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Elfyn Evans raises the stakes in Monte Carlo

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ELFYN EVANS’ bid to add further success to his history-making win on last year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB blasts off with next week’s Rallye Monte-Carlo (25-28 January).

As tradition dictates, the FIA World Rally Championship commences with the notoriously challenging Alpine classic – a wintry event that always throws up an ultra-testing cocktail of ice, snow and slush making the already demanding mountain roads among the trickiest on the 13-round WRC calendar, which reaches Wales in early October.

Evans has contested Rallye Monte-Carlo four times previously and has never finished outside the top eight. His best result to date is sixth place on his debut in 2014 and again last year.

“It’s never an easy event,” admits the 29-year-old from Dolgellau. “There are so many factors that come into play that you don’t generally get on a more normal round of the championship but it’s an iconic way to start the year. The stages themselves – if you take away all the snow and ice – are absolutely fantastic.”

Since taking his maiden WRC win in Wales – the first for a Welsh driver, and the first for a British driver on home soil since the late Richard Burns in 2000 – Evans has been promoted by his title-winning M-Sport team. For 2018, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt line up alongside five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier in one of the Cumbrian outfit’s pair of front-line Red Bull-liveried Ford Fiesta WRCs.

“It’s a good place to be alongside Seb again this year,” he enthused. “We worked together well last year – albeit on different tyres – so to continue that on now with identical equipment is a fantastic opportunity.”

While clearly keen to make the most of his coveted seat alongside the French maestro, Evans is by no means overawed by his illustrious team-team. “He’s a fantastic benchmark to have in the team, has a lot of experience and is the best in the world at the moment, so you’d be a fool not to capitalise on that and learn from him. My aim, though, is always to try to beat him if we can.”

And the Welshman is certainly brimming with confidence after his break-through season in 2017 when he not only posted his first WRC victory but also two impressive second place finishes en route to fifth place in the final WRC championship standings.

“We made some good steps forward and found a happy place with the car – hopefully we can continue improving from there,” he disclosed.

Evans, though, will need to be at his brilliant best not just to beat Ogier but also to fend off some world class opposition in what promises to be another thrilling world championship series. Last year’s introduction of new technical rules not only introduced faster, more exciting cars but also created renewed rivalry between the top teams.

M-Sport might have won both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ crowns in 2017 but the opposition from Citroën, Hyundai and Toyota will be even stronger in 2018. Evans, however, believes the M-Sport technicians – now benefiting from increased support from Ford – will keep the Fiesta in front.

“There are small improvements but ultimately, with the regulations as they are, it doesn’t give anyone the scope to make massive changes. More a case of tweaking here and there,” he explained.

“We already had a strong platform, we just need to keep nibbling away to find gains in performance. Hopefully, the guys have been doing that over the winter and we all will continue pushing hard with the support of Ford this year. There’s always been a Ford connection with some engineering support but that’s now stepped up a level – that should help us to improve and stay at the top.”

While next week’s famous Rallye Monte-Carlo will provide a stern opening test, the WRC calendar throws up numerous challenges before the intrepid teams encounter the legendary Welsh forests in early October. As ever, the calendar is an epic adventure ranging from the snow packed tracks of Sweden to the rock-strewn mountain passes of Mexico and Argentina.

“To be honest, there are no rounds that I’m not looking forward to,” continued Evans. “I now have fond memories of just about all of the events. My focus this year will be to enjoy them all and to get the most out of each one, rather just targeting a handful.

“It will, of course, be special to be back in Wales,” he grinned. “The DMACK tyres obviously helped to put us in good position last year, now we’re equal Michelins to everyone else. Let’s wait and see. It’s a few months away but, obviously, we will be looking for another great result.”

In the meantime, all those wanting to follow Evans’ fortunes on television are spoilt for choice with both live and highlights coverage of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship on Channel 5, BT Sport, S4C and Red Bull TV.

Tickets for the 2018 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (4-7 October) will go on sale when the competitive route is revealed in April.

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Aber pushed hard by Yr Hendy

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THIS was considered a must-win game for Aber against Yr Hendy.

The convincing-looking scoreline did not reflect the game but Aber will gladly pocket the win and move on with confidence.

Aber started with a bang when after 2 minutes Carwyn Evans intercepted a Hendy pass in midfield and did well to free his arms to feed Adam Carvell who romped in from halfway to open the scoring.

