By Jonathan Twigg
WALES defeated Scotland 34-7 on Saturday (Feb 3) at the Principality Stadium with ten Scarlets in the starting line-up, plus former Pontyberem winger Josh Adams, now the Aviva Premiership top scorer for Worcester Warriors.
With the stadium roof closed it encapsulated a cauldron of emotion as the Natwest Six Nations championship got under way, with ten year old chorister Heddwin York, of Blaenavon Male Voice Choir leading the pre match build up. Later on the same day another son of Pontyberem was setting a championship record, with Nigel Owens referring his eighteenth game, at the Stade de France when Ireland came calling.
Winning the toss Scotland’s ‘Scarlet’ John Barclay got Finn Russell to kick off towards the City End and Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones sailed high to secure the ball, all before opposite number Jonny Gray had a barn storming 30 metre gallop and the afternoons tempo was set, with both Adams and fellow winger Steff Evans taking opportunities to run with ball in hand.
Not one person missed the tumultuous opening by perishing in the queues outside the ground, witnessing the opening try after five minutes; scrum half Gareth Davies intercepted a long pass and raced 70 meters towards the River Taf End to score wide out, full back Leigh Halfpenny converted.
Flanker Aaron Shingler set up a scintillating attack from the restart, featuring prop Rob Evans and Evans, who failed to catch a difficult pass from Skipper Jones with the try line at his mercy beneath the posts.
The Wales scrum won a free kick, opted for another scrum, outside half Rhys Patchell nearly reached the promised land before play swung back across the theatre of dreams and Halfpenny converted his own touchdown after 12 minutes.
Dream rugby or a defence coaches’ nightmare? Both sides played exhilarating rugby with ball in hand, as somewhere amongst this fantastic ‘hymn’ that the full house of 74,169 spectators enjoyed, a settling influence was needed.
Centres Hadeligh Parkes and Scott Williams brought that mantra to the ‘Dragons’ play, through their tackling which impacted on the Scarlets ‘front row’ of Evans, hooker Ken Owens and Samson Lee to turn the coal face red.
Having played just 25% of the game in the Scottish half coach Warren Gatland’s side built a more stable platform through phased play, nullifying Scottish momentum and hearts as they won turnover penalties.
Shingler was a key target in the lineout as the ‘Evans’ boys featured in beating despairing tackles. Halftime came and went with Wales driving forward through diminutive scrum half Davies, securing an early penalty which Halfpenny slotted over for three points.
Four Men Aloud had returned to the pitch for half time entertainment but the sweetest battle cry came from Shingler, the Hendy back row man secured a penalty on the halfway line, which the Gorseinon born kicker chalked up with confidence.
Max Boyce couldn’t have written bards to describe the expressive serenading from the stands to match the play, the Scottish talisman Stuart Hogg without influence as his peers made error after error. That ‘mould of solid gold, that once made Barry John’ hasn’t broken after all and the tint upon the flowing locks of Patchell shone as the outside half dictated play with speed, vision, kicks and tricks.
The game entered the final quarter with the Men of Harlech now dominating possession and territory and Patchells dart for the line saw Evans flick the ball to Halfpenny who crossed for his second converted try.
The flower of Scotland had wilted, the closed roof restricting their water of life as new breath revitalised the Dragons lungs, replacement hooker Wyn Jones plunge for the line ruled out by the TMO.
Aled Davies came on for his sixth cap, replacing his Scarlet team mate to feed the scrum and watch as it destroyed the now demoralised visiting pack with such ferocity it set the stadium alarms ringing towards heaven. Man of the match Shingler straightened the line with eight minutes left, Parkes made ground strongly and the flying Evans, back after an enforced lay off was airborne on the touch line to one handily place the ball for the bonus point converted try.
‘Feed me till I want no more’ was the cry from a baying Welsh crowd although Gatland et al were happy to take the Bread from Heaven to Twickenham next week. The ‘Prophet Max’ composed suitable vitriol decades before, to be retold with vigour by the travelling congregation heading to HQ on Saturday (Feb 10).
This game ended 34-7, replacement Pete Horne crossed for the Russell to convert after the Scott’s picked up a consolation score for their endeavours driving around the fringes, the customary handshakes occurred a minute later as Hadleigh put the ball off the Park and Wales took the spoils, bonus point included.
The players had made a statement, to those who had prophesised pre match but more importantly to the ‘Great Redeemer’ whose well-trodden path around Jordon and intrinsic belief in them was justly rewarded.
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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