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We take life too lightly and sport too seriously

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By Jonathan Twigg

DEBATE rages in Wales at present, where rugby has infiltrated the summer domain of cricket, which has held unparalleled dominance of the summer sunshine.

There has been a culture change, whereby summer tours and early season fixtures of the traditional winter sports means earlier starts.

Look no further than next seasons football league championship season for Swansea City, starting on Saturday (Aug 5) until Sunday (May 26) 2019.

The outcry from the boundary ropes comes more about how mini ruby has become a summer sport, bulldozered through, as opposed to negotiated.

WRU figurehead in this Ryan Jones, former Wales captain and British Lion parading the paraphernalia, Cricket Wales Development Officer Keri Chahal, having face to face meetings to form common ground.

The winner, undoubtedly now rugby as their mini game is happening in front of our eyes, but has cricket lost?

Not looking at the participation statistics in the new ‘All Stars’ programme, where children bestowed in blue attire are bouncing around cricket fields in the sunshine, the magic there to entice the next generation.

Jason Roy: In action for England against Australia

What sells it to parents, who undoubtedly influence their siblings?  The paradox of ‘I played the game, so you must do also’ may live in both sports, but it’s more than that.

Attendances at international matches, in cricket’s case by supporting England, well the England and Wales Cricket Board side, the pathway? Saturday (Jun 16) saw them rock up in Cardiff, rugby capital of Wales, the Swalec Stadium to be precise, skirting the River Taff through Bute Park, the hosts leading a five match series against Australia 1-0.

Sell out you would think? Far from it; the Principality Stadium, bestowed with a retractable roof, unequivocally is, if Australia are the visitors, the Swalec attracted around 13,000, a fifth of their rugby rivals capacity.

Does cricket lack that panache to attract the floating spectator, often then with the family in tow?  The game has stand out stars, opening batsman Jason Roy pulverising the Aussie attack, the Richardson’s, Jhye and Kane, of no blood synchronisation, a rarity in this sport for two with the same name to be sharing the new ball. Root 66, the featured face of the cricketing market, Joe, England Captain present, alongside former Glamorgan opening bowler Alex Wharf, making his ODI debut, as an umpire.

Coloured clothing, blue against yellow for the 11am start, the Aussie public back home having a choice of watching cricket, World Cup football against France, or rugby as the Wallabies welcomed Ireland to Melbourne.

Cricket is sensational down under, the viewing figures from Saturday would make an interesting comparative, lifting some of the ‘doom and gloom’ emanating from our ‘middle England’ type dulcet tones of the cricketing ‘I know best brigade’.

Food for thought, or is it time for the Blazers and prawn sandwiches to be confined to the attic, relics of periods passed? 100 ball ‘City’ cricket is another gurus dream, not welcomed by the current ‘Blazers’, where Saturday’s game produced 102 runs for one wicket, from just a third of the games total deliveries.

Believe me, there was a following of supporters, some perhaps beer monsters, in fancy dress but the majority of paying punters here, at £65 were from a generation brought up on John Arlott, a commentator remembered with fondness, his soupy‑thick Hampshire vowels drawling “we take life too lightly and sport too seriously.”

‘Wise up or weep’ is the cry for cricket, as this game on paper had everything, including the proverbial rain, which has so impacted the winter sports programme to influence the thinking of the WRU game management board.

England’s batsman rattled up for the first time in history five consecutive 50 plus run partnerships with stand in skipper Josh Butler ‘ramping’ sixes over the wicket keepers head; text book they are not but part of the modern game as he brought up his own 50 in the forty first over, with 17 runs in five balls!

What are the indicators for success? Tactical understanding from a blooded skipper Tim Paine, Jason Roy 120, Josh Butler 91 not out and Johnny Bairstow 42, in England’s highest ever ODI total of 342-8, where the expectation nowadays is 300 plus. Certainly, making sunshine on a rainy day sings Zoe, although those in the know were drumming Mambo number 5 with a cucumber sandwich during the interval.

