FOLLOWING Wales under 16s beating their English counterparts for the first time ever, Wales Rugby League CEO Chris Thair says the young talent has always been in Wales but recent results are finally making the elite clubs take notice.
Nine of the 17 players in the Wales side were under 15, which makes their historic 18-10 victory over England in Cardiff all the more remarkable, especially as they were up against a side that contained 14 players who are in Super League club’s academies.
Thair said: “The game was a marvellous advert for the sport and the talent on show from both sides was immense, however the result is remarkable given the difference in investment levels, systems and pathways between the two nations.
“Wales is small in size, however large in heart and even bigger when it comes to sporting talent. The sports authorities and elite clubs must now take note that Wales remains an outstanding player pool for the sport of rugby league.
“Investment is now the key to making this succeed. Super League clubs must invest by taking chances on young Welsh players and the sporting authorities must invest in Wales to ensure this young talent continues to come through the system.
“Young players in Wales are now enjoying playing more Rugby League than ever before, however our school and club programmes only begin at under 12s, where as in England it is under 7s.
“The seasons are much longer in England and by the time players reach 16 years of age they are likely to have a lot more training sessions and games under their belt. They would have also enjoyed the luxury of being involved with elite player scholarship systems with Super League clubs for a couple of years.
“The differences in experience levels for the under 16 international this weekend were immense and that alone makes the win an outstanding achievement. England had players of honed talent whereas Wales raw talent in terms of playing rugby league.
“Great talent but raw nonetheless and this makes it so exciting for all the scouts. A player of honed talent will improve at marginal levels however clubs are more likely to see significant jumps in performance levels after taking someone of raw talent.”
Thair is looking forward to the Rugby League World Cup in Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, which starts next month, and he knows that Wales will once again have a squad whereby over half of the players will have been developed through the Wales Rugby League system before first team.
“Welsh talent is shining at the moment,” he said.
“We began the season with Ben Flower and Rhys Evans helping their clubs beat their NRL counterparts in the World Club Challenge games, showing that we have world class players. Young Welshman Regan Grace then made one of the most impressive Super League debuts ever for his club St Helens. These three players along with many other professionals started their Rugby League in Wales and we urge clubs to continue to take the chance on recruiting Welsh talent, for the good of the club and the international game.
“We have over 60 Welshmen playing throughout the three professional leagues of the sport, however quality is still in abundance at the beginning of the pathway. Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf from Cardiff were once again crowned UK Champion Schools winners last month after beating Mirfield School in the Year 9 Final. This Glantaf school team has only been beaten once in three years of playing the sport.
“We have a system in Wales to bring through players from 16 to 21 years old and this is developing all the time however this is poor in comparison to a Super League club. St Helens had to take Regan Grace from our system at 17 and gave him a Super League debut at 20 years of age. Players who remain in Wales will come through and play for North Wales Crusaders or South Wales Ironmen in League 1 and whilst they are competitive the teams are not challenging for Super League.
“Yes we want players to remain in the system in Wales however at the same time we also want elite clubs to take on as many Welsh players as possible. The talent is here in Wales however it has to be nourished. Everyone involved in Wales Rugby League should be extremely proud of what is taking place in Wales and we continue to plan for a brighter future.”
The next chances to watch Wales’ up and coming players in action is this Saturday (Sept 9) when South Wales Ironmen and North Wales Crusaders clash at both under 18 and open age levels. The first game kicks off at midday. For more information, go to https://twitter.com/ironmenrl.
Wales under 18s then host England Lions at Cardiff Metropolitan University on Saturday, September 16 (kick-off 2pm).
Aber seal thrilling win
ABERYSTWYTH Town secured a massive 3-2 victory over JD Welsh Premier League contenders Bala Town in a thrilling game in front of the Sgorio cameras at Park Avenue on Saturday (Sept 15).
Aber made two changes to the side defeated by The New Saints on Tuesday evening, with Geoff Kellaway and Joe Phillips replacing Alan Goodall and Rio Ahmadi.
The hosts made the brighter start to the game, with Ashley Ruane threatening early on, before Wes Baynes fired an effort well wide of the post.
On 12 minutes, Aber missed their first clear opportunity of the game as Steff Edwards strode forward before putting a low cross into the six yard area where Ruane was inches away from converting.
Visitors Bala struggled to get into the game, but did create an opening on 16 minutes when Steven Tames crossed for Ian Sheridan who was unable to convert, before Aber were forced to defend a succession of corners from the Lakesiders.
On 23 minutes came the game’s opening goal, as Geoff Kellaway controlled Wes Baynes’ throw in on his chest before swivelling and delivering a teasing left footed cross into the penalty area, where Ash Ruane did enough to fool goalkeeper Morris, which allowed the ball to bounce into the far corner of the net for 1-0.
