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Swans still sweet on Premier League survival

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By Jonathan Twigg

SWANSEA’s clamber through the trials and tribulations of the Premier League can be compared to that of a child running amok in a sweet shop, so many tantalising favourites to devour, with the occasional reminder that not all sweets are sweet.

A retro walk down the Bridge Meadow Lane would have taken a child past the shop run by Connie Clarke, renowned for her welcome on the bell clanging. Supporters of Haverfordwest County and their opponents on match day, welcomed with few words but with the knowledge her confectionary delights never failed to deliver.

Following Saturday’s (Apr 14) 1-1 draw with Everton, who arrived without former Swans stars Ashley Williams and Gylfi Sigurdsson in their line-up, supporters left knowing the sweet taste of success held by the Premier League is still within their grasp.

With two of the bottom three to visit the Liberty in the final week of the season this point is one gained in search of extending their Premier League status to an eighth season, although manager Carlos Carvalhal nearly led his side to five consecutive home wins, something no other manager has done since the heady days of John Toshack in 1981.

Swansea welcomed Jordan Ayew back from a three game suspension to partner elder brother Andre as Bolton based referee Lee Mason began the game in front of 20,933, the returning brother setting the tone alongside Andy King at a sun drenched Liberty Stadium.

Carvalhal has worked some magic since his arrival on the cusp of Christmas, tactically leaving opposite number former England supremo Sam Allerdyce to venture to the touchline with his pocket ball side kick Sammy Lee to stem the tide; the blues were overrun in midfield, Jordan Ayew having a wonderful chance cleared off the line as was captain Frederico Fernadez header from the resultant corner, before Andre’s sight of goal was saved by England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Alfie Mawson has grown to be imperial at the back for the Swans, attracting the interest of Manchester United, one of those mints that the longer you savour, the better it lingers. Luciano Narsingh however can be likened more to a quickly dissolving peppermint cream, releasing the taste with speed, rousing the Jack Army with an immediate hit, succulent whilst it lasts, inspiring the Swans to drive forward.

Former England captain Wayne Rooney had one of those games, like an aniseed ball, many unable to relish his taste as he left his mark, literally with some raking tackles; his class, undoubted, when it finally came to the fore.

An opening goal came with the aid of goal line technology, just before half time, Lucas Fabianski brilliantly making a double save from Bolasie, before a ricochet off Kyle Naughton and a half time lead, Fabianski thankfully however saving from Cenk Tosun a minute later.

Jordan became the first recipient of a yellow card in the second half, substitute Nathan Dyer creating a stir as the game went up by a level with a sugar surge, the vocal chords tingled with honey from a locket, in the form of striker Tammy Abraham’s arrival.

Full backs McNaughton and Martin Olsson created chances, Tom Carroll serving buckets of sweet balls, to no avail; Dyer driving forward over from twenty yards, Abraham and the Ayews creating half chances, Mawson’s header cleared off the line before the full quarter was served, Jordan levelling the game with a right foot half volley.

The final fifteen minutes rocked the stadium once more, after dinner mints were all Swansea’s, although Seamus Coleman thundered a shot against the woodwork, Abraham missed a gilt edged opportunity at the other end, whilst a tall and well positioned defensive wall directed Rooney’s set piece opportunity over the bar.

Extra strong mints were needed, alas unavailable as the toffees held firm, not fudging their lines with Beni Baningime taking a yellow card for the team, the games conclusion seeing a share of the spoils.

Carvalhal’s magic stars will have to be at their best to out fox and unwrap three points on Sunday (Apr 22) when opponents Manchester City will have champagne liquor chocolates on hand, having been crowned Premier League champions.

Swansea then have the opportunity to welcome Chelsea to ‘fortress’ Liberty the week after; wispa it quietly, as many have their eyes on the final weeks’ trio of games, starting with a trip to the South Coast in search of the bounty available at Dean Park, Bournemouth, before a starburst performance at home to Southampton on the Tuesday and Stoke City for a final day picnic. There can be no wine gums on show, just the everlasting gobstopper which is Premier League football.

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Cave Celebrates in Cork

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WELSHMAN Tom Cave took his first British Rally Championship win in a four-wheel-drive car on the West Cork Rally last weekend (March 16/17).

