A RED wave of defence – coupled with a tireless ambition to attack – led Wales to a World Rugby U20 Championship victory on Wednesday night (May 30) against the Junior Wallabies.
In holding on to win 26-21 at the Stade de la Méditerranée, Wales banished any memories of 2017’s last-gasp defeat to Australia at the same stage of this tournament.
The Aussies drew first blood in Béziers, however: scrum-half and captain Ryan Lonergan punishing a Welsh indiscretion at the breakdown with a third-minute penalty from just inside Wales’ 10m line.
A great phase of attacking play by Wales, with inside centre Ioan Nicholas the catalyst, then offered a glimpse of their willingness to run the ball from anywhere on the park. The opposition was subsequently penalised for coming in at the side of the ruck, and fullback Cai Evans’s power from the tee saw the ball sail through the posts for the equaliser.
Nearing the end of the first quarter, Wales lost wing Rio Dyer to injury, replaced by fellow Dragon Joe Goodchild. He would soon have a telling impact on proceedings.
At the conclusion of the first quarter, Australia conceded a penalty for failing to release. Wales fell just short with the shot at goal that would have nudged them ahead. However, Evans made no mistake when presented with a similar opportunity a moment later – albeit this time further out; on the halfway line no less – wowing the crowd with his long-range effort to make it 3-6.
Just before the half-hour, Aussie fly-half Bayley Kuenzie kicked a scrum penalty to the corner. A quickly-won lineout and a pin-point crossfield kick later, and wing James Ramm was acrobatically tapping the ball down in mid-air for incoming fullback Mack Hansen to score an excellent try. Lonergan’s conversion attempt was wide: 8-6.
Gone 30 minutes, razor-sharp Wales scrum-half Dane Blacker took a quick tap deep inside the opposition 22. The young men in red had their tails up now, and once the ball was in fly-half Ben Jones’s hand, the Cardiff Blues man wasted little in time kicking through a bouncing ball that was pounced on by Nicholas for the try. Evans converted to give Wales a five-point lead: 8-13.
The Junior Wallabies hit back with another Lonergan penalty, but there was a lot more to come from Geraint Lewis’s team.
A scintillating outside break and fend by Corey Baldwin set the Scarlets centre up for a one-on-one with the last man in defence for Australia, by which point replacement Goodchild was well in support for Wales’ second try with three minutes to go in the first 40. Evans’s excellent conversion from the touchline made it 11-20.
Two minutes into the second half, and the Ospreys fullback produced another cannon of a penalty kick – this one only marginally inside the Australian half – to take Wales 12 points to the good: 11-23.
The Junior Wallabies put their sizeable scrum to good use in winning another penalty in the 48th minute, allowing Lonergan to slot a penalty inside Wales’ 22: 14-23.
Both sides had started to test each other aerially, but a period of ten minutes’ deadlock – memorable for a fantastically determined carry by Wales number eight Taine Basham – ended when Evans’s metronomic boot took the scores to 14-26.
Wales, up fast in defence, and led by the imposing figure of lock Max Williams and a Trojan-like back row featuring Basham, Dan Davis and captain Tommy Reffell, led the way in frustrating the Aussies in the final quarter.
New caps Will Davies-King and Rhys Davies in the front row were two of the well-judged second-half replacements made by the Welsh coaches, countering the big men Australia had also introduced.
Never ones to go gently into the night, Australia roared back into the game with a try from replacement back Tate McDermott with fewer than three minutes remaining. Inside centre Isaac Lucas converted to make it 21-26.
Showing the same sort of dogged composure that earned them victory in Donnybrook during the U20 Six Nations earlier this year, Wales ran down the clock to seal a thrilling win.
Three summer tests announced for Wales
WALES will play three summer tests in Cardiff this July as revised international fixtures have been announced.
Wayne Pivac’s side will face Canada (July 3) and back-to-back games against Argentina (July 10 & 17) at Principality Stadium.
These tests replace the scheduled summer tour to Argentina which has had to be cancelled due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty around travel restrictions.
The Pumas will now travel to Cardiff for two tests against the Six Nations Champions.
Wales will kick off their summer campaign on July 3 at home to Canada. The Canucks who are coached by former Wales captains Kingsley Jones and Rob Howley will visit Cardiff for the first time since 2008.
“We are looking forward to this summer, the opportunity it presents, and we are delighted to have three tests confirmed,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.
“It is disappointing not to have the opportunity to tour Argentina, especially on the back of our 2020 tour to New Zealand being cancelled, but in the current climate it is completely understandable.
“What is important is we have games and as we have said all along, this summer is a huge opportunity for us. We are delighted and proud to have 10 players selected for the British & Irish Lions, it is reward for all their hard work and we wish them all the best this summer.
“With those players away we always earmarked this summer as an important development opportunity for us.
“It is an opportunity to bring players into this environment, look at them closely and expose them to test match rugby. It is also an opportunity for current internationals to step-up into further leadership roles, so on both counts it is an important camp for us looking ahead to RWC2023.”
WRU CEO Steve Phillips added: “It is a huge credit to World Rugby that a full schedule of summer international rugby has been achieved against the backdrop of the global pandemic.