It wasn’t long before a second try which Steff Rees again converted.

Aber were unlucky not to increase their lead when the referee ruled they failed to ground the ball over the line after a series of forward drives.

Aber opted for a scrum from the resulting penalty and, following a couple of forward drives, Bryn Shepherd forced his way over the line to score wideout.

Aber were denied a fourth first-half try when they were penalised for crossing.

The penalty seemed to inspire Hendy who went on to dominate the next phase of the game and quickly scored two converted tries to get them right back in it.

The first was a penalty try. After a sweeping backs move the visitors’ blindside wing was denied a try illegally.

The second followed after Aber failed to deal with a speculative chip ahead.

Full back Newman pounced on the ball and touched down near the posts for Morris to convert easily.

Ahead at the half but with the opposition breathing down their necks, Aber needed a strong start to the second period.

They began purposefully and quickly got on to the scoreboard to extend their lead. After a strong forward driver, Paul Stubbs emerged to score the try that restored a two-score gap and gained the bonus point.

When Hendy blundered while in possession, Aber’s Steff Rees was the quickest to react and hacked through to win a thrilling foot race from the halfway line to touch down.

Hendy kept plugging away and subjected Aber to a lot of pressure close to their line.

Their pressure reaped its reward after an Aber yellow card when Yr Hendy flanker Gareth Thomas burst over to score a try which Morris converted.

Aber pulled themselves together, particularly in the line-out.

An excellent catch and drive took Aber from the visitors’ 25 to the try line. When Y Hendy infringed to disrupt progress, Aber opted for a scrum and pounded into the visitors’ eight. As Y Hendy’s scrum wheeled and turned they infringed again.

The ref had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try.

That was the final score of the game and Aber ran out 36-21 victors.

Despite the difficult playing conditions, this was an entertaining high-scoring contest from which Aber will be well pleased to emerge victorious.
Next week, Aber make the trip to Parc Lloyd Thomas to face Clwb Rygbi Crymych.

Photo credit Mike Binks

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Aber bounce back with victory

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AFTER last week’s tough home game against table-topping Newcastle Emlyn, Aberystwyth made the long trip to Llangennech to get their season back on track.
Llangennech have been very hard to beat at home all season and boast as impressive a front eight as any in the division.

Given that the visitors arrived with a depleted squad of only seventeen players; it was more in hope than expectation that Aber made Saturday’s trip.
But in one of the most exciting games, and one of their best performances of the season so far, they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the dying seconds of this game.

On a fine, dry, still afternoon Aber kicked off and played with the advantage of a slight slope. Llangennech were the more impressive of the two sides early on even though it took them nearly ten minutes to get out of their half. The hosts moved the ball more smoothly and their forwards linked well to threaten Aber’s defence. But the visitors kept them out with determined and effective tackling by backs and forwards.

The visitors broke the deadlock after thirty minutes from a scrum fifteen metres out. A huge shove from the Aber eight gave scrum-half Llyr Thomas plenty of time and space to feed outside half Steffan Rees. He found centre Carwyn Evans storming up outside him to cross for Aber’s opening try. Rees converted and the visitors were 0 – 7 ahead.

Llangennech hit back on the stroke of half-time with several well-supported breaks up the left-wing. Carwyn Evans put in an excellent try-saving tackle but the hosts won the ensuing ruck. Outside half Phillips put in a very accurate cross-field kick for winger Tom Davies to catch and score and for Taylor Phillips to convert to open the hosts’ account.

The half time score at 7 – 7 reflected the pattern of the first half. Both territory and possession had been evenly shared and the exchanges had been very physical.

Aber regained the lead after Llyr Thomas took a quick tap penalty to feed his backs. Dan Binks, lurking at outside centre, ran powerfully but was stopped illegally thirty metres out. Steffan Rees put over the kick and the visitors were back in the lead at 7 – 10.

Aber continued to throw the ball around and both wingers saw plenty of attacking action. Left-wing Adam Carvell made ground with a meandering run upfield and across the field leading to a series of rucks in which Aber retained possession. As they moved nearer and nearer to the hosts’ line Carwyn Evans again burst through for his and Aber’s second try. Rees converted and the lead was stretched to 7 – 17 with twenty minutes left to play.

