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Captain Bony calms the ship

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By Jonathan Twigg

A MAN of the match performance from Captain Wilfried Bony led the charge for Swansea City on Saturday (Dec 9) when his second goal in consecutive games sealed a dour 1-0 victory on a dark and gloomy afternoon over West Bromwich Albion at the Liberty Stadium.

Securing a valuable three points lifted Paul Clements under pressure Swans side off the foot of the Premier League table as Bony’s winner sparked a chorus of ‘Hymns and Arias’ with nine minutes remaining.

Substitute Tammy Abraham’s effort was cleared off the line at the far post from a Ki Sung-Yueng corner before the Ivory Coast strikers’ driven right foot shot which thundered beyond former England goalkeeper Ben Foster.

The Swans started the game at the foot of the table but took solace from the fact they had won five out of six fixtures when they had been in a similar situation previously. Their visitors hadn’t won a game in the Premier League for four months and were on a run of three consecutive defeats in their travels to West Wales.

The green shirted Albion started brightly keeping the ball and moving it around across the floor much unlike teams who play under their new manager Alan Pardew’s banner.

Without creating opportunities apart from a Jake Livermore shot midway through the half to punish the home side, the play meandered precariously towards stalemate at half time, unsurprisingly perhaps as former Bayern Munich Assistant Manager Paul Clements side had netted just eight goals in 15 league games.

Winger Nathan Dyer drew a foul from Claudio Yacob after 18 minutes which earned him yellow card which proved to be a catalyst for the apprehension surrounding Swansea’s play subsiding for the remainder of the first half as they gained superiority in terms of possession and territory.

The closest they came was when midfielder Livermore headed against his own post from a dipping Tom Carroll free kick as the visitors screened the play well through skipper Jonny Evans and his centre back partner Yacob across the 18 yard box.

Bony’s opportunities were restricted despite midfielders Carroll, Ki and Roque Mesa enterprising combinations  with Dyer and full back Martin Olsson getting behind the opposition defence through the outside channels, where Sam Field collected a yellow card after 35 minutes as he tried to disrupt the inter play.

Centre half Alfie Mawson squandered a great opportunity to head an opening goal when he found space six yards out with seven minutes remaining before Swansea came out for the second half on the front foot.

Bony managed to break the defensive shackles on him with a strong and direct run but pulled a driven shot wide of the post, which added to the derisory tally of 27 shots on target this season for his side, the worst across any of the major European leagues.

Clement’s introduction of Jordan Ayew after 54 minutes for Wayne Routledge injected more spirit and it created opportunities to test Foster, from which Bony drew heart to become an influential figure on the game as the Baggies eventually wilted under the pressure and conceded the only goal.

Tammy Abraham should have sealed the victory in injury time when he was worked free to stride beyond the covering defenders only to wrench his effort wide when one on one with Foster, an effort which the eighteenth created in the match, but only three were on target.

Mesa picked up a second half yellow card as did Carroll before he was replaced by Luciano Narsingh, with Evans and substitute Chris Brunt for the Albion, alongside Welsh striker Hal Robson Kanu as he berated referee Dean on his way off the field to be replaced just before the goal, by Oliver Burke.

The crowd of 19,590 greeted the final whistle knowing they find themselves a point adrift Alan Pardew’s side who hover one place outside the relegation places; two wins would catapult Swansea to mid-table, which would be a welcome festive tonic as the January transfer window opens, allowing Clement an opportunity to re-inforce his squad which for most of this season has looked short on the quality required for survival in the Premier League.

Their first win since October was certainly scrappy where the immaculately dressed Clements’ initial reaction to Bony’s strike was to dance down the touchline coupled with a huge sigh of relief to go with his elation.

The Swansea roadshow heads to Goodison Park on Saturday (Dec 16) to take on an Everton side themselves on a run of four unbeaten games since former England supremo Sam Allardyce took the reins before fellow relegation rivals Crystal Palace arrive at the Liberty for a key Yuletide fixture on Saturday (Dec 23).

Swansea head on the road after Christmas, firstly again to Merseyside to face Liverpool at Anfield on  Boxing Day and Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday (Dec 30) before hosting Tottenham Hotspur at home on Saturday (Jan 2).

Clement and his side will take confidence from Saturday’s victory which has eased the pressure in the cauldron after Club owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien afforded Clement their ‘public support’.

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Six Nations finale with Scotland sold out

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Wales’ final Guinness Six Nations clash of the 2020 Championship – against Scotland – has sold-out.

The tournament climax for incoming head coach Wayne Pivac on Saturday 14th March, will be played out at a full capacity Principality Stadium in front of a 73,931-strong crowd baying for Welsh success.

