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Europa League play off fight still on

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A DOUBLE from in form Marc Williams, allied to a defensive masterclass earned the Black and Greens a vital victory over Cardiff Met on Saturday afternoon (Feb 23) at Park Avenue, which ensures the fight for a UEFA Europa League Play Off place will continue into March.

Williams opened the scoring on 58 seconds, intercepting a clearance from Met keeper Alex Lang, and repeated the trick just after the hour with a low drive from further out. Town now stand just two points behind Met on 34 points with six matches of the regular season remaining.

On a balmy day which heralded the start of Springtime, the hosts had a dream start when Williams chased down a Met back pass and keeper Alex Lang’s clearance deflected into the net off Town’s Super Sparky Striker, after just 58 seconds.

A hectic period ensued as Met’s Adam Roscrow saw a shot blocked and Dylan Rees fired over. At the other end Paolo Mendes, who was having a super game snapping at Met’s heels and breaking up play, headed wide from Wes Baynes’ free kick. The ever dependable Ryan Wollacott denied Chris Baker a chance by clearing Roscrow’s dangerous cross, and back up the field Ash Ruane almost repeated Williams’ trick by chasing down another backpass, but to no avail.

With Town sitting deep and allowing Met possession in their own half, livewire Geoff Kellaway was always a threat on the break, and when the imperious Williams won the ball and played him in he clipped the post agonisingly with a cute effort past Lang. Emlyn Lewis’ cross was easy for home keeper McCormick, and just before the break Elliott Evans’ was so close to equalising when his free kick from 30 yards brushed the top of the net, but disciplined Town held out for a deserved half time lead.

Photo by Colin Ewart

Met tried to up the pace after the break but Wollacott did well to block Will Evans, before Kyle McCarthy’s testing right wing cross flashed across goal only for Elliott Evans to hit the outside of the post at the back stick. The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with Aber defending deep, superbly, and Met struggling to find space in the final third to create opportunities.

Town threatened as Ruane then found Williams, and his flying snapshot was somehow deflected to safety, Ryan Edwards’ effort flew wide, before Harry Owen responded for Met with a grass tickler which brought McCormick into play. Then Williams intercepted the ball on the half way line and broke down the right before firing a super second low down into Lang’s bottom right hand corner, to give Aber the real scent of victory.

Aber had a penalty shout when Lewis, already on a yellow, tangled with Ruane in the box, but then McCormick pulled off a great save from Will Evans to safeguard the hosts’ clean sheet.

Some late drizzle could not dampen the hosts’ ardour, and when Will Evans’ lob sailed over the bar with three minutes to go, the job was done, and Aber had a crucial victory.

With Aber earning their first clean sheet since November top marks must go to the defensive six of McCormick, Declan Walker, Baynes, Wollacott, Steff Edwards and Matthew Jones, but Williams, Kellaway and Ruane also caught the eye going forward, and Mendes and Ryan Edwards did brilliantly at their job of breaking up play and moving Aber forward also.

Two wins and a draw from their first four matches after the split has given Aber’s season a big boost and the Black and Greens will look forward with confidence now to their next assignment, when Carmarthen Town visit Park Avenue a week on Friday, March 8, (ko 7.45pm).

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Six Nations finale with Scotland sold out

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Wales’ final Guinness Six Nations clash of the 2020 Championship – against Scotland – has sold-out.

The tournament climax for incoming head coach Wayne Pivac on Saturday 14th March, will be played out at a full capacity Principality Stadium in front of a 73,931-strong crowd baying for Welsh success.

Pivac opens his first Six Nations campaign, after taking over the head coach reins from incumbent Wales boss Warren Gatland, in Cardiff against Italy on Saturday 1st February with limited tickets (including U16s tickets at £20) still available for this game.

In all over 200,000 tickets have been sold for Wales’ three home matches in the competition and the round three meeting with France, on Saturday 22nd February, is set to follow Scotland in posting up the sold-out signs in the next few days.

The last time Wales faced the Scots, the Azzurri and Les Blues at home following a Rugby World Cup was the 2016 Six Nations, when all three matches sold-out before a ball was kicked, a factor directly influenced by a successful run in the tournament.

In Pivac’s first game in charge he leads Wales against a Barbarians side which will be led by his predecessor at the helm for Wales, Gatland, at Principality Stadium in November.

