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 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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