“Whilst it is obviously disappointing not to tour, we are delighted in Wales to be hosting Canada and to be able to honour the 2017 San Francisco agreement by hosting the Pumas for back-to-back matches, which will be hugely important to our international player development.
“Wayne has been adamant that his squad needs matches this summer and World Rugby have certainly delivered on that front.
“We are, of course, acutely aware of current restrictions and the ongoing and complex global COVID-19 picture. We will continue to monitor the situation in terms of any potential spectator access, but will remain entirely compliant and vigilant of all restrictions.
“In the current circumstances we are simply delighted to be able to play international rugby and any advance on that will be a bonus.”
Aber fail to break down ten-man Flint
ABERYSTWYTH Town and Flint Town United played out a goalless draw on Saturday (May 8).
It could have been much different for Aber, though, as they played against a Flint side who had Ben Amiss sent off in the first half, but they failed to make their advantage count.
With Wales experiencing some unseasonal weather, the Deeside coast was battered by mother-nature in the build-up to the game and full credit must go to the volunteers at the Silkmen for producing an excellent playing surface.
Aber started the game brightly and carved out two great openings in the first five minutes. Firstly, Louis Bradford volleyed over the bar from close range before some brilliant work down the left from Harry Franklin teed up a cross for Jonathan Evans who’s goal bound header looked to have given the Seasiders the initiative.
However, home stopper Jon Rushton had other ideas, pulling off a sumptuous save down low, pawing the ball away to safety.
After the two quick chances for Aber, Flint settled into the contest and began creating chances of their own.
The home side saw strikes from Alex Jones and Callum Brately fall narrowly wide of the post before creating their best opportunity of the half with 23 minutes having elapsed.
Great play down the right flank saw the ball land to Ross Weaver. His strike, via a deflection from Black and Green defender Ian Kearney forced Connor Roberts into a great stop.
Franklin was causing problems for the Silkmen and Aber’s most likely route towards victory looked to be coming down his wing. He had a glorious opportunity to give Aber the lead but couldn’t keep his effort under the crossbar. He did have the ball in the back of the net but an early flag from the linesman denied him his fourth of the season.
The game’s flashpoint came with just seconds to go until the break. A heavy tackle in midfield from Ben Amiss on Jamie Veale, sparking a 19-man melee in midfield and saw referee Bryn Markham Jones reach for his red card for the Flint Town United striker.
With Aber having a numerical advantage, they enjoyed more of the ball in the second stanza but could only create sporadic chances against a well drilled and organised back line. Mathew Jones saw a strike fall narrowly over the bar whilst Kearney’s header from a corner landed on the roof of the home net.
To their credit, Flint did look to gain a winner of their own and had spells of pressure but like their opponents, they couldn’t break down an organised Seasiders’ defence. The lively Jones for the hosts came closest with his header going wide of the far post.
Gavin Allen introduced Owain Jones and Marc Williams as well as Jamie Reed late on in search of the go ahead goal but despite the addition of additional fire power, there was to be no late drama.
Jon Owen saw a shot well stopped by Rushton whilst Jenkins tried to connect with a Jack Rimmer cross in the final minute but could only make connection with the home keeper, earning himself a yellow card in the process.
Scarlets convincingly beat Ospreys
Rainbow Cup • Scarlets 22 – Ospreys 6
SCARLETS delivered a dominant derby performance to claim their first victory of the Rainbow Cup campaign, beating the Ospreys 22-6, at a rain-soaked Parc y Scarlets.
Prop Alex Jeffries scored the only try of the match, with full-back Leigh Halfpenny delivering a typically dead-eyed goal-kicking display in atrocious conditions.
The platform was laid by the Scarlets pack, with skipper Ken Owens, Blade Thomson and Aaron Shingler to the fore; the man of the match Kieran Hardy mixed up his game intelligently, while a much-improved defensive display saw the visitors restricted to just two kicks at goal from fly-half Luke Price.
It was the Ospreys who opened the scoring with a penalty from the boot of Price on two minutes, but the Scarlets responded strongly with Halfpenny levelling on 17 after the visitors were caught offside.
The outstanding Jonathan Davies looked like he made it over the whitewash after bursting through a couple of tackles, but the television match official adjudged the Wales centre had lost the ball as he slid over the whitewash and the score was chalked off.
Nevertheless, the Scarlets continued to boss proceedings.
With the Ospreys falling foul of Scottish referee Ben Blain, Halfpenny added a couple more penalties and an impressive half for the home side was capped when Jeffries crossed two minutes before the interval
A well-worked line-out move saw Davies burst onto a pass from Owens, breaking through a couple of tackles before feeding the tight-head prop on his inside.
Jeffries still had plenty to do but showed a superb turn of pace to race clear 20 metres to the whitewash to touch down against his former side.
That made it 16-3 at half-time with the Scarlets seemingly in firm control.
The visitors, looking for their first PRO14 win at Parc y Scarlets since 2015, did enjoy more of the game in the second period.
Price reduced the arrears with a penalty and it needed some superb defence to keep the Ospreys line-out maul at bay.
Another Halfpenny penalty five minutes from time extended the lead to 22-6 to ensure a comfortable victory and a seasonal double over the Scarlets’ arch-rivals.
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