By Jonathan Twigg
WALES defeated Scotland 34-7 on Saturday (Feb 3) at the Principality Stadium with ten Scarlets in the starting line-up, plus former Pontyberem winger Josh Adams, now the Aviva Premiership top scorer for Worcester Warriors.
With the stadium roof closed it encapsulated a cauldron of emotion as the Natwest Six Nations championship got under way, with ten year old chorister Heddwin York, of Blaenavon Male Voice Choir leading the pre match build up. Later on the same day another son of Pontyberem was setting a championship record, with Nigel Owens referring his eighteenth game, at the Stade de France when Ireland came calling.
Winning the toss Scotland’s ‘Scarlet’ John Barclay got Finn Russell to kick off towards the City End and Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones sailed high to secure the ball, all before opposite number Jonny Gray had a barn storming 30 metre gallop and the afternoons tempo was set, with both Adams and fellow winger Steff Evans taking opportunities to run with ball in hand.
Not one person missed the tumultuous opening by perishing in the queues outside the ground, witnessing the opening try after five minutes; scrum half Gareth Davies intercepted a long pass and raced 70 meters towards the River Taf End to score wide out, full back Leigh Halfpenny converted.
Flanker Aaron Shingler set up a scintillating attack from the restart, featuring prop Rob Evans and Evans, who failed to catch a difficult pass from Skipper Jones with the try line at his mercy beneath the posts.
The Wales scrum won a free kick, opted for another scrum, outside half Rhys Patchell nearly reached the promised land before play swung back across the theatre of dreams and Halfpenny converted his own touchdown after 12 minutes.
Dream rugby or a defence coaches’ nightmare? Both sides played exhilarating rugby with ball in hand, as somewhere amongst this fantastic ‘hymn’ that the full house of 74,169 spectators enjoyed, a settling influence was needed.
Centres Hadeligh Parkes and Scott Williams brought that mantra to the ‘Dragons’ play, through their tackling which impacted on the Scarlets ‘front row’ of Evans, hooker Ken Owens and Samson Lee to turn the coal face red.
Having played just 25% of the game in the Scottish half coach Warren Gatland’s side built a more stable platform through phased play, nullifying Scottish momentum and hearts as they won turnover penalties.
Shingler was a key target in the lineout as the ‘Evans’ boys featured in beating despairing tackles. Halftime came and went with Wales driving forward through diminutive scrum half Davies, securing an early penalty which Halfpenny slotted over for three points.
Four Men Aloud had returned to the pitch for half time entertainment but the sweetest battle cry came from Shingler, the Hendy back row man secured a penalty on the halfway line, which the Gorseinon born kicker chalked up with confidence.
Max Boyce couldn’t have written bards to describe the expressive serenading from the stands to match the play, the Scottish talisman Stuart Hogg without influence as his peers made error after error. That ‘mould of solid gold, that once made Barry John’ hasn’t broken after all and the tint upon the flowing locks of Patchell shone as the outside half dictated play with speed, vision, kicks and tricks.
The game entered the final quarter with the Men of Harlech now dominating possession and territory and Patchells dart for the line saw Evans flick the ball to Halfpenny who crossed for his second converted try.
The flower of Scotland had wilted, the closed roof restricting their water of life as new breath revitalised the Dragons lungs, replacement hooker Wyn Jones plunge for the line ruled out by the TMO.
Aled Davies came on for his sixth cap, replacing his Scarlet team mate to feed the scrum and watch as it destroyed the now demoralised visiting pack with such ferocity it set the stadium alarms ringing towards heaven. Man of the match Shingler straightened the line with eight minutes left, Parkes made ground strongly and the flying Evans, back after an enforced lay off was airborne on the touch line to one handily place the ball for the bonus point converted try.
‘Feed me till I want no more’ was the cry from a baying Welsh crowd although Gatland et al were happy to take the Bread from Heaven to Twickenham next week. The ‘Prophet Max’ composed suitable vitriol decades before, to be retold with vigour by the travelling congregation heading to HQ on Saturday (Feb 10).
This game ended 34-7, replacement Pete Horne crossed for the Russell to convert after the Scott’s picked up a consolation score for their endeavours driving around the fringes, the customary handshakes occurred a minute later as Hadleigh put the ball off the Park and Wales took the spoils, bonus point included.
The players had made a statement, to those who had prophesised pre match but more importantly to the ‘Great Redeemer’ whose well-trodden path around Jordon and intrinsic belief in them was justly rewarded.
Aber earn first league win since November
ABERYSTWYTH Town’s season swung upwards on Friday night (Feb 8) at Stebonheath Park as a devastating three goal blitz in six minutes at the end of the first half put the Black and Greens in an unassailable position, and earned them their first League win since November.
Goals from Paolo Mendes (41 mins), Wes Baynes (43 mins) and two from the evergreen Geoff Kellaway (45+2 and 62) saw Town to the Top of the Play Off Conference with Joe Clarke (57 mins) and Joe Hunt (64 mins) responding for the Reds of Llanelli in vain.
After eight games without a win the magnitude of this match was huge for Aber and on a cold and blustery evening the home groundsmen had done a superb job to get the game on.
The Ceredigion men started well with Declan Walker and Wes Baynes putting dangerous balls into the box, and Ash Ruane having a shot blocked. The hosts were also creating chances though as Chris Jones’ effort from a James Loveridge pass was saved.
Mattie Jones’ superb left wing cross then saw Ruane straight through but home keeper Scott Coughlan pulled off a great save to deny the Green Goal Getter. Further quality crosses from Baynes and Jones caused consternation and then Ryan Wollacott, who was superb all night at the back for Town, brought another save from Coughlan with a header.
