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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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Aber earn famous win

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ABERYSTWYTH Town secured a famous JD Welsh Premier League victory as they downed league champions and full-time outfit The New Saints 1-0 on a brilliant Friday night (Nov 2) at Park Avenue.

17-year old local Lee Jenkins’ 52nd minute goal was enough to see the Seasiders to victory as Aber picked up their third successive JD Welsh Premier League win to climb back into the top six in the table.

It was the hosts who started the brightest, as Ryan Edwards surged into the penalty area after just 5 minutes where his looping cross was met by Rio Ahmadi, who saw his header cannon off the crossbar and into the arms of the fortunate Paul Harrison in goal.

After just 15 minutes, Aber were forced into an early substitution as Jack Rimmer appeared to injure his hamstring, resulting in 17-year old Lee Jenkins coming on in his place at centre half.

Visitors TNS gradually began to see more of the ball, and on 22 minutes showed their first glimpse of threatening play as Jamie Mullan’s low cross was brilliantly cleared by Ryan Wollacott in the six yard area.

Soon after, Mullan combined with Aeron Edwards on the edge of the box but Aber ‘keeper Terry McCormick was there to mop up the danger. As the first half wore on, Aber began to edge their way back into the game, and on 34 minutes had another good opportunity as Mathew Jones forced a fine stop from Harrison with a curling free kick, before Declan Walker curled a right footed effort just over the crossbar.

Then, on 42 minutes, the hosts had another opportunity as the effervescent Jones burst through from midfield only to see his left footed strike go inches over the crossbar.

As half time approached, so did a moment of controversy, as Geoff Kellaway scampered down the right flank in the 45th minute and produced an inch-perfect cross for Joe Phillips who’s first time volley landed in the top corner of the net – only to be denied by the assistant referee’s offside flag.

Aber’s vocal supporters voiced their displeasure at the decision as the referee blew for half time, with the Seasiders going in unfortunate not to be ahead.

The black and greens started the second half much the same way as they ended the first, pressing the visitors with great intensity and not allowing them a moment’s time or space on the ball.

On 52 minutes came the moment the home fans had been sensing, as local starlet Mathew Jones whipped in a fantastic corner kick, where Lee Jenkins was on hand at the back post to tap the ball over the line and make it 1-0. It was a truly memorable moment for the Seasiders with two home grown teenagers combining to put them ahead against the league champions, as Aber suddenly had a lead to hold on to.

Just four minutes later, the Saints almost found an equaliser as Ryan Brobbel’s goal bound effort was heroically blocked on the line by Wes Baynes, before Geoff Kellaway surged through on goal on the counter attack only to be denied by a last ditch Simon Spender challenge.

As the hour mark passed, Aber not only defended their lead superbly, but attacked with a pace and dynamism that caused the league leaders no end of problems.

On 64 minutes, Joe Phillips almost doubled Town’s lead as he cut inside and curled an effort inches wide of Paul Harrison’s post, before Mathew Jones fired an effort straight at the Saints ‘keeper from the edge of the penalty area. On 70 minutes came the Saints best opportunity to equalise, as Spender crossed for Brobbel who looked sure to slot the ball home, but instead fired wide of McCormcick’s post and Aber could breathe a sigh of relief.

As the game entered the final 15 minutes, one would have assumed the hosts would tire against their full-time opponents, but instead the Seasiders seemed to find another level of energy – summed up by the tireless efforts of midfielder Ryan Edwards, tasked with the job of marking playmaker Aeron Edwards who was positioned in the pocket behind strikers Ebbe and Byrne.

The hosts went close to doubling their lead once more on 77 minutes as Baynes rifled a free kick into the side netting, before the visitors began to throw the kitchen sink at Aber’s phenomenal back line.

Geoff Kellaway was replaced by Ash Ruane as the game entered the final minutes, but still Aber stood strong and defended their lead admirably. Then, in the fourth minute of additional time, Aeron Edwards earned his side a free kick on the edge of the penalty area where substitute Chris Seargeant stepped up only to see his strike superbly saved by McCormick – a save that was greeted with the loudest roar of the night from the home supporters.

It turned out to be one of the final acts of the night as referee Huw Jones blew for full time to mark a magnificent victory for the Seasiders on a great night at Park Avenue.

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Cardis too strong for Llangwm

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CARDIGAN picked up their third win of the season on Saturday (Oct 27) as they beat Llangwm 34-14 at Pill Parks.

It was a chilly afternoon in Llangwm and the game started slowly before the home side got the first points on the board.

Llangwm scored the first try through Craig Grice who finished well after a powerful break and good offload by Josh Hicks. Luke Hayman added the conversation.

Cardigan soon hit back and Sion Hughes lead from the front for Cardigan and opened up spaces for their sharp back three.

There wasn’t much to choose between the two teams at half time. Cardigan’s scrum was strong and gave them a solid platform.

