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.
Aber earn famous win
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.
Cardis too strong for Llangwm
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.
Aber up to sixth
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.
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.
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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