Australia, looking to save some grace on a day when their rugby and football comrades were dispensed made a fist of it, Maxwell striking 31 alongside Glamorgan star Shaun Marsh.

Marsh handled the pressure but the crowd sensed the game slipping into the memory bank, in the lowering sunlight, buoyed by the beach ball antics of amongst others, Baywatch, tennis players and the Smurfs who embraced the evening’s ambiance, before the jobsworth lumbered in.

Marsh passed 2000 white ball runs on his way to 131, the end coming through Roy’s match winning catch to secure the star player award as over 600 runs were chalked in the scorebook. Something was missing, no pyrotechnics from which to salivate. Down to the pitch maybe, a slow burner typifying middle England in the centre of Wales, or is the product label just too predictable.  Maybe a famous son of Yorkshire can answer that, after all he was called upon to ring the five minute ‘bell’ to signal the start of play.

That Yorkshireman; Neil Warnock; the irony, Manager of the newest Premier League football team, Cardiff City, promoted last season from the Championship, brought in for ‘iconic value’. Can the traditional sports share the space before time is called one wonders, with no frills, no fuss, depicted serenely by Arlott.

That memory is worth a toast, of his favourite Beaujolais tipple, for this is cricket as we know it, but for how much longer?

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Scarlets host Ceredigion Schools Festival

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ON Friday, December 7, the Scarlets hosted their first three counties festival for schools, namely the pre-match Ceredigion Schools Festival.

The festival consisted of six Ceredigion secondary schools, year 7 pupils, playing round robin touch rugby matches. The games were followed by a meet and greet with Scarlets players and a pre match parade around the pitch.

The evening highlight for each of the young rugby players involved was watching the European Champions Cup match against Ulster.

The festival is part of its Three Counties, Three Years strategy, where the Scarlets are supporting local schools, young talent and charitable events across the Ceredigion region to make a difference across a wider range of demographics within its communities.

Pre-match parade

The Three Counties campaign was kick started this summer with the launch of the Scarlets away kit which for the 2018-19 season is based on the Ceredigion coat of arms. Each of the six schools taking part in the festival, namely Penweddig, Aberaeron, Ysgol Bro Pedr, Ysgol Henry Richard, Ysgol Bro Teifi and New Castle Emlyn School received a signed away shirt.

Supporting the festival activities is Justin Lloyd, WRU development officer for the Ceredigion and Carmarthen regions. Justin said of the importance of connections with local communities: “The sport needs clubs like the Scarlets to engage with the community and in particular young players. They are basically supporting the work of the WRU development officers and also the hard work that the schools are doing to encourage interest in the game and keep it safe for future.”

Free game tickets were given to 20 pupils from each squad as well as teacher representatives from the six schools, and reduced price tickets were also offered to family members. In addition to the touch rugby games, two schools are being selected to be the guard of honour before kick-off and half time.

Head of the PE Department from Ysgol Penweddig, Ifan Thomas said of the Festival: “The festival is a great way to bring the community together, building camaraderie between our young players. Affording them the opportunity to play in the famous Parc y Scarlets and meeting some of Wales’ most talented professional rugby players is a lifelong dream for many of our young players, it’s a great thing for Penweddig and Ceredigion to be a part of.”

Speaking of the benefits that the Scarlets are bringing to the county, Eifion Evans Chief Executive of Ceredigion County Council said: “The Ceredigion Schools Festival is a unique experience for our year seven players and we’re very thankful for the commitment that the Scarlets have made to the county. They are also supporting many local charities and events in the region, and seeing our Ceredigion coat of arms colours represented on the Scarlets away shirt is a great honour.

We also happen to be the home to many a Scarlets fan, so we’re very proud to support the Scarlets in their European Champions Cup game against Ulster.”

