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Scarlets seal victory over Connaught

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By Jonathan Twigg

SCARLETS won their Guinness Pro 14 encounter on Friday (Sept 29) at Parc Y Scarlets 34-27 against a spirited Connaught side in a game which saw the teams share nine tries and secure maximum points.

The first half saw seven of those tries, with the Scarlets leading 26-22 thanks to their fourth try of the night, scored by British & Irish Lions full back Leigh Halfpenny.

The Scarlets had opened the scoring after seven minutes following a clean line out ball from second row David Bulbring, where the ball was moved out to an advancing Rhys Patchell, the outside half running a high attacking line, from which he popped the ball into the hands of centre Jonathan Davies, who broke his tackle and created enough space for winger Johnny Mcnicholl to circle around under the posts for Halfpenny to convert.

From the restart, secured by home flanker Wil Boyde the Scarlets moved the ball along their back division until an unfortunate mix up in midfield between centres Scott Williams and Davies saw the ball pop into the hands of outside half Jack Carty who ran in unopposed under the posts and convert his own try.

The mix up typified the game where many errors restricted the momentum in play, with an expectation that both sides would have been frustrated by their inability to take control of the game despite the fact they served up a nine try thriller.

Wales full back Halfpenny also missed two attempts at goal, the first a conversion of man of the match Stefan Evans try on 17 minutes.

The winger was on hand to finish a move which the Scarlets ran nine passes of play before Williams opened the space for Evans to dance around and finish from 40m out.

With Wales coach Warren Gatland and his management team in the stands Evans has now put himself into the slot to be involved in the Autumn International series as the diminutive winger expressed his desire and hunger to run at the opposition defence line, reflecting images of Shane Williams in his heyday.

Carty brought the score back to 12-10 with a penalty conceded from the scrum, with replacement prop Dylan Evans guilty having just come on for Wales international Rob Evans, side lined with a head injury.

Smarting from the setback of losing Evans and three points the Scarlets won possession back as the half hour mark approached thanks to the endeavours of skipper Ken Owens who charged down a clearance from full back Darragh Leader.

Number 8 Will Boyde combined with Josh McCleod and replacement Evans before further good work from Aaron Shingler and Jake Ball put flanker McCleod clear allowing Rhys Patchell to accept an inside pass from Steff Evans to score and Halfpenny to find his kicking boots gain and convert after missing a 40m penalty on 11 minutes.

Referee Nigel Owens took an age to award the try as the TMO viewed numerous angles of the play much to the discontent of the crowd and whilst applauding the innovative way technology can ‘get the decision right’ thought must be given to keeping the game live.

Connaught came back with a try after some sustained phases of play through their pack to release winger Cian Kelleher after good hands from centre Bundee Aki which Carty converted and a mistake from Mcnicholl allowed visiting number 8 John Muldoon to charge 45m through the midfield, linking well with Aki who was tackled and the ball recycled through the efforts of flanker Jarred Butler allowing winger Tim O’Halloran to score an unconverted try.

With the Scarlets behind for the first time in the match with two minutes of the half remaining the they managed to work space once again for Evans to set his wheels in motion and he drew the covering defence for Halfpenny to score and convert for a half time lead of 26-22.

The second half became a much dourer affair as both coaching teams rung the changes and the handling mistakes which epitomised the absorbing first period were there for the 7693 spectators to witness.

Halfpenny extended the lead close to the hour mark with a penalty as Aki was penalised for a double movement in the tackle, with the game drifting aimlessly as both sides were guilty of kicking possession away to allow them to regroup their defensive patterns.

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac used all his replacements, the last of which was prop Simon Gardiner, who returned to a Scarlets shirt with just under ten minutes remaining.

The former Wales Under 21 star last played for the Region in September 2011 and after a journey which took him around Britain he has this season put in some excellent performances for Llanelli in the Principality Premiership and deservedly earned a recall to the match day squad.

On 74 minutes Connaught brought themselves back into contention of winning the game thanks to a second unconverted try by O’Halloran after he combined well with fellow wing Kelleher before the crescendo for a nervous home crowd saw replacement back row Irishman Tadhg Bierne stride over after second row Jake Ball collected the ball in midfield and make a 30m unopposed run, for Halfpenny to convert and the game end 36-27.