It was a lead that Aber’s early play just about deserved, as goalscorer Kellaway continued to cause bedlam in the visitors defence with his pacey runs and inviting crosses. Bala continued to struggle to find any rhythm, often bypassing the midfield and opting for the more direct route to goal with aerial balls towards lone striker Tames.
Meanwhile, Aber did their best to get the ball down and play, and on 36 minutes very nearly doubled their lead as the energetic Joe Phillips cut inside before sending a right footed effort inches wide of the post.
On 43 minutes, the visitors registered their first effort on goal as Henry Jones unleashed a powerful strike that was excellently tipped over by Leigh Jenkins, before Joe Phillips again went close at the other end with a long range effort, but Aber would take a slender one goal advantage in to the break.
The second half began at a more frantic pace than the first, with Bala evidently having had some harsh words said to them by manager Colin Caton at the break.
On 49 minutes, Steven Tames got his head on the end of Andrew Burns’ cross only to be denied by an outstanding reaction save by Leigh Jenkins. Aber’s keeper was called into action once more just seconds later as he got a strong palm on Henry Jones’ curling free kick, as the hosts were forced to weather the Bala storm.
The visitors went close once more on 53 minutes as Stuart J Jones missed a guilt-edged chance from 3 yards out when it appeared easier to score, but as the second half wore on Aber began to get a grip of the game once more.
On 67 minutes, Alan Goodall replaced Joe Phillips in midfield, but just seconds later the visitors equalised as Mike Hayes latched on to Sean Smith’s header before finishing brilliantly over Leigh Jenkins to make it 1-1.
Despite that setback, Aber appeared to grow in confidence and began to play some of their best football all evening.
Wing man Ryan Edwards continued to threaten down the left flank, and very nearly contributed to Aber re-taking the lead on 72 minutes as he played in Goodall, who flicked the ball through for Kellaway only for goalkeeper Morris to smother the ball at his feet.
Soon after, Kellaway was replaced by Rio Ahmadi, and within minutes of his entrance into the game, the Aber number 9 put the hosts back in front; Ryan Edwards provided a deft back-heel for Mathew Jones on the left flank, who then delivered an inch-perfect cross with his weaker right foot for Ahmadi to chest the ball down and drill the ball into the bottom corner to make it 2-1.
It was evident how much the goal meant to Rio himself, as well as Director of Football Nev Powell who jumped for joy into the arms of Aber assistant Gavin Allen! But the hosts weren’t done there, as on 87 minutes Ahmadi turned provider when he cut in from the right flank and delivered a sublime cross for Ashley Ruane to control, swivel and slam the ball into the roof of the net and make it 3-1 with his first goal for the black and greens.
As the game entered stoppage time, Henry was adjudged to have thrown himself to the ground too easily by the referee, before the linesman’s intervention resulted in the awarding of a penalty kick for the visitors. Jones stepped up and converted to make it 2-3, but it proved insignificant as Aber saw out the final minutes for what was a massive victory at Park Avenue.
It was a fantastic night for Aber under the Park Avenue lights, and an especially emotional evening for many associated with Aberystwyth Town and the Welsh Premier League, as the club unveiled the opening of Lolfa Emyr James before kick-off. It was a touching moment as Emyr’s family and close friends were on hand to officially unveil the opening in Emyr’s name, and it was fitting that Aber produced such a spirited and determined performance in honour of a great man who did so much for the club.
Aber climb to 7th place in the JD Welsh Premier League table, and will be keen to continue their push for a top six position as they face Carmarthen Town at Richmond Park in the JD Welsh Premier League on Saturday (Sept 22).
World class entries for Welsh Rally
NEXT month’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (October 4-7) will feature a star-studded line-up after organiser, International Motor Sports, confirmed it has received a world class entry from right around the globe for the UK’s forthcoming date on the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar.
Entries for round 11 of this year’s 13-round WRC closed late last week, with an outstanding field of 60 International cars representing 19 nations lining up to compete against-the-clock on an exciting new-look route featuring 23 gruelling special stages.
The entry list is topped by the world championship winning M-Sport Ford World Rally Team starring last year’s winner Elfyn Evans and also includes another Welsh wizard, Matt Edwards.
This year’s eagerly-awaited Dayinsure Wales Rally GB also features the final two rounds of the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship – a title race which Edwards is hoping to win in Wales having dominated the 2018 series to date.
While many eyes will be on local heroes Evans and Edwards, crews are coming from as far afield as New Zealand, India, the USA and Argentina to contest one of the most exciting and challenging events on the WRC calendar.
The introduction of new laws to close public roads for motor sport has enabled significant innovations to the packed four-day schedule. Thursday evening’s popular curtain-raiser at the Tir Prince Raceway in Conwy County has been enhanced while Friday’s action is switched to new and extended speed tests set in north Wales.
On ‘Super Saturday’ the crews face some serious mileage in the classic forests of mid Wales before Sunday’s ground-breaking finale sees cars racing through the streets of Llandudno for the very first time. The winners of both the 2018 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB and the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship will then be crowned on the resort’s famous seaside Promenade.
