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Scarlets set up Toulon showdown

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S​CARLETS head coach Wayne Pivac, as an ex-policeman, orchestrated a crime of immense proportions at the Recreation Ground in Bath on Friday (Jan 12), when his Scarlet side won their must win European encounter 35-17.

Greeted onto the pitch by Greenhill School’s year 10 students as flag bearers, the game got off to an electric opening when Wales international centre Scott Williams caught the kick off and immediately referee Jerome Garcos awarded a penalty.

Outside half Dan Jones line kicks missed touch in the initial stages and his nervousness in such a titanic game was obvious.

Second row, Irish international Tadgh Beirne, rescued the situation by taking the line out ball against the throw, with the tackling strong from the visitors who were unable to recycle the ball as the game settled.

A blooded nose for skipper Ken Owen as ‘Bread of Heaven’ rang loudly from the Thatcher’s terrace, alongside sympathy for former outside half Rhys Priestland, whose birthday celebration were ruined when he limped off with a pulled hamstring to be replaced by Freddie Burns.

The Scarlets, now set and stable and got a nudge on at the scrum to establish the mantra for the evening with scrum half Gareth Davies darting clear on the blindside; England international full back Anthony Watson showed a clean pair of heels himself in response when running 40 metres from deep in his danger zone with flanker Sam Underhill in support.

A score was inevitable with such a frantic opening and it was the Scarlets who got the scoreboard rolling in a scintillating manner after nine minutes, starting from Beirne’s clawed line out ball.

Williams made the initial break, finding the support of second row David Bullring; centre Hadleigh Parkes took up the mantle finding Australian winger Paul Asquith, to flanker Aaron Shingler as they moved the ball with silky hands hitting gaps before it fell once again to the marauding Beirne.

From 15 metres out, he produced a Phil Bennett sidestep to screech in for a try converted by outside half Dan Jones.

Hymns and Arias was resounding into the cold air but the try was sweet, Neil Diamond’s appreciation of Caroline perhaps a better analogy for possibly the try of the season from the Land of my Fathers.

Freddie Burns pinged the Bath opening score after No. 8 John Barclay stopped their forward impetus and left the field for ten minutes on the French referee’s direction.

It was the Scarlets however who then dug deep, making ground and managing the game time superbly.
Shingler, running straight and with purpose made the gain line.

Full back Rhys Patchell and Parkes endeavour had the 13,822 crowd on the edge of their seats, which put Asquith in corner for a score despite being down to 14 men.

There was no stopping the red tide as five minutes later scrum half Davies rumbled 25 metres and found Welsh international Parkes on his shoulder and the centre crossed for his ninth try in 71 appearances, under duress, for a converted score and a 19-3 lead.

Williams was on fire, making another break to set up a scrum when the Scarlets were living in the moment; if he timed the pass his side were clear again for a score and perhaps on reflection needed just to consolidate their exuberance and make half time with their tail feathers unruffled may have suited.

A war of attrition with short passes and yardage in the tight areas wore down the clock and with it the Bath players and supporter’s hearts. The dominant scrum was verbalised loudly from prop Rob Evans and Jones slipped over the penalty for a half time lead of 22-3.

Bath as a city welcomes an array of nationalities but the atmosphere that trounced around the English fortress in January was full of ‘Heart and Soul’.

The Welsh contingent were delirious with their melody for a team of ‘Samson Lees’ eloquently reverberating around a city’s proclaimed architecture. Having been missing from the front row for many weeks before Christmas the prop was quite superb alongside fellow international Evans and his skipper, Ken Owens anchored between them.

Pivac has been coaching for 22 years since his first footstep on the rung in Northland, New Zealand but the victory in the back yard of the Aviva Premiership rugby giants was surely up with his best moments. Pro 12 champions last season having beaten Munster in Dublin to return a week later and rumble Leinster in the same venue included.

