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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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Walker wins it for Aber on opening night

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ABERYSTWYTH Town got their 2018/19 JD Welsh Premier League season off to the perfect start as they earned a thoroughly deserved three points against Llandudno at Park Avenue on Friday evening (Aug 10).

Declan Walker’s sublime 15th minute strike was enough to see Aber to victory, in what was an impressive defensive performance from the black and greens – centred around young 16 year old debutant Lee Jenkins, which saw Aber home through ten minutes of injury time to kick off the new season in the perfect manner.

Aber started the game on the front foot, playing with great intensity and tempo, with Declan Walker the first to test Llandudno’s goalkeeper after just four minutes with a long range effort. Soon after, it was Joe Phillips’ turn as he cut inside from the right flank and fired a shot narrowly over the crossbar.

Then, on 15 minutes Aber got the breakthrough their early play deserved, as captain Declan Walker found space on the edge of the penalty area, before shifting the ball to his right and curling a magnificent effort into the top corner of the net to make it 1-0.

He quickly ran over to the famous terraced corner of Park Avenue to celebrate with Aber’s jubilant fans, and the hosts were off to the perfect start.

Rather than sit back on their lead, Town continued to pepper the visitors goal, as Walker again found the net on 20 minutes only for the referee to disallow the goal for an infringement on the goalkeeper.

On 25 minutes, winger Ryan Edwards whizzed down the left flank before cutting inside and seeing his shot go inches wide of the post, before Aber somehow failed to double their lead on 28 minutes as Rio Ahmadi and Joe Phillips saw their efforts saved by Llandudno’s Shaun Pearson, before Declan Walker’s rebound rattled the crossbar.

The hosts were utterly dominant, with Ryan Wollacott and 16-year old centre back Lee Jenkins snuffing out any danger posed by the visitors’ attacks.

As half time approached, Aber again went agonisingly close as Ahmadi raced through on goal only to see his shot brilliantly saved on to the crossbar by the fingertips of goalkeeper Pearson, and the hosts would go into the break with a slender advantage.

Aber started the second half in similar fashion to the first, looking organised and solid, with Paulo Mednes and Mathew Jones bossing the central midfield areas.

On 52 minutes came Aber’s first worrying moment of the game, as Toby Jones crossed for Mike Pearson who was denied by a superb last ditch block by Aber’s Steff Edwards.

However, Aber goalie Leigh Jenkins, who’d performed admirably up until that point, was caught between both players on their way down and suffered a nasty injury to his right leg – resulting in him leaving the field and striker Rio Ahmadi putting on the gloves to play as goalkeeper for the remaining 35 minutes.

It would have been easy for Aber to panic at that moment, but instead they did the exact opposite as they continued to dictate the tempo of the game and threaten the visitors’ goal, with substitute Nashawn Blake providing additional pace and power up front.

Llandudno began to opt for a more direct route to goal, pumping long balls towards experienced centre forwards Mark Connelly and John Owen, but Aber’s 16 year old centre back Jenkins, aided by Baynes and Wollacott either side of him, was unfazed as he dominated the physical battle.

On 70 minutes, Nashawn Blake strode forwards before unleashing a swerving effort just wide of the post, before Mathew Jones’ goal bound header was blocked by Llandudno full back Ieuan Hewitt as Aber looked to press home their advantage.

Visitors Llandudno slowly began to crank up the pressure as the clock struck 80 minutes, with Danny Hughes volleying over before former Seasider John Owen headed wide, but the men in yellow were standing firm.

There were agonising groans from Town’s vocal supporters as the fourth official indicated a minimum of 8 minutes additional time, as the visitors piled forwards in search of an equaliser.

Kai Edwards headed wide in the final minutes before Mike Pearson’s bicycle kick was well saved by striker-come-goalkeeper Ahmadi, and Aber saw the game out to earn a massive 3 points on the opening weekend.

A huge victory for the black and greens under the circumstances, in what was the perfect start to the 2018/19 season.

It was an exciting attacking performance matched by an equally impressive collective defensive display, and Aber must now build on that momentum as they face Cardiff Met at Park Avenue on Friday evening (Aug 17) in front of the Sgorio cameras.

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Bhatia and Shah batter Seconds

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THE UWA Commoners picked up an excellent win on Sunday (Aug 5), as two of their batsmen blasted centuries against Aberystwyth Seconds.

The Commoners won the toss and chose to bat and that proved to be a good decision as openers Bill Somerfield and Rakesh Bhatia put on 98 runs for the first wicket.

James Breese made the breakthrough for the Seconds as he trapped Somerfield leg before on a score of 23.

Rakesh Bhatia and Raghave Shah then took over sharing another good stand of 101 before Breese again made the breakthrough. Bhatia had hit thirteen fours and five sixes in his stunning innings of 113 but he was then caught by Tom Constantine.

The scoring was not over yet as Shah and Umar Aslam continued to pile on the runs. They shared another 134 runs before Aslam was stumped by Owen Keyworth off the bowling of Constantine on a score of 54 which included six fours and a six.

Shah batted on and he smashed fourteen fours and nine sixes in a blistering knock of 153. His spectacular innings was brought to an end when he was caught by Peter Evans off the bowling of Dafydd Jones.

Will Copeland then finished not out on 17 with two fours and a six as the Commoners posted a mammoth total of 385-4 in their 40 overs.

