AUSTRALIA defeated Wales on Saturday (Nov 11) at the Principality Stadium in the first game of the Under Armour Autumn International series to stretch their run to thirteen consecutive victories over their hosts dating back nearly a decade. Wales now haven’t won their opening match of an Autumn series since 2009 [40-3 v Romania] and this result also extends the Wallabies current unbeaten run to seven, their longest since reaching the 2015 World Cup Final at Twickenham.
Such is their current pedigree they took the scalp of arch rivals New Zealand 23-18 last month and this green and gold side are content to mobilise the ball in direct lines whenever possible, whilst expertly managing the game away from their own try line under pressure. Their first half dominance laid the foundations for the success as they had 67% possession making the home side make 80 tackles to defend their line, whilst having to make just 30 themselves.
Statistics won’t lie to Head Coach Warren Gatland, who selected a side which included eight Scarlets players and scrum half Aled Davies carded as a substitute. Gatland had changed the game plan which served him so well over the decade he has overseen the national side, looking to develop a line up capable of challenging at the very top come the 2019 World Cup.
He gave a debut to Gloucester playmaker Owen Williams at inside centre and with injuries in the backrow of skipper Sam Warbarton, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric his hand was forced to play exuberance, vigour and players in form alongside Taulupe Faletau. Stepping up to the plate in the heat of the battle were Josh Navidi and ‘son of Hendy’, flanker Aaron Shingler, both of whom were tenacious in their defence duties.
A nervous Welsh start settled after six minutes when outside half Dan Biggar put a searching kick into the Aussie 22 and winger Liam Williams followed up to charge down the clearance from full back Kurtley Beale. A scrambled defensive clearance subsequently saw hooker Ken Owens find second row Jake Ball at the front of the line out before third phase ball found winger Steff Evans coming in on the opposite wing to draw a penalty for offside on the 10m line. Leigh Halfpenny, in his first international game under a Scarlets ‘flag’ duly slotted it over for a 3-0 lead, which lasted less than four minutes as the green and gold responded through hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau. He was driven over by his fellow forwards following their first real incision into Welsh territory allowing outside half Ben Foley to convert for 7-3 lead.
Spurred into action prop Rob Evans, returning after a prolonged absence for a head injury suffered against Connaught in September combined with centre Jonathan Davies for the red machine to move the ball 45m, only to see former Scarlets winger Liam Williams held up with a last ditch tackle.
Wales were now confident and scrum half Gareth Davies made an incisive 30m break. Quick second phase ball set centre Jonathan Davies clear once again to put Williams away on a 3 v 1 overlap; demonstrating quick hands through Halfpenny it allowed winger Steff Evans to crash over in the corner on his home debut and Halfpenny added the extras for a lead of 10-7.
The game sea sawed again after 23 absorbing minutes when second row Adam Coleman waltzed over unopposed with Rob Evans guilty of ball watching, for a converted try to see Australia lead 14-10. The experienced Foley and half back partner Will Gena were vibrant and positive with the ball in hand putting Wales firmly on the back foot.
Composure was needed under pressure and the go to man in the line out was back row star Shingler, who was winning ball at the front or back of the line. One such success resulted in a penalty permitting Biggar to kick to the edge of the visitors 22 but to no avail. In such an open and fast game, where the collisions between players was high on intensity, the difference emerged between the two nations as Australia converted their opportunities into points.
Wales conceded a penalty after Tom Francis in the front row was penalised for not scrummaging square and the Wallabies accepted another penalty decision from New Zealand referee Glenn Jackson allowing winger Reece Hodge to thump over a monster penalty and a 17-10 lead with five minutes of the half remaining.
Halfpenny responded with a 35m penalty from in front of the posts after Ken Owens had won the ball back for his team, but Australia completed the first half scoring when some sustained drives and slick hands drew the defence allowing flanker Michael Hooper to slew over the line for a superb try, converted by Foley on the cusp of half time for his side to lead 24-13.
Optimism for the second half was held where the Dragon could roar dependent on them making key decisions to clear their lines and play in the opposition territory. That optimism amongst the crowd was raised when Halfpenny and Faletau put Liam Williams in space and his kick took play midway into the opposition half only to see the ball lost in a tackle on Jonathan Davies. Faletau and Williams again combined on the opposite wing as Foley was putting the ball into the rooftop testing Halfpenny and Evans who fielded the bombardment with aplomb.