The Barbarians match has sold over 40,000 tickets to date, but also still has availability for U16s, at £10, with remaining adult tickets starting at £30.

Remaining tickets for Italy and France in the Six Nations and for the Barbarians game are available now from a Welsh rugby club near you, online at www.wru.wales/tickets, in person at the WRU ticket office or by phone 0844 847 1881 (calls to this number cost 7p per minute plus your company’s access charge) – maximum purchase limits apply.

Principality Stadium Official Hospitality Packages are available for all matches from 02920 822309 or visit www.wru.wales/hospitality, with Premium hospitality available for the Barbarians game and limited availability in The Players’ Lounge for Italy.

The WRU’s offsite hospitality partner Events International also has availability www.eventsinternational.co.uk and official travel packages can be purchased from the WRU’s official travel supplier, Gullivers Sports Travel by visiting www.gulliverstravel.co.uk and some member clubs may also still have tickets.

The WRU strongly advises all supporters to make sure they always ‘buy official’, only tickets bought from official sources (member clubs, official partners or the WRU direct) are guaranteed by the WRU – with tickets sold via unlicensed operators often cancelled and entrance regularly and regretfully refused on void tickets.

FIXTURES ON SALE NOW (includes ticket availability by category):

Wales v Barbarians, Saturday 30th November 2019, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.45pm (Double header with Wales Women v Barbarians Women, Kick-off 11.45am) Prices: £10, £20 (both sold-out to adults but £10 concession remains for U16 – with over 40,000, more than half capacity, available) , £30 *AFZ, £40, £50

Wales v Italy, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 1st February 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.15pm. Prices: £30, £50 (both sold-out), £60 *AFZ, £60 (£20 U16), £65 (£20 U16), £75

Wales v France, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 22nd February 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 4.45pm. Prices: £40, £65 (both sold-out), £90, £90 *AFZ, £95, £105 (sold-out)

Wales v Scotland, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 14th March 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.15pm ALL SOLD-OUT

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Wales make two changes for Fiji clash

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Wales have made two changes for their third RWC Pool D encounter against Fiji on Wednesday (October 9 KO 18.45 local / 10.45 UK).

Both changes to the starting XV come in the back row with Ross Moriarty and James Davies coming into the side at number eight and openside flanker respectively with Josh Navidi switching to blindside flanker.

The front-five remains the same from Wales’ opening two victories with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis packing down in the front-row with Jake Ball and captain Alun Wyn Jones continuing their partnership in the second-row.

The backline for Wales remains unchanged with Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar named as the half-backs with Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies partnering in the midfield.

Josh Adams, George North and Liam Williams line-up as the back-three.

Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre and Dillon Lewis provide the front-row cover on the bench with Aaron Shingler and Aaron Wainwright completing the forward contingent.  Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell and Owen Watkin are named as the backline replacements.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY FIJI ON WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 9

1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (17 Caps)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets) (69 Caps)
3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (45 Caps)
4. Jake Ball (Scarlets) (38 Caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (130 Caps) (CAPT)
6. Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues) (21 Caps)
7. James Davies (Scarlets) (5 Caps)
8. Ross Moriarty (Dragons) (36 Caps)
9. Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (46 Caps)
10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints) (75 Caps)
11. Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues) (16 Caps)
12. Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (20 Caps)
13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) (78 Caps)
14. George North (Ospreys) (88 Caps)
15. Liam Williams (Saracens) (60 Caps)

Replacements:
16. Elliot Dee (Dragons) (24 Caps)
17. Rhys Carre (Saracens) (1 Cap)
18. Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues) (17 Caps)
19. Aaron Shingler (Scarlets) (22 Caps)
20. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons) (14 Caps)
21. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues) (11 Caps)
22. Rhys Patchell (Scarlets) (15 Caps)
23. Owen Watkin (Ospreys) (17 Caps)

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35-strong squad named for bumper autumn series

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WALES Women head coach Rowland Phillips has named a 35-strong squad for his side’s five matches in November – their biggest autumn series to date. Hooker Carys Phillips will continue to captain the squad which includes 14 uncapped players.

Wales begin the series with three away matches – against Spain, Ireland and Scotland before returning to Wales for the first match against a women’s Crawshay’s team coached by new WRU Council Member Liza Burgess and the first professional female coach in Wales – Rachel Taylor.

