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Wales Rugby League – a hotbed of talent says CEO

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Talent: One of Wales' talented youngsters scores against England

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).

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Nuemann set to make first start for Wales

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FULLBACK Lisa Neumann will make her first start for Wales at Donnybrook this Sunday (Feb 25) (15:00) in Round Three of the Women’s Six Nations.

The 23-year-old from Pembrokeshire is the only new player in the starting line-up to face Ireland. Meanwhile, loosehead prop Cara Hope could win her first international cap from the bench.

“Lisa has been pushing hard for a place in the starting team and she deserves her opportunity this Sunday,” said Phillips, who has enjoyed the benefit of having former Wales international Gareth Wyatt coaching the backs since the start of the tournament. “We have a lot of talented back-three players in the squad, so we think Lisa will slot in well alongside Hannah Bluck and Jess Kavanagh-Williams – two players who pose threats from the wing.”

Phillips recently spoke about his team not being burdened by an “emotional hangover” from the result at the Twickenham Stoop, and insists that preparations for Ireland have been geared towards one thing. “We need to show that we’re improving in the areas that we’ve been working on this year,” said Phillips. “This will be a game between two very evenly-matched teams, and coming off the back of the last match we’re very keen to give a good account of ourselves.”

The last time both teams met in competition was during the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August – a game Wales won by 10 points at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. However, Phillips says that result won’t count for much come Sunday in Donnybrook, particularly after Ireland’s winning performance in a pre-Women’s Six Nations friendly with Wales in Ystrad Mynach earlier this year.

“Ireland were competing for a Grand Slam going into the final game of the competition last year, so we know how much of a strong team they are. The World Cup was a bit of an anomaly for them, so they’ve had a point to prove since then.

“They’ve got a lot of new personnel across the board, but the team is settled and experienced. It’s up for us to  show what we’re about as a team. We’ll certainly be prepared for a hugely competitive match in front of a boisterous Irish crowd this Sunday.”

Wales Women team to face Ireland:

15 Lisa Neumann (Scarlets)

14 Hannah Bluck (Cardiff Blues)

13 Kerin Lake (Ospreys)

12 Rebecca De Filippo (Dragons)

11 Jess Kavanagh-Williams (RGC)

10 Elinor Snowsill (Dragons)

9 Rhiannon Parker (Cardiff Blues)

1 Caryl Thomas (Scarlets)

2 Carys Phillips (c) (Ospreys)

3 Amy Evans (Ospreys)

4 Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys)

5 Mel Clay (Ospreys)

6 Alisha Butchers (Scarlets)

7 Beth Lewis (Scarlets)

8 Sioned Harries (Scarlets)

Replacements

16 Kelsey Jones (Ospreys)

17 Cara Hope (Ospreys)*

18 Meg York (Dragons)

19 Natalia John (Ospreys)

20 Nia Elen Davies (Scarlets)

21 Jade Knight (Scarlets)

22 Robyn Wilkins (Ospreys)

23 Hannah Jones (Scarlets)

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Biggar, Williams and Halfpenny in Wales team to face Ireland

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WALES have made three changes to their starting XV to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (KO 14.15) with British & Irish Lions trio Dan Biggar, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny all returning to the side.

Biggar has recovered from a shoulder injury to make his 61st appearance for his country and will line up alongside Gareth Davies at half-back.

Halfpenny and Williams join Steff Evans in the back-three with Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams continuing their partnership in the midfield.

Wales have named an unchanged pack for the trip to Dublin.  The all-Scarlets front-row of Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee feature for a third consecutive game.  Cory Hill partners captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row with Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty comprising the back-row.

“It is great to be able to bring so much experience back into the starting XV and into the backline,” said head coach Warren Gatland, who will take charge of Wales for the 100th time.

“It is the first week we have had everyone in the ‘green’ in terms of availability which is a nice luxury to have and a positive ahead of what is a very important test match against a very good Ireland side.

“We have been pleased with the depth we have developed in the back-three and pleased with how those players have gone but having the experience of Dan, Liam and Leigh coming back in is hugely important.

“We have been pleased with how the forward pack has been going and how they have worked as a unit but as always there is pressure for them to perform too.”

Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis are named as the front-row replacements with Bradley Davies and Justin Tipuric completing the forward contingent.  Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe and George North provide the back-line cover.