Pivac opens his first Six Nations campaign, after taking over the head coach reins from incumbent Wales boss Warren Gatland, in Cardiff against Italy on Saturday 1st February with limited tickets (including U16s tickets at £20) still available for this game.

In all over 200,000 tickets have been sold for Wales’ three home matches in the competition and the round three meeting with France, on Saturday 22nd February, is set to follow Scotland in posting up the sold-out signs in the next few days.

The last time Wales faced the Scots, the Azzurri and Les Blues at home following a Rugby World Cup was the 2016 Six Nations, when all three matches sold-out before a ball was kicked, a factor directly influenced by a successful run in the tournament.

In Pivac’s first game in charge he leads Wales against a Barbarians side which will be led by his predecessor at the helm for Wales, Gatland, at Principality Stadium in November.

The Barbarians match has sold over 40,000 tickets to date, but also still has availability for U16s, at £10, with remaining adult tickets starting at £30.

Remaining tickets for Italy and France in the Six Nations and for the Barbarians game are available now from a Welsh rugby club near you, online at www.wru.wales/tickets, in person at the WRU ticket office or by phone 0844 847 1881 (calls to this number cost 7p per minute plus your company’s access charge) – maximum purchase limits apply.

Principality Stadium Official Hospitality Packages are available for all matches from 02920 822309 or visit www.wru.wales/hospitality, with Premium hospitality available for the Barbarians game and limited availability in The Players’ Lounge for Italy.

The WRU’s offsite hospitality partner Events International also has availability www.eventsinternational.co.uk and official travel packages can be purchased from the WRU’s official travel supplier, Gullivers Sports Travel by visiting www.gulliverstravel.co.uk and some member clubs may also still have tickets.

The WRU strongly advises all supporters to make sure they always ‘buy official’, only tickets bought from official sources (member clubs, official partners or the WRU direct) are guaranteed by the WRU – with tickets sold via unlicensed operators often cancelled and entrance regularly and regretfully refused on void tickets.

FIXTURES ON SALE NOW (includes ticket availability by category):

Wales v Barbarians, Saturday 30th November 2019, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.45pm (Double header with Wales Women v Barbarians Women, Kick-off 11.45am) Prices: £10, £20 (both sold-out to adults but £10 concession remains for U16 – with over 40,000, more than half capacity, available) , £30 *AFZ, £40, £50

Wales v Italy, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 1st February 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.15pm. Prices: £30, £50 (both sold-out), £60 *AFZ, £60 (£20 U16), £65 (£20 U16), £75

Wales v France, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 22nd February 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 4.45pm. Prices: £40, £65 (both sold-out), £90, £90 *AFZ, £95, £105 (sold-out)

Wales v Scotland, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 14th March 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.15pm ALL SOLD-OUT

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Wales make two changes for Fiji clash

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Wales have made two changes for their third RWC Pool D encounter against Fiji on Wednesday (October 9 KO 18.45 local / 10.45 UK).

Both changes to the starting XV come in the back row with Ross Moriarty and James Davies coming into the side at number eight and openside flanker respectively with Josh Navidi switching to blindside flanker.

The front-five remains the same from Wales’ opening two victories with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis packing down in the front-row with Jake Ball and captain Alun Wyn Jones continuing their partnership in the second-row.

The backline for Wales remains unchanged with Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar named as the half-backs with Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies partnering in the midfield.

Josh Adams, George North and Liam Williams line-up as the back-three.

Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre and Dillon Lewis provide the front-row cover on the bench with Aaron Shingler and Aaron Wainwright completing the forward contingent.  Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell and Owen Watkin are named as the backline replacements.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY FIJI ON WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 9

1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (17 Caps)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets) (69 Caps)
3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (45 Caps)
4. Jake Ball (Scarlets) (38 Caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (130 Caps) (CAPT)
6. Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues) (21 Caps)
7. James Davies (Scarlets) (5 Caps)
8. Ross Moriarty (Dragons) (36 Caps)
9. Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (46 Caps)
10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints) (75 Caps)
11. Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues) (16 Caps)
12. Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (20 Caps)
13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) (78 Caps)
14. George North (Ospreys) (88 Caps)
15. Liam Williams (Saracens) (60 Caps)

Replacements:
16. Elliot Dee (Dragons) (24 Caps)
17. Rhys Carre (Saracens) (1 Cap)
18. Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues) (17 Caps)
19. Aaron Shingler (Scarlets) (22 Caps)
20. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons) (14 Caps)
21. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues) (11 Caps)
22. Rhys Patchell (Scarlets) (15 Caps)
23. Owen Watkin (Ospreys) (17 Caps)

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35-strong squad named for bumper autumn series

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WALES Women head coach Rowland Phillips has named a 35-strong squad for his side’s five matches in November – their biggest autumn series to date. Hooker Carys Phillips will continue to captain the squad which includes 14 uncapped players.