Loveridge curled a shot narrowly wide for Llanelli but then Baynes went even closer at the other end with a cross shot. Then a series of corners turned the game, and maybe even Aber’s entire season. First Jones’ corner reached Mendes at the back stick to head home.
Ruane’s shot was then deflected over for another corner, and Baynes’ cute delivery curled right into the top corner.
Four minutes later Aber were in dreamland as Kellaway found the bottom corner with a superb strike from the right hand side, and with the visiting fans signing for joy clinical Aber went in three goals to the good.
Playing against the wind in the second half the visitors continued to press without really creating too many openings. However, two former Black and Green players combined as Chris Jones crossed for Clarke to head Llanelli back into the game.
The next goal appeared crucial as the game opened up and Jones just failed to find Loveridge with a cut back which would surely have caused huge problems for Aber.
As it happens the hard working Marc Williams found the bye line at the other end and cut back for Kellaway to stab home a killer fourth, and surely the game was over?
However with the next move Joe Hunt’s free kick curled right into the corner of Terry McCormick’s net and it was 4-2.
A hugely open game continued apace and Aber’s Superb Singing Fans inspired their team forward. Kellaway burst through down the left but was denied a hat trick by Coughlan, and then Ryan “The Rock” Wollacott cleared off the line with the hosts threatening a comeback.
With five minutes of injury time indicated sub Joe Dyer sent a great chance over for Llanelli, and Aber held on for a priceless win.
Aber up to fourth after beating Llangwm
ABERAERON continued their march up the table as they earned a 55-0 victory at home to Llangwm on Saturday (Feb 9).
The Ceredigion side now sit fourth in the table just two points behind third place Haverfordwest with three games in hand as well.
As expected the outcome was never really in doubt with the bonus point win top of the agenda for Justin Lloyd and his coaching team.
True to form, it was the home side first out of the blocks, putting the visitors defence under considerable pressure in the opening phases.
They were rewarded for the enterprise with a try for wing Dyfrig Dafis with an excellent conversion against the elements by Rhodri Jenkins.
A competent Llangwm rearguard coupled with some unforced errors by the hosts reduced opportunities until midway in the opening period until no 8 Tudur Jenkins benefited from forward domination to cross for his 9th try of the campaign.
With forward play becoming more evident as the game progressed the front row of Ceri Davies, Sion Evans and Matt Roberts ably supported by second rows Daf Lloyd and captain Gethin Hughes paved the way for flanker Gethin Dafis to record his second double in a week with Jenkins adding a conversion giving Aberaeron a 24 point advantage at the break.
It did not take long after the restart for further scores with Morgan Llewelyn the benefactor again ably converted by Jenkins. With the result never in doubt the introduction of several subs brought immediate benefit as prop Owain Wozencraft bulldozed his way over the line after receiving his first pass.
The added conversion by Jenkins was followed by another double, this time by centre Ollie Sawyer, a due reward for a stalwart both in attack and defence.
The final score by wing Rhodri Thomas added icing on the cake and the conversion by Jenkins brought a tally of 10 points for the outside half.
It will be fourth versus fifth this Saturday (Feb 16), as Aber host Laugharne in what will prove a good test for the Ceredigion side.
Kellaway earns point for Aber
A SUPERB 30 yard volley from evergreen Geoff Kellaway thirteen minutes from time finally put an end to Aberystwyth Town’s seven match losing streak, and earned the Black and Greens a thoroughly deserved point at home to Llandudno on Friday (Feb 1).
On a chilly evening on the Ceredigion coast the hosts rang the changes, giving debuts to Marc Williams and Carwyn Jones, and recalling keeper Terry MCormick, Alan Goodall, Leigh Jenkins and Ash Ruane to the starting eleven.
The game struggled to get going but then Matthew Jones played a sweet ball across to Ruane, whose low goalbound drive was gathered by Shaun Pearson in the visitors goal. Les Davies blasted over for Llandudno then Jones was the next to test Pearson with a low drive.
Williams was prominent for Town, dropping deep to pick up and bringing others into play as he excelled in the number ten role. Toby Jones fired over for Llandudno but they then got a lucky break when Harry’s low drive from the edge of the area took a big deflection and nestled into McCormick’s net.
In response Jones sent in another cross which Williams glanced wide, Declan Walker aimed a long range drive straight at the keeper and despite creating more chances Aber went in at the break a goal down and under pressure.
The hosts pressed again after the break, with Matthew Jones again setting up a Williams header to bring another save from Pearson. Alun Webb sent a shot wide but then at the other end Leigh Jenkins had a shot deflected for a corner.
Kellaway then sent a superb volley inches wide from 30 yards, Williams hit the post with a curling shot and Matthew Jones fired wide as Aber upped the pressure. Town had a let off when Toby Jones’ goal was chalked off for offside, and then McCormick pulled off a great save to deny Webb down to his left.
Those of a nervous disposition feared that the game was going away from Town but then up popped the legendary Kellaway, who pulled out a brilliant low drive from 30 yards to equalise with a vital goal, before celebrating in front of an adoring Nark’s Corner.
In an exciting last ten minutes sub Ryan Edwards sent a volley just wide, Marc Williams saw a shot deflected for a corner, before Llandudno enjoyed some late pressure.
Harry sent a shot narrowly wide, and super Steffan Edwards denied Toby Jones at the death with a last gasp goal line clearance, to bring proceedings to a close at 1-1.
On a nervous night with defeat unthinkable for the Black and Greens, the game was not a technical masterclass, but thanks to Geoff Kellaway’s moment of magic Aber got the result they needed, which brings to an end their heart-breaking run of defeats.
Town will now look forward to more Friday Night Football, with a visit to Stebonheath Park, Llanelli on Friday (Feb 8), ko 7.45pm.
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