Along with co-driver James Morgan, the pair won the event by a mere 4.8 seconds in their Hyundai i20 R5 from reigning champion Matt Edwards (Ford Fiesta R5) in second, while defending Irish Tarmac champion Josh Moffett (Ford Fiesta R5) rounded out the podium.

Cave’s win was the first BRC win for the Korean manufacturer Hyundai since David Higgins in 2004.

The Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally formed the second round of the BRC for the very first time and the event provided two-days and over 200km of exciting rallying action. On some of the most iconic roads in Irish rallying, the weather also provided a formidable challenge as a wet and slippery first day was coupled with a flat-out blast on bone-dry asphalt on the second.

FIA World Rally Championship regulars Craig Breen and Paul Nagle took a comfortable overall win, but it was the fight in Britain’s premier rallying series that kept everyone on the edge of their seats right until the end.

Defending Irish Tarmac Champion Josh Moffett with Keith Moriarty on the notes were quickest out the blocks – making their aspirations very clear and over the course of the opening five stages pulled out a 14.4 second lead. However, driveshaft woes forced them into two-wheel-drive on stage six – dropping them down to third and out of the leading battle.

Desi Henry was another driver keen to make his mark this weekend but unfortunately, he and navigator Liam Moynihan crashed out of second on the first loop of stages in their Skoda Fabia R5, thankfully both were unhurt.

Up stepped 2018 British Rally Champion and series leader Matt Edwards and co-driver Patrick Walsh in their Pirelli-supported Ford Fiesta R5. The Welsh crew were building the pace as the opening day unfolded and went into the overnight halt with a slender lead over Tom Cave.

Cave had a heart-wrenching time on the opening round in Wales when the 27-year-old suffered a double-puncture, denying him a second-place finish. On the Tarmac of round two, the Michelin-supported driver put his Cambrian nightmare behind him as he set about his first R5 win in the BRC.

It was set-up nicely going into the final day as the two Welsh crews went head-to-head for the BRC win. Cave woke up in an inspired mood to go eight seconds quicker than Edwards and leap-frogged the M-Sport star in the process. The tussle for victory was to be a seesaw affair as the duo traded times and positions all afternoon with only 4.9 seconds going into the final stage.

Despite Edwards’ best effort, Cave was to be too strong this weekend and he and James Morgan won the BRC section of the event by 4.8 seconds to take their first BRC win together. After coming so close to an event win in recent times, Tom was elated at the finish.

“The feeling of finally winning in the BRC again is a brilliant to be honest. It was a difficult first day against the elements, but we pushed on hard on the second day to get past Matt [Edwards]. We gave it everything and we have been rewarded with first place BRC, so James and I are both very, very happy.

“After the pace on day one I felt there was more to come and we had a good feeling on the first stage on the second day and we took a lot of time out of Matt. Once that happened, I thought, lets keep pushing and we have been rewarded. I would like to thank everyone behind me for making this happen.”

As for the title, this gets his title back in the right direction.

“It’s heading the best way possible now and round one is way behind me and we always look forward. We are back in the mix and now it’s important to finish the Pirelli Rally which is up next and keep moving forward to close the gap to Matt at the top of the points standings.”

Matt did all he could, but a strong second place stretches his championship lead going into the Pirelli International Rally – the event he won last year. Josh Moffett’s rhythm was effected after his driveshaft issues, but did enough to round out the final rostrum position.

Elsewhere, Marty McCormack and Barney Mitchell couldn’t quite repeat their podium secured on the first round in their Skoda Fabia R5, but they can be happy with a fine fourth, while Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick (Ford Fiesta R5) chalked-up their first finish of the season as they rounded out the top-five.

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Phillips: We’ve got a big match in us

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WALES Women head coach Rowland Phillips believes his side can raise their game for their final Women’s Six Nations Test, against Ireland on Sunday (Cardiff Arms Park, 1.30).

Phillips has made two changes to the starting line-up with Elinor Snowsill starting at 10 and Alisha Butchers slotting back into the back row at blindside flanker.

Phillips said, “We want to capitalise on the confidence we’ve gained from the win over Scotland.

“We’ve shown a huge amount of character throughout this tournament – to hold Italy out at the end of that game and to come back from behind to win in Scotland showed remarkable attitude – and skill for such a young side.

“Despite that, I don’t feel we have shown how good a side we are and we’d like to do that on Sunday.

