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Heart & Soul: A fans view of the Scarlets’ victory against the Cardiff Blues

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By Jonathan Twigg

PARC Y Scarlets was the venue on Saturday (Oct 28) evening for the second ‘Welsh Derby’ as the Scarlets eventually defeated the Cardiff Blues 30-17 to remain top of the Guinness Pro 14 Conference B table.

Leading 18-3 at half time  through tries from man of the match Hadleigh Parkes and hooker Ryan Elias a buoyant home side were pegged back to 18-17 after an hour as the visitors scored tries from New Zealand born winger Willis Halaholo and replacement scrum half Lloyd Williams to go with conversions from former ‘man of Hendy’ Stephen Shingler.

At this stage the fire under the saucepan needed rekindling and the ‘hwyl’ found its voice from the Hydro North stand, be it water or something stronger to inspire replacement full back to fly over and score with his first touch, thanks to winger Steff Evans grubber kick following a flowing home sides move through the hands of their back division.

A bonus point victory was secured ten minutes from the end as Evans crossed to complete the scoring with Leigh Halfpenny striking a conversion and two penalties and Rhys Patchel a conversion.

Playing in deepest West Wales has often been revered as playing in heaven and the support given from the home faithful is legendry across the globe.  Be it the folk song Sospan Fach synonymous to Stradey Park and now Parc Y Scarlets or a rendition of Calon Lan the close knit community spirit associated to this Welsh Region is special.

Have you wondered how a person goes from being a supporter, to being a fan to becoming a fanatic?  Stationed in the Hydro North stand, which was inspirational after an hour of the game to push the Scarlets to victory, it was a question answered by Mick Haltam, a former three quarter with Haverfordwest and Llangwm, who hails from the Midlands, but is now firmly ensconced in the local sporting scene.

“As a child I grew up in the 70’s when Welsh rugby was such a joy to watch. Even as an Englishman I used to marvel at the skills of Phil Bennett, JJ Williams, Delme Thomas and Ray Gravell who used to play for this magical team way out west that I could not pronounce. Players like these and the romance of games, like beating the ‘All Blacks’ made me an admirer of Llanelli RFC from afar.”

Mick arrived in Pembrokeshire when he was posted to Cawdor Barracks, in 1996 and he fulfilled his dream of living the magic at Stradey Park. “I would be an irregular visitor to Stradey as I was still playing the game” said Mike.  With partner Joanne Phelps equally smitten from the pull of ‘Johnnie Bach’ it took little persuasion for them to take their son Olly when the Club introduced the ‘supporters’ village’ in 2010.  Hooked immediately with the family match day experience, that first against Leinster, when Olly was just three years old was the start of a love story.

Now season ticket holders, the family are committed to the pilgrimage from their home in Narberth by car or train, depending on the kick off time.  Mick recalled when he went from being a fan to a fanatic, after the 24-15 Heinekein Cup quarter final victory over Munster in 2007.

He has been to every Pro 12 ground, with the exception of Treviso and now with the introduction of South African sides the Southern Kings and Cheetahs, plans are already in place to finance the those memory making trips. “European games have also allowed us to get to all the English Premier clubs, except Newcastle, plus Perpignan, Brive, Clermont and Toulon in France.”

At the end of the 2013 season when the Scarlets made the play-off semi final away to Ulster, Olly was a mascot and savoured the atmosphere at Ravenhill for the first time holding Rob McCusker’s hand.  As proud as they were, it was surpassed last season with the Pro12 Final mauling of Munster as it rekindled the ‘magic’ which first drew Mick’s attention in a bygone era.

Mick recalls with delight that ‘Priestland’ try v Perpignan in 2010 as readily as any victory over the Ospreys, including last spring, alongside European victories at Northampton and Harlequins whilst Glasgow is undoubtedly a family favourite destination.  A definition of fanatical can be summed up with Micks explanation of how he and Olly had planned a ‘dads and lads’ visit to the last scheduled away game of last season in Connacht.