In addition to the kit donations Scarlets have also committed to host various charitable events throughout the 2018-19 season. Scarlets Head of Commercial, Nathan Brew on working in partnership with local Ceredigion businesses said: “A critical part of our work with the region is to not deviate away from age old values and its culture. Those that know and follow the Scarlets trust us and are loyal to us, our campaign is to reaffirm this confidence and to further develop that brand loyalty by proving our commitment to them.”

Local businesses who would like to get involved with Scarlets’ Three Counties engagement should get in touch with Nathan Brew nathan@scarlets.wales.

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Aber see off Blues in thriller

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ABERYSTWYTH Town secured their place in the Fourth Round of JD Welsh Cup draw as they battled to a 4-3 victory against a spirited Cwmmaman United side at Grenig Park on Saturday afternoon (Dec 8).

Rio Ahmadi’s (20) first half volley was cancelled out by James Bryan (37) as the sides went in level at the break, but a 13 minute second half hat-trick (47, 55, 61) from Ash Ruane put Aber in a commanding position, before the hosts pulled two goals (64, 90) back late on to give the Seasiders a scare in the final minutes.

Manager Nev Powell named an unchanged side from the one which drew 1-1 with Carmarthen last weekend, as Aber started the game on the front foot against their Welsh League opponents on a difficult playing surface.

The first chance of the game fell to the visitors on 12 minutes as Ash Ruane rounded home ‘keeper Chris Curtis before firing his shot wide from a narrow angle. Soon after, Declan Walker found space in the penalty area but was denied by a fantastic save from Curtis, as the Black and Greens upped the pressure.

Then on 20 minutes, Town found the breakthrough as Mathew Jones whipped in a great cross for Rio Ahmadi who volleyed the ball into the roof of the net with a composed finish to make it 0-1.

As the first half wore on, the visitors continued to stamp their authority on the game as Ryan Edwards went close after a neat one-two with Walker, before Ruane rounded ‘keeper Curtis once more, only for his effort to be cleared off the goal line.

Then, on 37 minutes the hosts equalised against the run of play after Terry McCormick produced a fine save from a corner kick, only for Cwmamman defender James Bryan to head the ball into the bottom corner on the rebound and make it 1-1.

Aber very nearly went into half time with an advantage after Ryan Edwards curled an effort inches over the crossbar, but it was to remain level at the break.

Aber started the second half attacking their loyal supporters who’d positioned themselves on the grass bank above the goal at the far end of the ground, and were back in front just two minutes after the restart when Mathew Jones delivered another inch perfect cross towards Ruane whose flicked header beat Curtis and made it 1-2.

Soon after, the Seasiders extended their lead as they began to really put their foot on the gas; Ruane found himself in behind the home defence and cut inside, before unleashing a powerful strike that Curtis was unable to keep out, as the ball trickled over the line for 1-3.

The Aber target man wasn’t done there though, as just six minutes later he completed a perfect hat-trick (header, right foot, left foot) when he pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area and struck a left footed effort into the top corner of the net to make it 1-4.

To their credit, Cwmamman continued to battle and fight, and pulled a goal back on 64 minutes when Christian Allen found space in the penalty area and directed a powerful header beyond McCormick to make it 2-4. As playing conditions worsened, Aber continued to play in sensible fashion, turning the home defence with balls in behind for strike pair Ruane and Ahmadi to chase down.

On 70 minutes, Jack Rimmer and Joe Phillips replaced Ryan Wollacott and Ahmadi, before Declan Walker almost added to his recent goal tally with a long range effort.

The hosts continued to attack when they could, and Allen forced a fine save from McCormick on 85 minutes with a powerful strike inside the area, before right back Bryan ghosted in behind the Aber defence in the final minute of normal time and struck the ball beyond Aber’s ‘keeper to make it 3-4.

Despite the scoreline, the Seasiders never panicked, and saw the four minutes of added time out without much difficulty, as they secured their sixth win in eight games and ensured their name will be in the hat for Monday’s Fourth Round draw at 7pm on S4C’s Heno programme.