They were soon leading after the oranges until Louis Murphy hit back for Llangwm to make it 22-14 with the Wasps still in with a chance.

From the resulting kick off Hicks caught the ball and made a length of the field break after a couple of hand offs. This gave Llangwm threatening territory with their tails up.

However, an unsavoury scrap resulted in both Grice brothers leaving the field for Llangwm, one red and one yellow.

This was a game changer and Cardigan ran in two late tries to seal the win.

Cardigan’s next game comes on November 24 when they host Milford Haven while Llangwm are without a game until December 1.

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Aber up to sixth

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ABERYSTWYTH Town moved themselves into sixth place in the Welsh Premier League on Friday night (Oct 26) with a 3-1 win against Llanelli Town to inflict more trouble on the Reds.

These are troubling times for Llanelli Town as they slumped to yet another home defeat at the hands of the Seasiders, with their record at Stebonheath from the six matches to date yielding a solitary point with just three goals for and eighteen against.

In addition, an appalling disciplinary record of eight red cards from twelve games is obviously having a hugely detrimental effect on the side, with the latest culprit being Anthony Finselbach, who was making his first appearance following a previous three match ban.

These constant disruptions to the squad is making life a nightmare for manager Andy Hill, who is unable to name a settled eleven from one match to the next, forcing him to select academy players to fill the voids left by the offenders.

Another cause for concern is the lack of firepower, with James Loveridge seemingly the sole outlet up front, typified in this latest clash when Terry McCormick in the Aberystwyth goal was barely tested throughout, in stark contrast to his opposite number Oliver Davies, who saved the Reds from going down to an even heavier defeat with some important interventions.

As in the previous game at Jenner Park against Barry Town United, the hosts found themselves trailing to an early goal with the Seasiders` going ahead after 3 minutes through Paolo Mendes, when he was found in space before rounding the sprawling figure of Davies and finding the vacant net.

Photo by Darren Harries

Just two minutes elapsed before the scores were level, when a Chris Jones corner swung into the goalmouth led to McCormick attempting to punch clear but instead only succeeding in diverting it into the goal.

A run by Loveridge led to him finding Jordan Follows, but his strike was deflected past the target for a corner.

Within a short time of one another, both Mendes and Finselbach were shown yellow cards by referee Nick Pratt, and these were to have consequences later in the contest.

When the visitors were awarded a free kick, Matthew Jones`s strike rebounded off the wall , and when he met the loose ball, it clipped the top of the bar on its way over.

The home side were showing little sign of causing their opponents too many problems, with possession being given away far too often, and Aberystwyth were by far the more dominant, and when a Wes Baynes cross into the box was met by Joe Phillips it was cleared with some difficulty for a corner, which was then whipped invitingly across the face of goal with nobody able to apply a finish.

Photo by Darren Harries

The nearest the home side came to a sniff of a chance arose from a set piece awarded when Jordan Davies was brought down by Ryan Wollacott just outside the box, with Loveridge driving the kick inches wide.

This was a rare opportunity for the Reds who continued to play second fiddle to their opponents, and feared the worse when the Seasiders were awarded a penalty In the 37th minute following a tackle by Anton Nelson on Ryan Edwards, but were rescued by Davies who kept out the spot kick from Declan Walker.

Their elation as this let-off was short lived, as within three minutes they found themselves trailing again, when a corner by Jones found the head of an unmarked Wollacott to power his finish past Davies.

On the stroke of half time, a loose ball by Carlos Indja was seized on by Walker, but he directed his finish over the top.

Seven minutes after the restart, the visitors were reduced to ten men when Mendes was shown a second yellow, but this setback did not deter them to any great extent as they still continued to dominate proceedings, with a far post delivery by Stefan Edwards being met by Ashley Ruane whose finish struck Indja and out for a corner.

Disaster then struck the hosts when their numerical advantage was cancelled out following the dismissal of Finselbach after 63 minutes, again for a second caution, and they came under even more pressure following this.

Davies again came to the rescue, keeping out an attempt on target by Jones, before being called into action further, this time coming off his line to deny Ruane when he was played through into the area.

Daniel Alfei got in the way of a goal bound shot from Ruane, and with the clock running down, the Seasiders were only being kept at bay by some desperate defending, with Walker somehow contriving to have his attempt blocked from point blank range when it appeared easier to score.

Former Red, Geoff Kellaway, replaced Phillips on 70 minutes for the visitors, and was almost immediately in the thick of the action, forcing Davies to brilliantly turn over his connection from an assist from Ruane.

Ruane, himself, suffered the same fate when another chance went begging with Davies keeping it out, but with a minute left, Kellaway finally put the contest to bed when he accepted a chance to collect a ball wide on the right before cutting inside and slotting it beyond Davies.

Yet another demoralising defeat for the home side, who now face the daunting prospect of a long trip next Saturday to take on high-flying Connah`s Quay Nomads who inflicted a crushing 7-0 win at Stebonheath on the opening day of the season.

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