-down inspirational singing to his hear. Not one for ‘losing my religion’ the boiler house man’s efforts allowed him a well earned rest at the same time as opposite number Bullring.
Over 150 years of rugby history in North Somerset has placed foundations from which the home side ran with their head of steam. Pivac manipulated his cast list with the game and full points in the bag, with Aled Davies arriving at inside half. Tried and trusted combinations saw Owens and Beirne orchastrting the line forcing Watson to desperately run from deep as the ‘big shift’ put in from down West was recognised.
Owens, Hong Kong born Barclay, and Evans were done but still the tide wouldn’t subside, drawn to their supporters in the Dyson stand as Pivac’s decision to play a six to two forward split off the bench drew a scrum penalty.
Jones added the points for a 32-10 and a fourscore lead with 12 minutes to play. The defensive patterns were as impressive as any offensive effort, Patchell making a last ditch cover tackle on Zach Mercer with five minutes to play typifying the ‘hywl’.
Top of the ball line out and replacement Josh Macloed madeground and play was outside the danger zone with Jones clearance. Back came Bath and No. 8 Zach Mercer couldn’t be denied in the opposite corner for a converted try after a cutting run from winger Aled Brew, skipper Matt Garvey and second row Paul Grant.
Williams and Prydie responded to gain a penalty for offside with ‘Sospan Fach’ finishing proceedings fittingly, with Jones boot, edging the score to 35-17.
The Bath faithful, forlorn and remorseful took an early bath wondering what had happened.
LTC Mobility sponsored Furnace rugby club members summed it up amidst their exuberant acclaims.
Centre and club vice captain Scott Davies hoarsely crooned: “It’s the best away trip I’ve experienced. Our 1800 strong choir left nothing in the changing room and it was certainly a factor in lifting the squad.”
On Saturday (Jan 20) another blockbuster awaits, when Toulon visit Parc Y Scarlets and the home side need a minimum of a bonus point to progress into the knockout stages.
Davies smiling face finished the evening with: “Let this be the springboard to the next level. This could be the year we lift the Heineken trophy and the whole of Europe will stand up for the champions.”
Aber slip to second Old Gold defeat
FOR the second time in a week, Aberystwyth Town were beaten by bottom side Carmarthen Town in the Welsh Premier League.
The Old Gold won 1-0 against the Seasiders on Boxing Day and on New Years Day (Monday, Jan 1), Carmarthen came away with a 2-1 victory to boost their hopes of getting out of the bottom two.
On a blustery Monday afternoon at Park Avenue, a bizarre 66th minute goal from Carmarthen goalkeeper Lee Idzi, followed by a late Liam Griffiths strike were enough to hand the Old Gold all three points, despite a consolation goal by Aber’s Matthew Jones in added time.
The defeat leaves Aber in 10th place in the JD Welsh Premier League and mathematically ends Nev Powell’s side’s hopes of finishing in the league’s top six positions ahead of the second half of the season.
Visitors Carmarthen Town came into the game having won just two of their previous nineteen league games, but buoyed by their Boxing Day victory over the Seasiders.
Nevertheless, it was the hosts who started the game strongest, with the gale force wind at their backs, as Declan Walker fired an early shot straight at Lee Idzi in the Carmarthen goal.
Aber continued to dominate the early stages as Craig Hobson volleyed over the bar before Ashley Young’s in-swinging corner came inches from crossing the goal line.
On 28 minutes, Aber again went close as Walker tried his luck from long range once more, before Jonny Spittle fired an effort wide of the post.
The visitors struggled to get a foothold in the game as the strong winds significantly impacted both teams’ efforts. As half time approached, Luke Borrelli swivelled on the edge of the penalty area before unleashing a shot that was deflected straight into the grateful arms of Idzi, as the first half ended in stalemate.
Aber came out in the second half playing into a stiff breeze, but there appeared to be more urgency in their play.
On 55 minutes, Town created the best chance of the game as Luke Borrelli’s goal bound effort was cleared off the goal line after a scramble inside the penalty area.
However, the turning point in the game came on 66 minutes as Carmarthen took the lead through the most unlikely of scorers.
Goalkeeper Lee Idzi collected the ball inside his penalty area before launching an innocuous clearance downfield, which got caught in the wind and looped over the head of Aber ‘keeper Chris Mullock and into the back of the net to make it 1-0.
Nev Powell sensed it was time for changes as he introduced Joe Phillips and Malcolm Melvin to try and create some added goal threat.
On 77 minutes, Aber again went close, as Declan Walker broke free down the right flank before narrowly shooting over the bar.
Aber were becoming increasingly desperate as they searched for an equaliser, and on the stroke of full time Carmarthen delivered the sucker punch goal that finished the game.
Keiran Lewis played in substitute Liam Griffiths who slotted a neat finish past Mullock to make it 2-0.
Town were able to grab a consolation goal before the full time whistle as Matthew Jones tapped in Ryan Wade’s cross at the far post, but it was too little too late for Nev Powell’s side.
The defeat confirms Town’s place in the league’s bottom half for the remainder of the season, as the Seasiders now aim to finish in the lucrative 7th place come the end of the season and the potential for a European play-off game.
Aber must now turn their attentions to their next JD Welsh Premier League fixture, away at Cardiff Metropolitan University on Saturday in a 5:30pm kick off, live on TV in front of the Sgorio cameras.
Jones’ stunner earns win for Street
A LARGE holiday crowd enjoyed a very competitive local derby on Saturday (Dec 30) which the home side won with a spectacular goal by former Borth player Ben Jones.
Bow Street took an early lead when Mark Gornall took a quick free kick and Garmon Nutting controlled the ball superbly and beat the goalkeeper.
Despite huge amounts of possession, and numerous opportunities, the home side were unable to add to their lead.
The same pattern followed in the second half but with 25 minutes to go, on a rare foray in to the visitors’ penalty area, James Davies equalised for Borth following a defensive mix up.
The last twenty minutes saw huge amounts of pressure from the home side and with five minutes left a sublime move involving many players was finished by a spectacular finish by Ben Jones for what was a deserved but hard-fought win.
Manager Barry Williams said: “We almost paid for not taking our chances again. But delighted to have come through in the end and it was brilliant for the boys to play in front of such a large crowd.”
The win for Bow Street moves them up to sixth place in Division 1 of the Mid Wales League while Borth remain second from bottom in the table.
On Saturday (Jan 6), both sides are in action in the third round of the Central Wales Cup.
Bow Street are away to Carno while Borth are also away as they take on Llandrindod Wells.
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