Wales Team to play Ireland:

Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets) (75 Caps)

Liam Williams (Saracens) (45 Caps)

Scott Williams (Scarlets) (53 Caps)

Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (3 Caps)

Steff Evans (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Dan Biggar (Ospreys) (60 Caps)

Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (29 Caps)

Rob Evans (Scarlets) (22 Caps)

Ken Owens (Scarlets) (54 Caps)

Samson Lee (Scarlets) (35 Caps)

Cory Hill (Dragons) (12 Caps)

Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (115 Caps) CAPT

Aaron Shingler (Scarlets) (15 Caps)

Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues) (9 Caps)

Ross Moriarty (Gloucester) (19 Caps)

Replacements:

Elliot Dee (Dragons) (4 Caps)

Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (28 Caps)

Bradley Davies (Ospreys) (59 Caps)

Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (54 Caps)

Aled Davies (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues) (13 Caps)

George North (Northampton Saints) (70 Caps)

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Aber earn a point against Prestatyn

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ABERYSTWYTH Town battled to a 1-1 draw against a resolute Prestatyn Town side, in a frantic JD Welsh Premier League clash at Park Avenue on Friday night (Feb 16).

Geoff Kellaway’s 78th minute header was enough to earn Aber a point after Damian Ketley had given the visitors a 20th minute lead, in a game where the home side saw a host of golden opportunities go begging.

Aber manager Nev Powell named an unchanged side from last weekend’s home victory against Llandudno, and his side got off to a bright start as John Owen struck his half volley narrowly over the crossbar after just 2 minutes.

Soon after, Aber were on the attack again as Declan Walker tried his luck from range, before Owen dragged his left footed effort wide of the post.

But it was the visitors who took the lead in the 20th minute with their first effort on target. After Noah Edwards’ corner kick was headed clear in the penalty area, the ball ricocheted for Damian Ketley who prodded the ball home inside the 6 yard box to make it 1-0.

Aber responded well to going behind, continuing to play the ball through the midfield trio of Tom Owens, Damien Allen and Malcolm Melvin, and on 30 minutes came close to finding the equaliser as Ryan Wade volleyed straight into the palms of Carl Jones in the Prestatyn goal.

The hosts continued to press for a way back into the game as Jones saved Tom Owens’ tame header, before Joe Phillips’ curling effort sailed just over the crossbar, but it was to remain 1-0 at half time with much work to do in the second 45 minutes.

Aber striker Craig Hobson was introduced at half time in place of Joe Phillips, as Town looked for an immediate impact from the target man.

Soon after the restart, the hosts saw another glorious chance go begging as John Owen chested the ball down in the penalty area before seeing his shot bounce off Jones and behind for a corner.

Then, on 54 minutes came the game’s most controversial moment, as the referee brandished a red card for Prestatyn sub Zebb Edwards after he appeared to use foul and abusive language.

This swung the momentum of the game in Aber’s favour even further, as Geoff Kellaway and Luke Borelli were introduced in place of Tom Owens and Ryan Wade.

On 70 minutes, Kellaway almost had an immediate impact as he scampered down the left flank before crossing dangerously, only for Dave Hayes to produce a vital block.

Prestatyn’s keeper looks on as Geoff Kellaway’s header loops into the net

Then, on 78 minutes Aber finally found their equaliser, as Malcolm Melvin cut inside before providing an inch-perfect cross for Kellaway to glance home an excellent header beyond Jones to make it 1-1.

Suddenly the home supporters found their voices as they urged their team forwards to find the winner.

To their credit, the 10-man visitors were defending admirably, harrying and hassling Aber all over the pitch.

On 82 minutes, Town thought they’d found the winning goal, as John Owen deflected in Hobson’s glancing header, only for the linesman’s offside flag to deny the front man.

As the game entered the final minutes, Aber continued to huff and puff without blowing the house down.

In the dying seconds, the hosts pushed for one final opportunity, as Ashley Young launched the ball into the penalty area, where Declan Walker’s attempted overhead kick fell to Damien Allen, who’s right footed shot flew agonisingly wide of the far post.

Unfortunately it just wasn’t Aber’s night as they were forced to settle for a point, in a game that could have been so different had they taken their opportunities.

Nevertheless, Nev Powell’s side still remain 10 points clear of bottom side Prestatyn Town, and move to within 4 points of the Europa League play-off spot in the JD Welsh Premier League table.

Aber must now turn their attentions to Sunday’s (Feb 25) huge JD Welsh Premier League clash with west Wales rivals Carmarthen Town at Richmond Park, kick off at 5:15pm.

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