By Jonathan Twigg
THE 2018 Six Nations Rugby Championship kicks off on Saturday (Feb 3) when Wales, captained by Alun Wyn Jones, welcome Scotland to the Principality Stadium in a match to be refereed by Frenchman, Romain Poite.
Coach Warren Gatland’s squad has been hampered with many high profile injuries, the latest being former Scarlets full back Liam Williams alongside scrum half Rhys Webb and his half back partner Dan Biggar.
The Welsh nation’s attention will be focused over the next seven weeks on the rugby and local interest has been heightened due to the Scarlets progressing to the European Cup quarter finals where they play La Rochelle on Friday (Mar 31).
The opening game against a Scottish side who have revelled in attacking flair under coach Gregor Townsend in the Autumn Series will offer a test which Gatland’s charges will have to meet front on to secure a victory. Winning will set down a marker by which the side will be judged.
They travel to Twickenham a week later to take on England before crossing the Irish Sea to take on the Emerald Isle in Dublin at the end of the month.
Both England and Ireland are at the top of their game at present, where any positive result will see euphoria amongst rugby followers. Gatland has changed his blueprint of direct rugby through hard running centre partnerships now opting for a more creative player at 12 which follows the way the Scarlets have developed this season.
Rhys Patchell could well have the nod to partner Gareth Davies at half back and the back division would feature fellow Scarlets, winger Steff Evans and Leigh Halfpenny, although neither have played a lot of ruby in recent weeks.
The centre partnership may be pivotal, with Osprey bound Scott Williams linking with adopted Kiwi Hadleigh Parkes after both impressed in the Autumn Series.
Prop Rob Evans should pack down on the coal face alongside Scarlets captain Ken Owens and fellow prop Samson le has returned to full fitness and may become the third player in the front row.
Back row dynamos Aaron Shingler and newbie James ‘Cubby’ Davies, brother of injured centre Jonathan, are also probable starters for Gatland meaning the Pivac influence of ‘expect the unexpected’, albeit abstractly, could well influence how well Wales perform.
Following the two testing trips on the road, Wales return to the Principality Stadium to take on Italy on Sunday (Mar 11) when the fixture follows the Women’s international between the two countries, before the finale of the season when France take on the ‘Men of Harlech’ a week later.
Predicating any result in sport is precarious at the best of times and the Six Nations championship often depends on which country has the key fixtures at home. Wales would be looking to secure three home victories, where the toughest encounter will be the opener against our Gaelic cousins.
Travelling to Twickenham and Dublin are daunting for any side where realistically a positive result will be an outside chance at best.
England, with colourful Aussie hooker Eddie Jones in charge are hardworking and Wales may have to live off limited possession, although the Scarlets faced such a scenario when they travelled to the ‘Rec’ and comprehensively dismissed Bath in front of Jones watching eyes.
Where there is a will there is a way as veteran second row Alun Wyn Jones leads the side knowing it could present a title showdown against Ireland, possibly the toughest of opponents in their own back yard.
With some optimism the prediction is for four victories, the three home fixtures and an exhilarating performance to light up the return journey down the M4 for those die hard supporters making the trip to HQ.
England will also return with four victories, beating Scotland in the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield and France in Paris as recompense for their humbling at Wales hands.
Ireland, with a win over Wales may find the final game at Twickenham one step too far as the ‘Rose’ will find it unbearable to lose two home games meaning they also end on four victories.
Italy will pick up the wooden spoon without securing a win, ahead of France with Scotland in fourth position.
Representing Wales on the referee’s circuit will by Nigel Owens, who has a long association with Pontyberem RFC in the Gwendraeth Valley, taking centre stage when Ireland take on France.
Wales v Scotland postponed
WALES’ Six Nations match at home to Scotland on Saturday has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The two other Six Nation fixtures had already been postponed and no date has been confirmed to complete the 2020 Championship.
The Welsh Rugby Union had insisted earlier on Friday the game would “go ahead as planned”.
A WRU statement read: “The Welsh Rugby Union has maintained an open dialogue with, and continued to seek advice and direction from, the National Assembly for Wales and other stakeholders, including the Six Nations, on this fast-moving issue.
“Whilst medical advice remains consistent, we have decided that it is in the best interests of supporters, players and staff to fall in line with recent measures taken across the UK and global sports industries.
“The WRU would like to thank all parties for their counsel on the subject and will make further announcements with respect to rescheduling the fixture in the coming days.
“Every effort has been made to stage this game and we appreciate that individuals will have been inconvenienced. Given the fluid and unprecedented nature of this issue a postponement became the only viable option.”
Domestic football at all levels in Wales suspended
THE FOOTBALL Association of Wales has today (13 March) taken the decision to suspend domestic football at all levels in Wales with immediate effect until April 4 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The intention at this time will be to resume the football schedule depending on the medical advice and conditions from the relevant authorities at that time.
The FAW is fully aware of the impact this will have on the domestic game but the health and safety of all fans, players, volunteers and stakeholders are of paramount importance.
The FAW will continue to monitor this situation on a day-by-day basis and will continue to provide updates when appropriate.
Exercise Referral Scheme doing more for health intervention than ever before
A record 35,069 participants attended Exercise Referral classes during 2640 hours of health classes in 2019.
The National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) is an evidence-based health intervention scheme which incorporates physical activity and behavioural change techniques to support referred clients to make lifestyle changes to improve their health and well-being.
NERS Ceredigion has seen a dramatic increase in demand over the past year. A coordinator and four full time exercise professionals work to deliver the scheme, delivering 73 classes per week. The age of participants range from 16 years old, with the eldest participant in Ceredigion being 95.
Exercise class options include Gym, Circuit, Postural Stability (seated), Spin Bikes, Aqua Aerobics, Tai Chi and Pilates. Venues include council and community centres in Aberystwyth, Aberaeron, Lampeter, Tregaron, Cardigan and Llandysul.
Councillor Catrin Miles, Cabinet member with responsibility for Leisure, highlighted the benefits of the scheme, “There are many physical, psychological and social benefits to being part of the scheme, including confidence-building, better self-esteem, meeting new people and being generally fitter and healthier. Ceredigion Actif’s highly qualified Health Intervention Team provide opportunities to exercise that are fun, rewarding and that can be incorporated into everyday life.”
NERS Ceredigion targets people with a medical condition through various pathways including generic, cardiac rehabilitation, pulmonary, PSI falls, stroke rehabilitation, mental health, cancer and weight management. The 16 week tailored programme of exercise is delivered by a team of specialist Level 4 qualified exercise professionals who guide referred participants towards realising their individual goals.
A participant in Aberystwyth said, “This has been the best thing I have ever done. I have thrived from doing different activities and pushing myself out of my comfort zone which has not only helped my self-esteem but also my depression and everything else including my pain. I have also made new friends which I didn’t even consider would happen and we’re not only being social but we’re having fun too which is a bonus”.
There is ongoing monitoring from the instructors with follow up assessments at 16 weeks as well as on completion at 52 weeks. Long-term ‘maintenance’ options are available post 16 weeks which include the continuation of exercise classes as well as opportunities to join clubs such as walking basketball, walking football, golf sessions and walking rugby.
During 2018-2019 there were 913 referrals to the scheme. To gain access to the scheme, a person needs to be referred by a Health Professional, usually a GP, Practice Nurse or a condition specific Physiotherapist.
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