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Wales open 6 Nations with emphatic victory over Scotland

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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.

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Scotland and Wales serve up a thriller

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Scotland 24 – Wales 25

NEVER-DAY-DIE Wales fought back from 17-3 down against a quality Scotland team to gain their second win of this year’s Six Nations.

In the first round game, Wales got dragged into a knock-down-drag-out scrap against Ireland which left them with a long injury list and the need to draw extra players into the squad. With so many key players out injured, the side travelled to Murrayfield bearing the weight of fans hopes rather than expectations.

And what a game those fans got!

A Scottish side full of flair and confidence and a Welsh side with pace at the back and renewed physical presence up front served up a heart-stopping thriller in arctic conditions in Edinburgh.

Scotland were on a high after beating England at Twickenham for the first time in 38 years in the last round. Their pack took England to the cleaners in the Calcutta Cup match and the Scots skilful backline looked sharp with ball in hand.

However, a lack of ruthlessness in their opponent’s twenty-two made the English game closer than it should’ve been and the home side were similarly wasteful with their territorial and possession advantages against Wales.

Too many times the Scots got into Wales’ danger zone only to overplay or misplay the advantage.

With markedly less ball and even less territory, Wales were much more ruthless than the hosts at converting presence in the opposition’s twenty-two into points.

Seeking to win their fifth Six Nations game in a row, Darcy Graham scored Scotland’s first try. Gathering a clever chip over the top by scrum-half Ali Price, Graham shook of Leigh Halfpenny’s desperate tackle and scored under the posts.

Scotland’s second try owed something to luck – both good and bad – Stuart Hogg kicked ahead and gave chase. For all the world. Halfpenny looked to have the ball covered only for it to wriggle free on the greasy surface and he went to ground. Hogg, who is the form fullback in the northern hemisphere, gathered the ball and touched down.

At 17-3 down, Wales were under the cosh but still competitive.

A driving maul from a short lineout saw Wales plough their way up-field in a series of short drives to near the Scottish line. The ball worked across the backline before Nick Tompkins fine pass found Louis Rees-Zammitt lurking with try-scoring intent. From close range, the winger made no mistake and scored the try which sent Wales in at the half 17-8 down.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac changed his half-backs on 51 minutes and was rewarded with an immediate return. Another brilliant driving line-out carved deep into the Scottish 22. Swift ball across the three-quarters released Liam Williams, whose sparkling try was converted by Callum Sheedy to bring Wales within two points.

Shortly afterwards came the moment which left Scots feeling aggrieved. As Wyn Jones challenged for the ball at the breakdown, opposite number Zander Fagerson ploughed into the ruck. Leading with his should he made direct contact with the Welsh prop’s head.

The rules on head contact are clear. Fagerson’s illegal attempt at a clear-out was given a straight red.

As former England prop David Flatman explained after the game: “Zander Fagerson’s red card was a red card. Rugby is changing and, as much as it all seems to be about the elite end of the game, the reality is the exact opposite.
“While the elite game is the most visible, it is rightly being used as a vehicle to make safer all those games of rugby that are played on muddy, isolated fields, away from specialist medical care and high definition cameras.

“Red cards like Fagerson’s are literally designed to make children safer on Sunday mornings.”

To add insult to injury, Wales’ capitalised on their one-man advantage with Wyn Jones touching down after more good close driving work by the Welsh forwards near the Scottish line.

Back came Scotland. Spurning two easy shots at goal, they created space for the ever-dangerous Stuart Hogg to turn on the pace and score a try, which Russell’s touchline conversion made into a four-point lead.

A moment of individual skill by Louis Rees-Zammitt was the standout moment of Wales’ performance. Travelling at full pelt, the Gloucester flyer latched on to Willy Halaholo’s perfectly weighted pass. Without breaking stride, the winger chipped it over the Scottish defence, outpaced Stuart Hogg (no mean feat) and gathered his own kick in Murrayfield’s deep in goal area to touch down.

Still Scotland came again and deep into stoppage time worked the ball to Scotland’s giant winger, Duhan van der Merwe. For all the world, it looked as though the last play of the match would see Welsh hearts broken at Murrayfield. Scrambling back, Owen Watkin produced the perfect tap tackle. With the clock in the red zone, Wales made no mistake in kicking the ball dead to seal the win.

Wales’ bold replacement of both half backs made near the start of the second half, galvanised the Welsh midfield at the expense of kicking reliability. If Wales bring Josh Adams back into the side against England and move Liam Williams to full-back, it is almost certain that Dan Biggar will start at outside half. Callum Sheedy, for all his skill with ball-in-hand, remains too fallible from the tee to be Wales’ frontline kicker.

Apart from an early misfire, Wales’ lineout was vastly improved. After an initial long throw went straight to Scottish hands, hooker Ken Owens and his callers kept it simple. Wales’ forward drives from the lineouts were a significant game-changer for the Welsh pack. The tactic gave Wales’ backs room by sucking in the Scottish defence.