The Seconds tried eight bowlers during the innings as they struggled to stem the flow of runs.

Aber Seconds knew they would need to bat well if they were to stand a chance of matching that total but three early wickets set the tone for the rest of the innings.

Peter Evans scored 11 before he was caught by Dean Davis off the bowling of Chris Ward and Mel Jones scored just three before being caught by Davis off the bowling of Ian Lawton.

Ward then bowled Tom Constantine on a score of 1 as the Seconds were reduced to 17-3.

James Breese scored just 7 before he was bowled by Lawton reducing the Seconds to 34-4 but Zaid Khan and Owen Keyworth did their best to put some runs on the board.

They shared a stand of 49 but Keyworth, who had hit four fours and a six in his score of 25, was then caught by Lawton off the bowling of Guy Baron.

Khan hit seven fours in his knock of 38 but he was then caught and bowled by Bill Somerfield.

Baron then bowled Alwyn Davies on a score of 5 and he then caught Ioan Morris off the bowling of Umar Aslam.

Somerfield then bowled Dafydd Jones for a duck and Will Copeland brought the innings to a close when he ran out Anthony Evans.

It meant that the Seconds were all out for 107 and a comprehensive 278-run win for the Commoners.

Sunday’s other game saw Talybont pick up another win as they scored 250-5 to surpass Tywyn and District’s total of 246-9.

Leaders earn another win

On Saturday (Aug 4), West Wales Conference leaders Aberaeron earned a seven wicket win over Aberystwyth’s first team.

Aber won the toss and elected to bat but they struggled to find runs and they were eventually all out for just 136.

They lost both openers early on as Anthony Burrell was bowled by Hywel Rees without scoring and Robin Varley was bowled by Simon Mitchell on a score of 2.

Zaid Khan scored 19 but he was also bowled by Mitchell as Aber slipped to 30-3. Thomas Burrell and Ted Trewella then shared 34 runs for the fourth wicket before Burrell was caught by Louis Fice off the bowling of Hywel Rees on a score of 26.

Trewella scored 10 before he was caught by Chris Strange off the bowling of Steff Rees and he then had Elwyn caught by Strange for a duck leaving Aber on 68-6.

Rees then also had Gareth Lewis caught by Fice on a score of 8 but Aber’s tail started a mini revival.

Robert Rudge and Joel Dixon shared 31 runs for the eighth wicket before Rudge was bowled by Paul Hughes on a score of 10.

Joel Dixon scored 17 before he was bowled by Steff Rees and Ioan Morris added 16 before he was bowled by Louis Fice.

That meant Aber were all out for 136 and Aberaeron made a steady start to their reply.

Openers Fice and David Grinszpan shared 42 runs before Fice was caught by Elwyn off the bowling of Gareth Lewis on a score of 19.

Chris Strange scored just ten before he was caught by Lewis off the bowling of Titus Mathew.

Grinszpan and Steff Rees then shared another 55 runs as they edge Aberaeron closer to their target. Rees scored 24 with a four and two sixes before he was caught and bowled by Ted Trewella.

That was as good as it got for Aber as Grinszpan and Hywel Rees saw Aberaeron to victory. Rees was not out on 11 while Grinszpan carried his bat to finish not out on 64 with five fours and three sixes.

On Saturday (Aug 11), Aberaeron will look for another win as they take on Aberystwyth Seconds. On Sunday, (Aug 12), Aberystwyth face second placed Talybont and UWA Commoners are at home to Tywyn & District.

The following weekend (Aug 18), Aberaeron are at home to Talybont in an exciting top of the table clash.

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Sport

Welsh Premier League season begins

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THE 2018/19 JD Welsh Premier League season kicks off tonight (Aug 10), with three exciting games in prospect.

Aberystwyth Town are in action and they will be looking to get their season off to a fine start as they host Llandudno at Park Avenue.

Carmarthen Town begin their campaign away to Bala in a game that will be streamed live on S4C’s Facebook page. Friday’s other game sees Cardiff Met play Newtown.

The 27th season of the JDWPL welcomes back two names synonymous with Welsh football, as Caernarfon Town and Llanelli Town return to the top flight after a number of years out.

Both clubs are rooted into the heart of their respective communities and will be hoping for great support as they kick off their campaigns at home to Cefn Druids and Connah’s Quay Nomads respectively.

Llanelli Town begin their season on Sunday (Aug 12) with a home game against Connahs Quay Nomads (KO 14:30).

The league has been recognised a number of times through the BBC Price of Football Survey as being the most affordable top-flight league in the UK, a validation of clubs’ commitment to keeping the live football experience open to everyone within their local areas. With the most expensive ticket price once again, being no more than £10, that commitment will continue into this season and beyond.

The League launched digitally this year on all JD Welsh Premier League social media platforms, and was accompanied by music from Cardiff band Himalayas, as part of the FAW’s partnership with the BBC Cymru Wales Horizons project.

Gwyn Derfel, JD Welsh Premier League Secretary, encouraged people to give the league a go, saying: “It is important that people give the JD Welsh Premier League a chance as, when people do come, they do tend to come back, which shows that we have a good, authentic, family-friendly product which is affordable to all.”

So, whether the football experience you’re looking for is affordable, family-friendly, authentic, good quality or all of the above, you’ll find it in your local community, at a JD Welsh Premier League club.

It begins. Get involved!

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