The ‘Rec’ was a cultural phenomenon, when Scarlets rugby once more came of age as they sat on the brink of a place in the European quarter final for the first time in 11 years. Bath rugby had lifted this trophy 20 years ago under the leadership of Scottish scrum half Andy Nicol’s but through their parade at half time, would have been in awe of the first half performance.

Music and Wales go hand in hand. Greenhill School, on tour at Backwell with the year ten students playing football, rugby and netball had the experience of a lifetime arranged through PE teacher Phil ‘Taffy’ Williams.
A school whose equally renowned musical talent under Samantha Hughes would have taken the Irish love ballad ‘Fields of Athenry’ to new heights given the opportunity.

Innate to the Irish famine of 1845 this anthem of the ‘underdog’ often resonating at Landsdowne Road or even Anfield a mercurial throw back to the task that sat before the visitors.

Top of Conference B the Scarlets took control early in the second half as they went in search of their bonus point try. The home eight were not match at the scrum set piece as Owens didn’t hesitate in choosing a rumble instead of taking a pot at goal.

Three times they drained the time and the Bath spirit, perilously close to crossing the try line through forward drives. Six minutes into the second half Patchell received the ball to deftly put a grubber kick through, allowing Williams to dab down wide out and Jones add the extras for 29-3.

The red tide were feeding the baying supporters cries for evangelical bread, where the ‘manna’ and intensity was unyielding. The team of Samson Lee lost their talisman on 55 minutes as his replacement Werner Kruger was rock sold as the choristers ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ resonated loudly and proudly.

Bath coaching guru Todd Blackadder needed his side to develop a pattern of play as they refused a kick at goal in search of a try, which came when winger Matt Banahan caught Burns kick in the corner allowing the outside half to convert with an hour played.

‘Long John’ Welsh second row Luke Charteris, a man with a biochemist degree and a fluent French speaker to boot took the hand-me-down inspirational singing to his hear. Not one for ‘losing my religion’ the boiler house man’s efforts allowed him a well earned rest at the same time as opposite number Bullring.

Over 150 years of rugby history in North Somerset has placed foundations from which the home side ran with their head of steam. Pivac manipulated his cast list with the game and full points in the bag, with Aled Davies arriving at inside half. Tried and trusted combinations saw Owens and Beirne orchastrting the line forcing Watson to desperately run from deep as the ‘big shift’ put in from down West was recognised.

Owens, Hong Kong born Barclay, and Evans were done but still the tide wouldn’t subside, drawn to their supporters in the Dyson stand as Pivac’s decision to play a six to two forward split off the bench drew a scrum penalty.

Jones added the points for a 32-10 and a fourscore lead with 12 minutes to play. The defensive patterns were as impressive as any offensive effort, Patchell making a last ditch cover tackle on Zach Mercer with five minutes to play typifying the ‘hywl’.

Top of the ball line out and replacement Josh Macloed madeground and play was outside the danger zone with Jones clearance. Back came Bath and No. 8 Zach Mercer couldn’t be denied in the opposite corner for a converted try after a cutting run from winger Aled Brew, skipper Matt Garvey and second row Paul Grant.

Williams and Prydie responded to gain a penalty for offside with ‘Sospan Fach’ finishing proceedings fittingly, with Jones boot, edging the score to 35-17.

The Bath faithful, forlorn and remorseful took an early bath wondering what had happened.

LTC Mobility sponsored Furnace rugby club members summed it up amidst their exuberant acclaims.

Centre and club vice captain Scott Davies hoarsely crooned: “It’s the best away trip I’ve experienced. Our 1800 strong choir left nothing in the changing room and it was certainly a factor in lifting the squad.”

On Saturday (Jan 20) another blockbuster awaits, when Toulon visit Parc Y Scarlets and the home side need a minimum of a bonus point to progress into the knockout stages.

Davies smiling face finished the evening with: “Let this be the springboard to the next level. This could be the year we lift the Heineken trophy and the whole of Europe will stand up for the champions.”

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Sport

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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Sport

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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