Biggar set up a line out from 15m after a penalty was awarded for holding the ball and after several phases of driving play Halfpenny nailed a straight forward penalty from 20m out, leaving Wales eight adrift at 24-16 with half an hour to play.
Turnover ball on halfway saw some enterprise around the hands of Rob Evans as he again sounded the battle cry for his team mates to grow in stature and play the situation which panned out before them. A scrum free kick moved skipper Alun Wyn Jones to call for a second set piece where Faletau and Williams combined on the blindside making 30m as pressure was imposed on the visitors 22 line. Wales were now like a pack of hounds who had found a scent and were firmly hunting for the jugular of a Wallaby side who were pinned inside their own half.
Evans grubber kick was collected by Jonathan Davies as the red tide built momentum to a chorus of hymns ‘n arias. A penalty conceded for not rolling away saw discussion between Jones, Biggar and Halfpenny before the full back pushed his kick wide of the right hand post from just inside his own half.
Bancyfelin born Davies was on fire, bringing his ‘Lions’ form from the summer to the banquet and he collected the restart as play returned deep into Australian terrain.
An expansive Welsh back line moved the ball at will as the halfway point of the half passed, with winger Evans, his namesake Rob and Shingler to the fore in rugby more akin to a Barbarian’s style. On small margins games at the highest level are won and lost; full back Beale performed a sublime tackle to not only stop a flying Evans in his prime but emerge with the ball and race from his own half to score under the posts before anyone in the 70,275 could draw breath. Foley converted for a 29-16 lead as the crowds astonishment at what they had witnessed in a match changing split second slowly dawned and their appreciation followed.
The high tempo of the game saw substitutes enter the amphitheatre and Hodge land short with a penalty from inside his own half as the time wound down to the final 15 minutes. Back came the Men of Harlech and Hooper was yellow carded with Jackson’s patience was eliminated with the build up of infringements. From the dominant scrum Wales applied pressure through Biggar’s touch finder with eight minutes to play. His forwards secured good line out ball to draw another penalty in front of the posts as scrum after scrum ensued in the anticipation of tasting the ‘Bread of Heaven’ from the top table. Scrum half Davies emerged into space to make good ground only for his skipper Jones to spill the ball with the line agonisingly close.
Aled Davies came on at scrum half and fellow replacement Hallem Amos was held up just short of the line as Wales went through a plethora of moves to test the wilting golden wattle to the brink. Biggars hopes of a quick play were called back by Jackson and from the resultant penalty ball was again secured at the line out which allowed for some enterprising handling before Amos harvested his first international since the 2015 World Cup. Halfpenny missed the touchline conversion which would have put Wales within a score of victory and the game ended 29-21 and parity in terms of possession and territory, a startling turn around on the first half statistics.
Gatland will be pleased, if he can be in defeat where the set piece was dominant, the defence successfully making 98% of their 264 tackles but most importantly seeing his attacking options bear fruit. In an offensive display his runners beat their man on 20 occasions and off loaded 18 times as they had a 100% success from mauls and 95% success rate at rucks, conceding just three penalties, ten less than their opponents.
The error count ultimately proved the difference for Wales between success and failure as Australia outscored them four tries to two. To a man those Scarlets players who drew on their countries colours did themselves, their Region and nation proud, where the tourists clinical execution of turn over possession to points was key. Youngster Evans will reflect on a positive try scoring attacking display with some concern over his defensive decision making. He will do well to remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Scarlets style of play is certainly a blueprint Gatland and his staff are embracing for the future.
Injuries to Evans plus more concerningly Lions star centre Davies may cause some player rotation before Wales take on Georgia tomorrow [2:30pm] with an eye on New Zealand the week after, coached by former Wales head honcho Steve Hanson who bring an unbeaten record stretching back 64 years.
One Scarlets player who will not be playing in these games will be New Zealand born centre Hadleigh Parkes, who is earmarked for a debut in December against South Africa. Parks was reunited with Scarlets Head Coach Wayne Pivac when he came to Parc Y Scarlets in 2014 and he will be a beneficiary of the three year residency rule, allowing him to make his debut three years to the day from his signing for the Scarlets.
Aber face must-win game
IN their fight for a Europa League Play Off spot, Aberystwyth Town now face a must-win game against Cardiff Met on Saturday (Apr 20).
A win against the Met would put them above the Students and put them in pole position ahead of their final game away to Carmarthen a week later.
On Friday (Apr 12), Aber were held to a 0-0 draw by Cefn Druids at Park Avenue, and the Met’s win on Saturday (Apr 13) put them into the coveted seventh place.