Llangennech’s response was to up the tempo of their game and put Aber under increasing pressure. This would have been more effective had it not been for fine, relieving kicks from defence by Ian Ellis, Llyr Thomas, and Steffan Rees. But despite Aber’s strong defending the home side finally found a way through for Hopkins to score. Crucially, the try went unconverted and Aber seemed to have done enough at 12 – 17 to seal a win.

Llangennech continued to exert pressure from the kick-off. They gradually made ground against a tiring Aber side for hooker Jenkins to break through some weak tackling from ten metres out. His try was converted by Phillips to put the hosts ahead by 19 – 17 with less than five minutes left to play.

To their great credit, Aber found the energy to launch one last, desperate attack and forced a scrum thirty metres out and, with only a minute of play left, were awarded a penalty. The tension and the importance of the kick put a lot of pressure on kicker Steffan Rees. He struck the ball well; the ball struck a post and, much to Aber’s players and supporters’ delight, went over to clinch a well-earned win for the visitors by 19 – 20.

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Aber Youth clinch impressive win

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Kicking boots on: Aber Youth's Mason Jones converted 5 tries

Aberystwyth Youth 40 – Crymych Youth 15
AFTER their fine win against previously unbeaten, top-of-the-table Pembroke two weeks ago, Aber continued their run of excellent performances by beating Crymych at Plascrug on Saturday. This victory lifts them to joint second in the Pembrokeshire League, within striking distance of topping the table after this impressive win.
On a bright, sunny, but bitterly cold afternoon Aber fielded a side that had several players playing out of position. They were further disadvantaged by having to play uncontested scrums as Crymych were unable to field a full front row.
Aber kicked off towards the clubhouse with a strong wind behind them but took time to settle down. Crymych, on the other hand, played skilful, confident rugby right from the outset. Their backs, in particular, started with speed, fluency and determination. They moved the ball along the line at every opportunity, guessing that this would take play away from Aber’s strength up-front. It was from such a move that they opened the scoring. After winning possession deep in their own half the ball was passed along the backs. Full-back Hill came into the line and put left-wing Greenhalgh over for an unconverted try.
Aber’s reply came after they had been awarded a penalty in their own half. Fly-half Mason Jones found touch ten metres from the Crymych line and the hosts won the ensuing lineout. The ball was fed out to Will Caron Lewis, lurking among the backs, and from fifteen metres out, he barged his way towards the line, breaking through tackles, to score near the posts. Mason Jones converted and Aber, after 15 minutes play, were 7 – 5 ahead.
A poor clearance kick by Aber led to Crymych’s second try by lively full-back, Hill. This again went unconverted but it put them back in the lead at 7 – 10. Aber’s forwards continued to win most of the possession but the backs seemed slower in thought and more uncertain than their opponents. But as they became more focused they also became more threatening, and it was entirely with the run of play that winger Ryan Gilmore scored Aber’s second try from a move that began 40 metres upfield. This went unconverted but the hosts were back in the lead at 12 – 10.
They extended this lead when Will Caron Lewis scored his second try wrestling his way over from a lineout. Jones converted and Aber moved 19 – 10 ahead. With ten minutes of the first half remaining, Crymych stepped up the pressure and were camped near Aber’s try line for most of that time before scrum-half Bennett crossed for a try. The conversion was again missed but the gap had closed to 19 – 15 at half-time.
With the wind behind them, Crymych were expected to become an even bigger threat in the second half. But Aber’s coach Wayne Thomas must have delivered a very stern team talk at half time because his boys were fired up from the restart and went on to score three unanswered, converted tries in the second half. They put in an aggressive, professional display of running rugby that was a credit to them and their coach. Through their line breaking runs, their success at the breakdowns, their support play and their offloading they completely dominated the opposition.
Gilmore scored his second try of the game for Aber’s bonus point, Charles Thomas added the home side’s fifth try and Thomas Jenkins’ try closed the scoring. Mason Jones converted all three to round off a very good display of placekicking. The final score at 40 – 15 reflects Aber’s superiority throughout the team in every phase of play.
There were some very polished and mature individual performances on show from Aber’s ranks. Will Caron Lewis and Charles Thomas (both playing out of position) showed that they have benefitted hugely from their time in the first XV this season. But they were only two from a host of Aber players who shone. The Youth XV’s performances so far this season have given the club’s supporters every confidence in its continued success in the years to come.

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