It was a professional performance from Neville Powell’s side to secure victory, but credit must also go to hosts Cwmamman United, who never gave in and provided a tough battle right to the final minutes.

Town’s attentions now return to JD Welsh Premier League action, as they travel to face Caernarfon Town on Friday evening (Dec 14) at The Oval hoping to take one step closer towards securing their place in the league’s top six.

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Top awards for Welsh coaches

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WELSH coaches have claimed three awards at the 2018 UK Coaching Awards.

The showpiece annual event, which is seen as one of the most prestigious by the coaching community, took place at The Honourable Artillery Company, London on Thursday, November 29, 2018.

Included in the list of winners are Swansea’s Francesca Lewis and Aberystwyth’s Lee Coulson BEM.

Lee Coulson BEM has been named as Community Coach of the Year, recognising his great coaching achievements in 2018, following a 26-year stint coaching basketball and 15 years coaching disability sport.

The Aberystwyth coach is helping to raise the profile of disability sport in Wales exponentially. As a Disability Sport Wales national performance pathway coach, many of his participants have won international gold medals and this success has enabled Coulson to grow the performance pathway. Even more children and young people can now take part in, and excel at, disability sport.

Multi-sport coach Coulson said: “It’s crucial that everyone gets the chance to participate in sport – no matter if they are disabled or not. This is what I am trying to help people recognise across Wales. Great coaching ensures that sport is accessible for all.

“After coaching for 26 years, it’s a huge honour to have been recognised at the UK Coaching Awards. Here’s to the next 26 years.”

Tennis coach Lewis won the Talent Development Coach of the Year award after an incredible 12 months which saw her also shortlisted for the British Tennis Coach of the Year award.

Lewis has been responsible for bringing through a huge number of players from entry level into the local academy programmes, with her players winning five national singles titles.

She is also recognised for delivering individual coaching packages and inspiring participants to achieve their goals. She works with parents and players, on-and-off the court, supporting her players at tournaments and looking after their physical and mental development.

Her achievements were also instrumental in Swansea Tennis Centre being awarded both Regional and Local Player Development Centres in the LTA’s new High-Performance Strategy, which will provide even greater opportunities for children in the region to receive high-performance coaching.

What’s more, she has set up a foundation through which she raises in excess of £10,000 annually to help support players at regional level or above to train and compete.

Francesca Lewis, after receiving her award said: “To win at the UK Coaching Awards is the greatest honour for any coach – and I can’t believe I have managed to win this award against such incredible competition in this category.

“I am still a young coach with many years of coaching ahead of me, so to be recognised at this stage in my career gives me a huge boost.”

Additionally, after an outstanding year for Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas in which he won the Tour de France, his coaches were named as winners in The Coaching Chaincategory. Maindy Flyers’ Head Coach and Founder Debbie Wharton and Welsh Cycling’s Head Coach Darren Tudor were named alongside Team Sky’s Tim Kerrison, Matt Parker and Rod Ellingworth for the contribution they have made throughout Geraint’s life.

Emma Atkins, Director of Coaching at UK Coaching said: “The UK Coaching Awards is a way for the nation to praise the great coaching that takes place, and a chance for us in the coaching sector to reflect and celebrate the effect great coaching has on society.

“We are privileged to be able to recognise more great coaching again, especially, in a year where we’ve worked hard to help the public understand what great coaching looks like following the launch of the first ever Coaching Week.

“I am also thrilled to see that more women coaches were recognised for their great coaching expertise, which is testament to the hard work and dedication of many partners who work tirelessly to ensure we create a culture in the coaching sector where everyone can thrive.

“I would like to congratulate all of this year’s winners – as well as the finalists – for their incredible achievements and for benefiting the lives of so many. Well done.”

The UK Coaching Awards is a celebration of great coaching. The best way to access every #GreatCoaching film, interview and podcast we make is to sign-up at www.ukcoaching.org/JoinUs

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