“Ireland are in a similar place as us. They played well against France last weekend. They have a strong back row and players who can make a difference. We certainly won’t be under-estimating them.

“However, we want to focus on ourselves, show what we can do with the ball and produce a better all-round performance. There’s a big game in us and hopefully we can showcase that on Sunday.”

Alisha Butchers, who earns her first start in the tournament since the opening round, is looking forward to some home comforts.

“Being at home lifts us girls massively. We’ve only had one home game this year and although England were tough opposition, we lifted our performance for our home support.

“Travelling away isn’t always accessible for our families so having them there boosts us. I love having my mum and dad and my brothers and sisters there, I can’t wait. There’s very much a family feel ethos and hopefully we can produce an entertaining game.”

“Last week’s game was really exciting and a good stepping stone for us. Moving forward I think we need to stick to our game plan, carry on working on our physicality and keep building as a team.

“Our performance was good last weekend but it can an still be better. We can use the confidence and momentum created by that victory to up our game and also spread the ball a bit more.”

Alisha is now working as a Hub Officer at Y Pant and Bryn Celynnog schools in the Pontypridd area, increasing the range of opportunities for girls to engage with rugby.

“I love it. I’ve already seen a huge increase in the number of girls playing the game and that inspires me – the thought that I’m having an impact on the next generation. They are both brilliant schools and we are getting 40 or more girls training now which is fantastic.

“Traditional 15 a side full-contact rugby isn’t for everyone so we make sure there are different formats and different opportunities all girls to enjoy taking part. A lot of them enjoyed the Rookie Rugby events we held recently, some play touch rugby, others enjoy crash mat rugby which is an introduction to contact or full contact rugby for the more established players who are keen.

“Hopefully a few of the girls – and boys – from the schools will come and support us on Sunday and bring their parents along to see what our game is all about. A few of the girls have role models within the squad, some are inspired by our captain Carys Phillips so I’ve promised they can have some photos after the match.”

Tickets available to print at home from www.cardiffblues.com/tickets and from 10am Sunday at the WRU shop, Westgate Street.

Wales Women V Ireland (Sunday, March 17, 1.30pm, Cardiff Arms Park):

Lauren Smyth (Ospreys); Jasmine Joyce (Scarlets), Hannah Jones (Scarlets), Lleucu George (Scarlets), Jess Kavanagh (RGC); Elinor Snowsill (Bristol Bears), Keira Bevan (Ospreys); Caryl Thomas (Dragons), Carys Phillips (capt, Ospreys), Amy Evans (Ospreys), Gwen Crabb (Ospreys), Mel Clay (Ospreys), Alisha Butchers (Scarlets), Bethan Lewis (Dragons) Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys)

Replacements:

Kelsey Jones (Ospreys), Cara Hope (Ospreys), Cerys Hale (Dragons), Alex Callender (Scarlets), Manon Johnes (Cardiff Blues), Ffion Lewis (Scarlets), Robyn Wilkins (Blues), Lisa Neumann (RGC)

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Borth comeback stuns Abermule

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BORTH United welcomed Abermule to a cloudy Uppingham Fields on Saturday (Mar 9).

The match got off to a sensational start as the alert Nick Mumby gave the visitors the lead with a low shot into the bottom corner after two minutes.

However, Borth responded within a minute as Guto Huws cut in from the left wing and scored with a cool finish at the near post.

The hosts made the most of the wind on their backs as Sam Chapman broke free of the defence and scored with a rasping drive into the net.

Within a minute Chapman scored again with an identical goal to his first to give Borth a handy 3-1 lead at half time.

Abermule with the advantage of a stiff breeze held the upper hand as the second half progressed and created some good goalscoring chances.

Borth’s defence were more than capable of safeguarding Ben Willis’s goal yet Abermule reduced the deficit on seventy minutes with Ricky Davies scoring with a deft finish.

As they searched for a late equalizer they were open to a Borth counter attack and in the last minute Zak Douglas cut in from the right wing and fed a through ball for Ryan Davies to slide the ball past the keeper and guarantee the three points for Borth.

Saturday’s win will give Borth fresh impetus of giving promotion chasing Hay St. Mary’s a tough match at Uppingham Fields on Saturday (Mar 16), ko 2.30pm.

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