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.
Street through in Central Wales Cup
BOW Street made it through to the third round of the Central Wales Cup on Saturday (Jan 5) as they beat Llansantffraid 3-2 after extra time.
The game was played at Aberystwyth Town’s Park Avenue and Street were keen to pick up victory to start 2019 in style.
Ben Jones scored for the Magpies to make it 1-1 after 90 minutes before the game came to life in extra time.
Llansantffraid took the lead but Dylan James scored to level the scores and he then provided the assist for Jones to score his second to make it 3-2 and send the Street through.
Street will be keen to carry on their good cup form on Saturday (Jan 12) as they travel to Cefn Albion for a fifth round tie in the FAW Trophy.
Elsewhere, Aberaeron bowed out as they were beaten 4-1 at home by Llanilar.
Ceredigion League Division 1 side Ffostrasol were also knocked out as they lost 3-0 away at Hay St Marys.
Llandysul suffered a 5-0 defeat to Kerry while Penrhyncoch conceded their tie with Llanidloes, having played a league game the day before.
Street edged out by Llani
BOW Street suffered a narrow defeat on Saturday (Dec 29), as they were beaten 1-0 by Mid Wales League Division 1 leaders Llanidloes Town.
Having been held to a 1-1 draw with Aberaeron on Boxing Day, Street welcomed the leaders looking to cause an upset.
Credit must go to the Cae Piod groundsmen who ensured the overnight downpour didn’t affect the game.
After an even start, Llani were given a penalty with just over half an hour gone but Alex Pennock made an excellent save to keep the scores level.
However, just moments later the visitors did take the lead as they grabbed the only goal of the game with ten first half minutes still to play.
Llion Jenkins’ pile driver cracked the cross bar from 25 yards but the ball fell to George Clarke who tapped in the rebound to make it 0-1.
In the second half, Ryan Biggs saw red for a foul but both sides agreed that the punishment was a little harsh.
Bow Street threw everything at their opponents as they looked for the equaliser in the last half an hour but were unable to find a way through.
Llani defended well to keep their clean sheet intact and despite seven minutes of added on time they held on for the win.
Street currently sit second from bottom in the table but will take a break from league action on Saturday (Jan 5), as they welcome Llansantffraid in the second round of the Central Wales Challenge Cup.
Aber’s top six hopes dented
ABERYSTWYTH Town’s hopes of securing a top six finish in the JD Welsh Premier League took a blow over the festive period following two defeats to Newtown.
The first, on Boxing Day, saw them slip to a 2-0 defeat at Park Avenue after goals from Steve Leslie and Nick Rushton.
Then, on Sunday (Dec 30), they were beaten 2-1 at Latham Park after a first half goal from Neil Mitchell and another from Rushton in the second half.
Manager Nev Powell made three changes to the side defeated by the Robins on Boxing Day, with Alan Goodall, Geoff Kellaway and Rio Ahmadi entering the starting line-up.
In similar fashion to the Boxing Day clash, it was Newtown who started the game faster, and they took the lead with their first meaningful attack of the game as Callum Roberts crossed for Neil Mitchell to head home within the opening 90 seconds to make it 1-0.
Despite the early setback, Aber fought their way back into the game and tested home keeper Dave Jones with long range efforts from Wes Baynes and Rio Ahmadi.
On 13 minutes, the Seasiders carved out their best opening yet as Geoff Kellaway forced jones into a fine save after breaking free on the left side of the penalty area. But as the first half wore on, the game became a closely contested affair with neither side able to carve out any clear opportunities and the hosts would enter the break with the advantage.
The Black and Greens started the second half in much brighter fashion, and very nearly equalised on 50 minutes when Paulo Mendes saw his header smartly saved by Jones in goal.
Then, on 56 minutes the visitors went closer still, as Rio Ahmadi cut inside and fired a low effort from outside the area against the base of the post. It seemed a matter of time before Aber were back on level terms, but on 60 minutes came the sucker punch that all but sealed three points for the Robins.
Sam Phillips broke free on the edge of the area before playing in Nick Rushton, who rifled a shot into the bottom corner of the net to make it 2-0 very much against the run of play.
Soon after, they almost well and truly buried the Seasiders as Luke Boundford went through one-on-one with Terry McCormick, but the Aber keeper stood strong and produced an excellent save to smother the shot.
Substitutes Ash Ruane and Joe Phillips were introduced in place of Kellaway and Ryan Edwards, and soon after Aber went close once more as Ryan Wollacott met Mathew Jones’ corner, only to see his header cleared off the line.
As stoppage time approached, Aber did find a way back into the game as Declan Walker flicked the ball through for Ahmadi, who produced a neat chip into the corner of the net to make it 1-2 with five minutes of additional time remaining.
In the very last minute of stoppage time, Paulo Mendes appeared to be fouled in the penalty area, only for his appeals to be waved away by referee Cheryl Foster, and the Seasiders would leave Latham Park empty handed.
It was an improved performance from the Seasiders’ previous defeats, but manager Nev Powell will be disappointed his side were unable to convert the chances they carved out at Latham Park on Sunday afternoon.
Town now face a real uphill battle to finish in the league’s top six as they welcome Conah’s Quay Nomads to Park Avenue on Friday evening (Jan 4) in the JD Welsh Premier League.
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