A large crowd of 495 responded to Aber Town’s “Footy for a Fiva” initiative to watch the Black and Greens gain a valuable point from an engrossing goal less draw with their bogey side Cefn Druds. In a match of remarkably few clear cut chances defences were on top.
Geoff Kellaway and Ryan Wollacott went closest for Town and despite a late power cut both teams held out for an honourable draw.
Kick off was preceded with a presentation as Aber Town Under 19s side received their Welsh Premier Development League (South) Trophy and medals, and the Black and Greens named an unchanged outfield eleven for the fifth consecutive game.
Druids took the initiative from the start and home keeper Terry McCormick was out well to deny Jack Kenny early on.
With the Druids buzzing around Town were mostly threatening on the break and Mattie Jones made a lung bursting run down the left before pulling out a super cross, but Druids’ Neil Ashton dived in to deny Kellaway a tap in.
Jones picked out Kellaway again minutes later but the striker was called offside.
Kenny then fired wide from a great position, set up by Rittenberg, but in general it was the holding players who were shining, with Paolo Mendes and Declan Walker prominent in Town’s good defensive shape.
Marc Williams lobbed just over for Aber, then Jamie Davies brought a save out of McCormick.
Wes Baynes set up half chances for Walker and Ashley Ruane with free kicks, and Mendes headed over from Jones’ corner. Kellaway curled a shot wide and Kenny headed over for the Druids and with shots on target at a premium the half ended at 0-0.
Into the second half, and Williams curled a header just wide from Baynes’ free kick, and McCormick again did well to deny Kenny and Davies.
Steff Edwards saw a rare effort drop just over the bar and home supporters in the Dias Stand started to make themselves heard with some super singing, echoed back by the tifosi on Narks’ corner.
The two in form sides were defending solidly and chances were at a premium. Another Baynes free kick whistled past the far post, and then a Ryan Wollacott header brought Druids keeper Michael Jones into action with a smart save.
A ball from Walker almost picked out Ruane and then with two minutes to go the floodlights dramatically cut out.
After five minutes of darkness, to cheers from the supporters, the lights mercifully came back on, and in injury time sub Niall Coleridge almost got his head on a Jones cross, Ryan Kershaw fired over the bar for the visitors and the game ended in a fair and honourable draw.
The result guarantees Aber an improved eighth placed finish this season but after Cardiff beat relegated Llandudno on Saturday, Aber now travel to the Cyncoed Campus knowing they must win to keep their Play Off hopes alive.
Saturday’s match between the two sides is a huge game and every single Aber supporter is needed to cheer the boys on to a dream end to the season.
Aber hold off Llanelli
ABERYSTWYTH Town took another huge step towards the UEFA Europa League Play Offs with a crucial 3-2 win over Llanelli at Park Avenue on Friday night (Apr 5).
Following Cardiff Met’s defeat to the Druids on Saturday it means that Aber now hold a one point lead over the Met who they play on Apr 20.
A stunning strike from Wes Baynes on 29 minutes gave the Black and Greens the lead, and quickfire goals from Ash Ruane (49 minutes) and Marc Williams (53 minutes) seemed to have the hosts cruising, but Llanelli, who were relegated last night by a Club announcement that they will not appeal their Licence failure, hit back through Lee Bevan (63) and Joe Clarke (83) to set up a thrilling ending, which ended with Aber’s fourth consecutive win.
Kick off at a chilly and damp Park Avenue was preceded by a minute’s silence to commemorate Club Stalwart Leighton Wall, who sadly passed away after Aber’s last home game.
Aber’s unchanged team started fairly confidently, taking the initiative and soon evergreen Geoff Kellaway was flashing a shot wide of the goal set up by the peerless Marc Williams.
The visitors however were showing signs of life themselves: Michael George sent an early effort wide, then home keeper Terry McCormick came out brilliantly to deny stand in striker Joe Clarke what seemed like a certain goal.
The chances kept coming and Kellaway was adjudged to have been offside, while scoring from Mattie Jones ball in – and the goal was disallowed. Williams saw a shot saved by Scott Coughlin, then a Mattie Jones humdinger screamed past the post.
Jones then had a free kick tipped over the bar by Coughlin, and then finally a super move around the box saw Williams lay the ball back to Baynes who smashed the ball into the net for a super opener.