On Saturday (Oct 7), the Scarlets take on rivals Ospreys in the Pro 14 at the Liberty Stadium, before welcoming Cardiff Blues to Park Y Scarlets at the end of the month after they travel to Toulouse and entertain Bath in the European Cup.

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Nigel Owens hosts virtual rugby quiz for Pembroke Panthers

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PEMBROKE Panthers RFC enjoyed a rugby return during lockdown after winning a competition which saw international referee Nigel Owens host their own virtual clubhouse quiz, thanks to Principality Building Society.

The women’s squad at the Pembroke club beat more than 1000 entries to win Principality’s Clubhouse Quiz competition. With many clubs affected by widespread flooding at the start of this year and now closed indefinitely due to coronavirus, the building society is continually looking for ways to support grassroots rugby clubs in Wales.

Pembroke Panther Lucy Neale, 30, entered her team with the hope of bringing the players together online. She said: “We’d usually see each other up to five times a week between training sessions, matches and socials, so it’s been a really strange time. I thought I’d enter the club thinking it would be a nice pick-me-up for us all, but never actually expected to win so it was an amazing surprise.”

The team were tested on their rugby knowledge by world cup referee Nigel Owens over video conferencing platform Zoom, where players won tickets to Welsh internationals at Principality Stadium, signed rugby shirts and balls, and tickets for a tour around Principality Stadium. The quiz included a guest appearance from former Welsh international Tom Shanklin.

Lucy continued: “It was such a memorable and special evening for us all. We’re usually quite a lively bunch but we behaved well for Nigel. We’re so thankful to Principality for putting on the quiz and allowing us to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience as a team.”

As sponsors of Principality Stadium and the National Youth Leagues for grassroots clubs in Wales, Principality has a strong relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union and knows how much rugby means to communities across the country. With matches on hold currently, the building society wanted to be able to bring the buzz of the clubhouse to the home.

Clubhouse Quiz host, Nigel Owens, said: “Principality’s Clubhouse Quiz was a fantastic way to bring one team closer together and Pembroke Panthers really showed off their rugby knowledge. Rugby plays such an important role in Welsh communities and I know they’ll be missing the action on the field right now, so it was lovely to have been part of this experience to bring this team together. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sin bin any of them either.”

Julie-Ann Haines, Chief Customer Officer at Principality Building Society, said: “Many rugby clubs across Wales have had a really difficult year, with flood damage to pitches and clubhouses now followed by coronavirus. This was our chance to recreate the camaraderie of the clubhouse for one team and we hope that it brought plenty of laughs and memorable moments for Pembroke Panthers at this challenging time.”

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Wales v Scotland postponed

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WALES’ Six Nations match at home to Scotland on Saturday has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The two other Six Nation fixtures had already been postponed and no date has been confirmed to complete the 2020 Championship.

The Welsh Rugby Union had insisted earlier on Friday the game would “go ahead as planned”.

A WRU statement read: “The Welsh Rugby Union has maintained an open dialogue with, and continued to seek advice and direction from, the National Assembly for Wales and other stakeholders, including the Six Nations, on this fast-moving issue.

“Whilst medical advice remains consistent, we have decided that it is in the best interests of supporters, players and staff to fall in line with recent measures taken across the UK and global sports industries.

“The WRU would like to thank all parties for their counsel on the subject and will make further announcements with respect to rescheduling the fixture in the coming days.

“Every effort has been made to stage this game and we appreciate that individuals will have been inconvenienced. Given the fluid and unprecedented nature of this issue a postponement became the only viable option.”

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Domestic football at all levels in Wales suspended

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THE FOOTBALL Association of Wales has today (13 March) taken the decision to suspend domestic football at all levels in Wales with immediate effect until April 4 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The intention at this time will be to resume the football schedule depending on the medical advice and conditions from the relevant authorities at that time.

The FAW is fully aware of the impact this will have on the domestic game but the health and safety of all fans, players, volunteers and stakeholders are of paramount importance.

The FAW will continue to monitor this situation on a day-by-day basis and will continue to provide updates when appropriate.

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