ELFYN EVANS’ bid to add further success to his history-making win on last year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB blasts off with next week’s Rallye Monte-Carlo (25-28 January).
As tradition dictates, the FIA World Rally Championship commences with the notoriously challenging Alpine classic – a wintry event that always throws up an ultra-testing cocktail of ice, snow and slush making the already demanding mountain roads among the trickiest on the 13-round WRC calendar, which reaches Wales in early October.
Evans has contested Rallye Monte-Carlo four times previously and has never finished outside the top eight. His best result to date is sixth place on his debut in 2014 and again last year.
“It’s never an easy event,” admits the 29-year-old from Dolgellau. “There are so many factors that come into play that you don’t generally get on a more normal round of the championship but it’s an iconic way to start the year. The stages themselves – if you take away all the snow and ice – are absolutely fantastic.”
Since taking his maiden WRC win in Wales – the first for a Welsh driver, and the first for a British driver on home soil since the late Richard Burns in 2000 – Evans has been promoted by his title-winning M-Sport team. For 2018, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt line up alongside five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier in one of the Cumbrian outfit’s pair of front-line Red Bull-liveried Ford Fiesta WRCs.
“It’s a good place to be alongside Seb again this year,” he enthused. “We worked together well last year – albeit on different tyres – so to continue that on now with identical equipment is a fantastic opportunity.”
While clearly keen to make the most of his coveted seat alongside the French maestro, Evans is by no means overawed by his illustrious team-team. “He’s a fantastic benchmark to have in the team, has a lot of experience and is the best in the world at the moment, so you’d be a fool not to capitalise on that and learn from him. My aim, though, is always to try to beat him if we can.”
And the Welshman is certainly brimming with confidence after his break-through season in 2017 when he not only posted his first WRC victory but also two impressive second place finishes en route to fifth place in the final WRC championship standings.
“We made some good steps forward and found a happy place with the car – hopefully we can continue improving from there,” he disclosed.
Evans, though, will need to be at his brilliant best not just to beat Ogier but also to fend off some world class opposition in what promises to be another thrilling world championship series. Last year’s introduction of new technical rules not only introduced faster, more exciting cars but also created renewed rivalry between the top teams.
M-Sport might have won both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ crowns in 2017 but the opposition from Citroën, Hyundai and Toyota will be even stronger in 2018. Evans, however, believes the M-Sport technicians – now benefiting from increased support from Ford – will keep the Fiesta in front.
“There are small improvements but ultimately, with the regulations as they are, it doesn’t give anyone the scope to make massive changes. More a case of tweaking here and there,” he explained.
“We already had a strong platform, we just need to keep nibbling away to find gains in performance. Hopefully, the guys have been doing that over the winter and we all will continue pushing hard with the support of Ford this year. There’s always been a Ford connection with some engineering support but that’s now stepped up a level – that should help us to improve and stay at the top.”
While next week’s famous Rallye Monte-Carlo will provide a stern opening test, the WRC calendar throws up numerous challenges before the intrepid teams encounter the legendary Welsh forests in early October. As ever, the calendar is an epic adventure ranging from the snow packed tracks of Sweden to the rock-strewn mountain passes of Mexico and Argentina.
“To be honest, there are no rounds that I’m not looking forward to,” continued Evans. “I now have fond memories of just about all of the events. My focus this year will be to enjoy them all and to get the most out of each one, rather just targeting a handful.
“It will, of course, be special to be back in Wales,” he grinned. “The DMACK tyres obviously helped to put us in good position last year, now we’re equal Michelins to everyone else. Let’s wait and see. It’s a few months away but, obviously, we will be looking for another great result.”
In the meantime, all those wanting to follow Evans’ fortunes on television are spoilt for choice with both live and highlights coverage of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship on Channel 5, BT Sport, S4C and Red Bull TV.
Tickets for the 2018 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (4-7 October) will go on sale when the competitive route is revealed in April.
Walker wins it for Aber on opening night
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.
Bhatia and Shah batter Seconds
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.
Welsh Premier League season begins
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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