Wales begin the series with three away matches – against Spain, Ireland and Scotland before returning to Wales for the first match against a women’s Crawshay’s team coached by new WRU Council Member Liza Burgess and the first professional female coach in Wales – Rachel Taylor.

That game will take place at Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale on Saturday, November 23, and Taylor will also be part of the opposition coaching team a week later for Wales Women’s first match against the Barbarians in the Principality Stadium double header.

Phillips said: “Our focus hasn’t changed. We are already qualified for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup and our key aim is to build a squad of young players with significant experience under their belts.

“This autumn series is a huge opportunity to do that. All players will gain from the experience of travelling away for three testing encounters against Spain, Ireland and Scotland – all of whom still need to qualify for the World Cup. And to be part of two historic encounters in Wales at the end of November against the Crawhshay’s and Barbarians is something we will all look forward to and enjoy.

“We finished the Six Nations on a high with a dramatic win over Scotland and then a pleasing win and performance against Ireland and we want to build on that momentum this season.

“There is excellent quality coming through – that was evident in the regional programme again this summer and some of those players are rewarded with squad places today. We have a responsibility to continue to develop those players, maximise their potential and also manage them well. We will expose them to an international environment and give them game time when ready. The likes of Lauren Smyth, Manon Johnes, Alex Callender and Gwen Crabb all earned their first caps last autumn and have gone on to become key players in the squad. The opportunity is there for others to do the same if they apply themselves.

“We are clear on where we need to develop to become consistently competitive. There’s a better understanding now from players of what is required of an international player in terms of fitness, skill levels, attitude and everything else that goes with being an international rugby player.

“We aren’t looking beyond the first game. Spain are making significant progress and will provide a tough challenge especially on their home turf. We are looking forward to locking horns with our Six Nations adversaries Ireland and Scotland who both have a point to prove and we want to engage as many home fans as possible in our journey and be part of our home matches at Ebbw Vale at Principality Stadium.”

WRU international skills coaches Geraint Lewis and Chris Horsman have joined Rowland Phillips and Gareth Wyatt in the Wales Women coaching set-up and will provide specialised input throughout the autumn campaign.

Phillips welcomed the addition of the former Wales international forwards. “Geraint and Chris are excellent coaches. With their wealth of experience working with young international players, they understand the need to adapt styles and management skills accordingly. It’s hugely encouraging for the women’s programme to become a more integrated part of the WRU performance structure. I know I’ve learned a lot from coaching female athletes and Chris and Geraint have already shown they will add value to the programme.”

Wales Women autumn series squad:

Forwards: (5 uncapped*)

Alex Callender (Scarlets), Gwen Crabb (Ospreys), Amy Evans (Ospreys), Georgia Evans* (Cardiff Blues), Abbie Fleming* (Cardiff Blues), Cerys Hale (Cardiff Blues),

Sioned Harries (Scarlets), Cara Hope (Ospreys), Jordan Hopkins* (Cardiff Blues), Gwenllian Jenkins* (Scarlets), Natalia John (Ospreys), Manon Johnes (Cardiff Blues), Kelsey Jones (Ospreys), Bethan Lewis (Scarlets), Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys), Robyn Lock* (Ospreys), Carys Phillips (Ospreys), Gwenllian Pyrs (RGC)

Backs: (9 uncapped*)

Keira Bevan, (Ospreys), Angharad Desmet* (Scarlets), Alecs Donovan (Ospreys), Lleucu George (Scarlets), Courtney Keight* (Ospreys), Kerin Lake (Ospreys), Caitlin Lewis* (Scarlets), Ffion Lewis (Scarlets), Rebekah O’Loughlin* (Cardiff Blues), Kayleigh Powell* (Ospreys), Paige Randall* (Cardiff Blues), Catherine Richards* (Cardiff Blues), Lauren Smyth (Ospreys), Elinor Snowsill Ospreys), Niamh Terry* (Ospreys), Megan Webb* (Cardiff Blues), Robyn Wilkins (Cardiff Blues)

Wales Women fixtures November 2019:

Spain v Wales Women, Estadio Nacional Computense, Madrid, Sunday, November 3, 12.45pm local time

Ireland v Wales Women, The Bowl, UCD, Dublin, Sunday, November 10, 1pm

Scotland v Wales Women, Glasgow, Sunday, November 17, 3pm

Crawshay’s v Wales Women, Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale Saturday, November 23, 2.30pm

Wales Women v Barbarians Saturday, November 30, Principality Stadium 11.45am

Tickets for the Barbarians double-header on sale via wru.wales/tickets

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