Competition for places on the WRC podium will be fiercely-fought as the World Championship reaches a rousing climax. With victories in the first nine rounds shared evenly between the three major protagonists – Sébastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak – this year’s titanic title battle is exceeding all expectations. Moreover, with the three drivers representing three different manufacturers – Ford, Hyundai and Toyota respectively – the battle for top honours among the teams is incredibly tight.
Ogier is gunning for a fifth Rally GB win – a feat no driver has achieved in the event’s 86-year history. To rewrite the record books, however, Ogier will have to overcome a super-competitive field which, of course, includes his team-mate Evans who made his own history last year when becoming the first Welsh driver ever to win a WRC round.
Among the factory teams Hyundai is fielding three of its i20 Coupe WRCs for championship leader Neuville, Hayden Paddon and Andreas Mikkelesen; Toyota has entered a trio of Yaris WRCs for new signing Tänak, multiple Rally GB winner Jari-Matti Latvala and young gun Esapekka Lappi; Citroën’s two-pronged attack will star Mads Ostberg and popular Irishman Craig Breen.
Other notable entries include an encouraging number of British contenders in R5 cars. The Prestone British Rally Championship front-runners include Matt Edwards, David Bogie, Alex Laffey and Rhys Yates while Tom Cave, Gus Greensmith and Chris Ingram will be among the other home stars looking to shine in the WRC2 category.
Skoda Motorsport is also out in force entering two of its pace-setting Fabia R5s for WRC2 title chaser Pontus Tidemand and its sensational young gun Kalle Rovanperä. Hyundai Motorsport and Citroën Total, too, are among the WRC2 contenders with entries for Jari Pekka Huttunen and Stéphane Lefebvre.
As introduced last year, enthusiastic amateur crews with nationally-registered machinery have been allowed to join the main WRC event. As a result, the entry list boasts a number of much-loved Subaru Imprezas plus an iconic Ford Escort Mk2.
Aber hit back to beat Reds
ABERYSTWYTH Town earned themselves a crucial 3 points as they came from behind to beat Llanelli Town 3-1 at Park Avenue in the JD Welsh Premier League on Friday night (Aug 31).
There were two debutants in the Aber starting eleven on Friday evening as Alan Goodall slotted in at left back in place of Steff Edwards and new signing Ashley Ruane started as the lone striker up front.
Visitors Llanelli started the game the brighter, edging the early stages with some tidy possession but no clear cut chances.
Aber struggled to get into their usual Park Avenue rhythm, and were punished on 17 minutes as James Loveridge snuck in behind Town’s defence before slotting the ball beyond the reach of Aber ‘keeper Terry McCormick to make it 0-1.
Soon after, the Reds very nearly doubled their lead as former seaside Mark Jones rounded McCormick before seeing his goal bound effort cleared off the line by Ryan Wollacott.
Then, on 32 minutes, the visitors missed another golden opportunity as Loveridge was denied by an excellent McCormick save before Aber finally registered their first attempt on target as Goodall strode forward before unleashing a vicious left-footed strike that was tipped over by Llanelli ‘keeper Davies.
The hosts appeared to be edging their way back into the game on the stroke of the half, but in added time they had McCormick to thank once more as he produced a brilliant stop to deny Loveridge and Aber went in to the break somewhat fortunately only losing by one goal.
Aber striker Rio Ahmadi was introduced from the bench at half time in place of Paulo Mendes, as Aber changed formation with Ahmadi providing added support to Ruane up front. There was an instant change in tempo and momentum as the black and greens began to up their game.
On 54 minutes, Geoff Kellaway fired over the crossbar before Ruane went close with a half volley from long range.
Then, on 62 minutes Aber found the equaliser as Ahmadi was first to reach a looping cross into the box before directing a fantastic header into the corner of the net to make it 1-1.
Suddenly the hosts were well and truly on the front foot, and just two minutes later they took the lead as Geoff Kellaway latched on to a loose ball at the back post before cheating down and half volleying before Llanelli ‘keeper Davies to make it 2-1.
The home supporters found their voices as they urged the seasiders to keep pushing forward.
On 68 minutes Chris Jones was denied by McCormick before goalscoring hero Kellaway was replaced by Joe Phillips.
On 77 minutes, substitute Phillips had a near instant impact as he got the last touch on a goalmouth scramble to make it 3-1 and all but seal the three points.
The hosts did well to weather a late storm from Llanelli and very nearly made it four in added time as Ruane raced through on goal before being denied by a fantastic save, but it was to be another crucial victory for the hosts as they climbed into the league’s top six positions.
Aber now have 10 days to recover from Friday night’s encounter prior to their next league fixture away to The New Saints on Tuesday, September 11, but they will be delighted to have registered their second league victory of the season as they lie in the league’s top six positions after four games so far this season.
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