It’s England for the Triple Crown next for Wales and, while England have been unconvincing so far, a Welsh win would still be an upset result. England have power and pace. If they can add precision to the mix, they will take some stopping.

Head coach Wayne Pivac commented: “It’s a very pleasing start, but I think it was evident to everyone that it wasn’t the complete performance.

“At 17-3 down, it wasn’t going to script but the players regathered their thoughts, the leadership on the field was good, and we came away with that score before half time.

“That was vital for us going into the changing room. The players reacted very well after half time, the replacements made an impact, and it was very nice to get the result at the end.”

On Louis Rees-Zammit, Wayne Pivac said: “He was exciting with the ball, wasn’t he? He took his opportunities very well. He’s still got work to do on his game without the ball, and that’s the exciting thing.

“He’s going to be a very exciting player for us going forward.”
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones added: “We’re well aware there are massive improvements to make.

“You can’t give a team two tries, but I’m pleased with the resilience, character and pride in the jersey we’re still showing. What you’re seeing as well is a product of the experimentation from the Autumn Nations Cup and the hurt we took.

“Irrelevant of the advantage, I’d like to think we were in the ascendancy before the card.

“We’re aware England had a good win and are back on track. We’ll be back in Cardiff, so we’ll regroup and improve on the parts we need to.”

Alun Wyn Jones added: “Louis has been playing well for Gloucester in the Premiership. I’d heard a lot about him and seen a lot of highlights of him. Hopefully, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I don’t want to heap the pressure on him, I want him to continue in a similar vein.”

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New format for Women’s Six Nations

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The Women’s Six Nations will take place in April in a new and condensed format, while the Under 20’s Six Nations will take place in June and July in the same format as planned but over a condensed, three week period, Six Nations Rugby Limited announced today.

The Women’s Six Nations will be similar to the Autumn Nations Cup in format, with two pools of three and a Grand Final weekend. Wales Women have been placed in Pool A with France and Ireland, travelling to France on the weekend of April 3 before hosting Ireland on the weekend of April 10. Every nation will play a play-off match on the weekend of April 24 against the opposing ranked team from the other Pool – 1 v 1, 2 v 2 and 3 v 3. The detailed fixture dates, venues and kick off times will be announced in due course. The World Rugby U20 Championship has been cancelled for 2021.

Wales Women head coach Warren Abrahams welcomed the announcement of fixtures. “We’re really grateful to the work everyone has done to get us to this position and have some competitive fixtures to look forward to. We’ve all overcome different challenges to get here and the uncertainty has been the toughest part so this news is pretty exciting. France and Ireland are great fixtures to work towards and will provide an opportunity to measure ourselves with the Rugby World Cup coming up in September. It’s very welcome news for women’s rugby in the northern hemisphere.”

Wales U20 head coach Gareth Williams added, “It’s great to learn the rearranged dates for our Six Nations campaign.

“The disruption over the last 12 months is well documented, therefore having these fixtures to look forward to as a development tool for us is exciting and critical. We are now able to adapt our key work with developing players in partnership with the regions, and the summer will give an invaluable period of competition to test that development.”

Ben Morel, CEO of Six Nations Rugby commented, “We are delighted to make this announcement today and confirm new plans for our Women’s and U20s championships. The promotion and development of rugby at all levels is a key strategic priority for Six Nations. We see huge opportunity for growth in the women’s game in particular and feel it will benefit hugely from having its own specific window and being firmly placed in the limelight.”

“Our priority has always been to deliver two outstanding tournaments but equally ensuring both competitions can be played safely, taking every consideration for player welfare. A significant challenge we faced in rescheduling the Women’s tournament was the limited available window due to World Cup Qualifiers, domestic leagues, rest periods and World Cup preparations for qualified teams. Following consultation with our unions and federations as well as other key stakeholders, it was agreed that April would be the best window in which to stage the championship.

“The U20 Six Nations Championship is also a hugely important competition in terms of player development and for those representing their country at this level it is a major milestone in any career. We look forward to announcing fixture details for the U20’s in due course.”

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Cardigan Golf Club Ladies Section raise funds for RNLI

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EVERY year the Ladies Section at Cardigan Golf Club hold a competition dedicated to the RNLI, and this year they raised a magnificent £122 from donations made by the lady members.

Accepting the cheque on behalf of the RNLI was New Quay RNLI Station Mechanic Bernie Davies, “We would like to thank all the lady members of Cardigan Golf Club who donated to the RNLI. Their generosity is very much appreciated and enables our volunteers to continue saving lives at sea.”

Pam Perry the Lady Captain at Cardigan Golf Club added, “We were thrilled to raise over a £100 with our annual golf competition especially in difficult times.”

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