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Road to Russia ended by the Republic

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By Jonathan Twigg

WALES’ World Cup journey ended on Monday (Oct 9) at the Cardiff City Stadium when they were beaten 1-0 with a goal by James McClean of the Republic of Ireland in an emotional, tense but drab encounter.

The evening started with a rousing rendition of ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, which moved the crowds mood to a crescendo and the Welsh team, lacking the mercurial Gareth Bale responded through possession and territory, which failed to generate chances to open the scoring.

The requirement was simple; beat the visitors and take a pathway through the play offs, probably as a seeded team and if luck   ran with the Welsh players then maybe gaining automatic qualification if Serbia didn’t beat Georgia. Neither happened as Martin O’Neil, manager of the ’boys in green’ conjured up a master plan to outwit his opposite number Chris Coleman.

Predicted as the biggest game for Wales in a generation, after the disappointment of play-off elimination at the hands of Russia in 2004, a Paul Bodin penalty miss in the fatal night in 1994 and perhaps back as far as Scotland’s Joe Jordan’s handball in 1978.  Wales can’t make that final step to infinity and the World Cup Finals, their last game being a quarter final defeat at the hands of champions Brazil in Gothenburg, Sweden, although an inspired semi-final performance at the 2016 Euro’s had heightened the publics expectations, perhaps falsely.

Without Bale, the collective team spirit needed to come to the fore for the Dragon, but it failed to ignite against an Irish team which out muscled them in key areas.  Stoke City’s Pembrokeshire born midfielder Joe Allen left the field in a groggy state after being the filling in a sandwich, the bread supplied by skipper David Meyler and striker McClean.  Wales couldn’t adapt to the loss of Allen with the normally bright Aaron Ramsey and youngster Lawrence unable to produce the magic moments.

The winner came in the 57 minute with the crowd rekindling the spirit of Euro 2016 with a rendition of ‘please don’t take me home’ when Jeff Hendrick robbed skipper Ashley Williams of the ball to whip in a cross from the right hand side for McClean to meet on the half volley.

The goal which stunned 30,000 voices into silence, 3000 Irishmen apart, saw Wales fall behind for the first time in the World Cup qualifying campaign and the crowd felt the unease as the team struggled to gain parity in the game.

Reflection shouldn’t be on the disappointing result in the final game, more perhaps on the team’s inability to secure three points in fixtures they were in control of during the campaign.

In 12 months they drew with Austria, Georgia, Serbia twice and the Republic of Ireland in Dublin, the first four of those fixtures saw them leading on each occasion.  Coming into the last game they had won three on the bounce and held prime position for qualification for the play-offs in their own hands.

The defeat, a first on home soil since Serbia in 2013 takes some of the momentum out of Chris Coleman’s managerial reign, where a top draw offering of a return to Club football may see him venture to pastures new.

It could also mark the end for some stalwart performers as Ashley Williams, Chris Gunter and Joe Ledley head a list of players who may find another two year campaign too much for their aging limbs.

Wales’ golden generation may well be changing although the future is bright with a conveyor belt of talented youngsters now on the verge of the squad.

Optimism remains high from a Welsh public desperate to see their heroes reach a World Cup Final, where we are ranked thirteenth in the World.

There is still time for the Dragon’s roar to breath some real fire on the World stage.

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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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