Steff Edwards then attempted a Cantona-esque effort from the edge of the area which dropped wide, and Llanelli were hanging on. McCormick pulled off another super close range save to deny Clarke at the other end, and headers from Declan Walker and Williams missed the target for Aber to ensure that a very entertaining first half ended 1-0 to the hosts.
Into the second half and the hosts started on fire. Four minutes in Kellaway delivered a perfect ball in from the left wing which fell perfectly for Ruane to score his second headed goal in two games.
Sub Emile Ngoy tapped in at the other end for Llanelli but his goal, like Kellaway’s earlier, was disallowed for offside, and then a simple ball up the park from the hosts was terribly misjudged by Coughlin and Williams nipped in behind him to score a third, and surely seal the game for Aber.
Ryan Edwards and Jones both curled further efforts wide for Town but credit to already relegated Llanelli, they finished the game strongly. When Lee Bevan headed home from a right wing corner to reduce the arrears there was still 27 minutes to go, and with the Reds flooding forward Ngoy headed over soon after.
Clarke sent a shot over the bar and Aber’s fans in the Dias started signing to encourage their side to hold out.
With seven minutes remaining a tricky run from George down the right saw the ball fall for Clarke who rolled his man and finally got his goal from close range for 3-2.
Ruane played a great 1-2 with Marc Williams before sending a wild shot into the new netting in front of the Dias Stand, and after a series of free kicks around Aber’s box Chris Jones’ set piece was headed over by the industrious Ngoy.
Back at the other end in injury time Marc Williams then held the ball in the corner, only to roll round a gaggle of visiting players and tickle the ball just past the post, and the job was done.
In the face of a spirited comeback Aberystwyth Town held on for what could be a priceless three points.
It was probably not a vintage performance in truth but such complaints are churlish in the face of four straight wins which have put Aber back on top of the Play Off Conference, and their UEFA Europa League dream continues on Friday night (Apr 12), at home to Cefn Druids (
Llandysul through to League Cup final
LLANDYSUL made it through to the final of the Ceredigion Costcutter League Cup on Tuesday (Apr 2), as they beat St Dogmaels 4-2.
Both sides were near full strength and it made for an exciting encounter between two of the league’s top sides.
The Saints just stole it 1-2 in Llandysul earlier in the season, but came into the game on the back of a 1-1 draw with Crannog while Llandysul had beaten basement side Bargod 5-0 so it really was anyone’s guess who would take the spot in the League Cup final against Crannog on Easter Monday (Apr 22).
After a few day of summer weather, the pitch benefited from the odd light shower throughout the day, making an immaculate surface at NCE – with the ball zipping about for both sides.
It took the Saints just ten minutes to break the deadlock as confusion in the box allowed them to strike an early blow to the Swallows after a fiery opening exchange.
Five minutes later Llandysul were level after a quick 1-2 between the immense Scott Mayes and Lewis Jones released on form striker Mathew Newbold, whose bullet cross was met by the head of the on-running Chrissy Harris.
Both sides kept looking to play, and some dogged Swallows defending conceded a throw in near the corner flag. The Saints full back launched a mammoth throw into the box, causing all sorts of chaos before the Saints prodded home to restore their lead.
The fiery affair continued with a few large tackles and some excellent football for both sides saw out the first half.
The Saints started the second half brightly, winning a corner within 30 seconds of the restart.
On 55 minutes, a handball just outside the Saints box gave Llandysul a chance to get back into the game. The free kick was rolled by Lewis Jones towards Captain Dean Jones who let fly an absolute rocket to make it 2-2.
The Swallows made a change to their top three with Ashley Summers, Jayden Lynch and Harri Wilson coming on for Newbold, Harris, and Ifan-Sion.
The change of pace up top changed the game and within two minutes Jayden Lynch found a gap on the edge of the box to fire the Swallows into the lead.
The game then returned to end to end action with the Saints having chances to level, only for Swallows ‘Keeper Nathan Jones to perform some outstanding saves.
With ten to go, tenacious striker Ashley Summers pounced on a through ball – causing panic between defender and keeper, stealing the loose ball and slotting home to double the Swallows’ advantage.
The Saints threw everything forward searching for a route back into the game leaving spaces vulnerable at the back.
Winger Harri Wilson’s pace meant they had to constantly be alert, causing all sorts of trouble down the right hand side.
Llandysul saw the game out however and will now look forward to their game with Crannog in the final on April 22.
Before that, St Dogmaels return to league action as they host Llanboidy.
Llandysul are in action in the first round of the Bay Cup as they travel to Maesglas.
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