That game will take place at Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale on Saturday, November 23, and Taylor will also be part of the opposition coaching team a week later for Wales Women’s first match against the Barbarians in the Principality Stadium double header.

Phillips said: “Our focus hasn’t changed. We are already qualified for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup and our key aim is to build a squad of young players with significant experience under their belts.

“This autumn series is a huge opportunity to do that. All players will gain from the experience of travelling away for three testing encounters against Spain, Ireland and Scotland – all of whom still need to qualify for the World Cup. And to be part of two historic encounters in Wales at the end of November against the Crawhshay’s and Barbarians is something we will all look forward to and enjoy.

“We finished the Six Nations on a high with a dramatic win over Scotland and then a pleasing win and performance against Ireland and we want to build on that momentum this season.

“There is excellent quality coming through – that was evident in the regional programme again this summer and some of those players are rewarded with squad places today. We have a responsibility to continue to develop those players, maximise their potential and also manage them well. We will expose them to an international environment and give them game time when ready. The likes of Lauren Smyth, Manon Johnes, Alex Callender and Gwen Crabb all earned their first caps last autumn and have gone on to become key players in the squad. The opportunity is there for others to do the same if they apply themselves.

“We are clear on where we need to develop to become consistently competitive. There’s a better understanding now from players of what is required of an international player in terms of fitness, skill levels, attitude and everything else that goes with being an international rugby player.

“We aren’t looking beyond the first game. Spain are making significant progress and will provide a tough challenge especially on their home turf. We are looking forward to locking horns with our Six Nations adversaries Ireland and Scotland who both have a point to prove and we want to engage as many home fans as possible in our journey and be part of our home matches at Ebbw Vale at Principality Stadium.”

WRU international skills coaches Geraint Lewis and Chris Horsman have joined Rowland Phillips and Gareth Wyatt in the Wales Women coaching set-up and will provide specialised input throughout the autumn campaign.

Phillips welcomed the addition of the former Wales international forwards. “Geraint and Chris are excellent coaches. With their wealth of experience working with young international players, they understand the need to adapt styles and management skills accordingly. It’s hugely encouraging for the women’s programme to become a more integrated part of the WRU performance structure. I know I’ve learned a lot from coaching female athletes and Chris and Geraint have already shown they will add value to the programme.”

Wales Women autumn series squad:

Forwards: (5 uncapped*)

Alex Callender (Scarlets), Gwen Crabb (Ospreys), Amy Evans (Ospreys), Georgia Evans* (Cardiff Blues), Abbie Fleming* (Cardiff Blues), Cerys Hale (Cardiff Blues),

Sioned Harries (Scarlets), Cara Hope (Ospreys), Jordan Hopkins* (Cardiff Blues), Gwenllian Jenkins* (Scarlets), Natalia John (Ospreys), Manon Johnes (Cardiff Blues), Kelsey Jones (Ospreys), Bethan Lewis (Scarlets), Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys), Robyn Lock* (Ospreys), Carys Phillips (Ospreys), Gwenllian Pyrs (RGC)

Backs: (9 uncapped*)

Keira Bevan, (Ospreys), Angharad Desmet* (Scarlets), Alecs Donovan (Ospreys), Lleucu George (Scarlets), Courtney Keight* (Ospreys), Kerin Lake (Ospreys), Caitlin Lewis* (Scarlets), Ffion Lewis (Scarlets), Rebekah O’Loughlin* (Cardiff Blues), Kayleigh Powell* (Ospreys), Paige Randall* (Cardiff Blues), Catherine Richards* (Cardiff Blues), Lauren Smyth (Ospreys), Elinor Snowsill Ospreys), Niamh Terry* (Ospreys), Megan Webb* (Cardiff Blues), Robyn Wilkins (Cardiff Blues)

Wales Women fixtures November 2019:

Spain v Wales Women, Estadio Nacional Computense, Madrid, Sunday, November 3, 12.45pm local time

Ireland v Wales Women, The Bowl, UCD, Dublin, Sunday, November 10, 1pm

Scotland v Wales Women, Glasgow, Sunday, November 17, 3pm

Crawshay’s v Wales Women, Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale Saturday, November 23, 2.30pm

Wales Women v Barbarians Saturday, November 30, Principality Stadium 11.45am

Tickets for the Barbarians double-header on sale via wru.wales/tickets

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