“Olly and I took my motorbike via the Fishguard ferry and rode to Galway, experiencing a fantastic away trip. Of course, winning this game meant we’d qualified for the play-offs and pitched us away to Leinster two weeks later. A family weekend followed, flying from Bristol to Dublin before a third Irish away trip in four weeks hit the wallet hard [but it was worth every penny], as we left Pembroke on the 3am ferry and drove to Dublin for the European Final.”

In true partnership Mick and Joanne shared the driving; Mick taking the wheel on the journey into Dublin from their hotel half an hour outside the City, with Joanne driving back! Not even Steve Martin could have perceived Micks voyage of discovery in supporting the Scarlets; through ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’, plus bikes and ferries, experiencing first hand the Heart and Soul of Scarlet Fever.

“We are all part of the Scarlets family” said Joanne, “including the staff and players; we always find time for each other. Today we’ve had a day out, firstly the obligatory shopping experience at Trostre before a family meal and the early arrival at the ground.”  A chuckling Mick, who himself is now coach of Narberth Under 11s after representing the Army with aplomb as far afield as Romania, summed up the victory over the Cardiff Blues with a splattering of ‘Calon Lan’ from his still notable Midlands cadence, alongside friends Steve Barnett and Tom George.

Rest assured there is more fever to come from the Scarlets family; Mick, Joanne and Olly will undoubtedly reminisce for time and memorial.

Sport

WALES TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT

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Wales have made one change to their starting XV to face Ireland this weekend with Nick Tompkins, who made a try scoring debut in round one, coming into the side.
Tompkins will line-up at outside centre with George North moving to the wing for the clash in Dublin.
North will line-up in an experienced back-three alongside Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny whilst Tompkins will partner Hadleigh Parkes in the midfield. Tomos Williams and Dan Biggar continue their partnership at half-back.
Wales have named an unchanged pack with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Dillon Lewis in the front-row and Jake Ball lining up alongside captain Alun Wyn Jones.
Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau feature in the back-row.
“We’ve made just one change after a winning start last weekend,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.
“Nick comes into the side, I thought he played exceptionally well when he came on last week so he deserves the start. George, who played really well last weekend at centre, moves back out to the wing.
“On the bench we have a few players back available, Rhys Carre impressed at the RWC and he comes back in. Adam Beard comes in for Cory Hill who picked up a leg injury earlier this week, Gareth (Davies) is fully fit and Owen Williams comes onto the bench and gives us a bit more cover.
“Momentum is important in the Championship, it was nice to get a good winning start under our belts and hopefully we can build on that through the tournament.”
On the bench Rhys Carre joins Ryan Elias and Leon Brown as the front-row replacements with Adam Beard and Ross Moriarty completing the forward contingent. Gareth Davies, Owen Williams and Johnny McNicholl provide the back-line cover.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY IRELAND (Saturday February 8 KO14.15 ITV & S4C)
15. Leigh Halfpenny (86 Caps)
14. George North (92 Caps)
13. Nick Tompkins (1 Cap)
12. Hadleigh Parkes (26 Caps)
11. Josh Adams (22 Caps)
10. Dan Biggar (80 Caps)
9. Tomos Williams (17 Caps)
1. Wyn Jones (23 Caps)
2. Ken Owens (74 Caps)
3. Dillon Lewis (23 Caps)
4. Jake Ball (43 Caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (C) (135 Caps)
6. Aaron Wainwright (19 Caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (73 Caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (73 Caps)

Replacements:
16. Ryan Elias (10 Caps)
17. Rhys Carre (6 Caps)
18. Leon Brown (7 Caps)
19. Adam Beard (20 Caps)
20. Ross Moriarty (42 Caps)
21. Gareth Davies (51 Caps)
22. Owen Williams (3 Caps)
23. Johnny McNicholl (1 Cap)

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Sport

St Davids flyer starts for Wales

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SCARLETS winger Jasmine Joyce from St Davids has been named alongside Scarlets teammate Hannah Jones in Wales’ starting line-up for Sunday’s Women’s Six Nations Championship opener against Italy at Cardiff Arms Park (1 pm).

The experienced pair missed the side’s five-match autumn series after taking up an opportunity to play for Adelaide University in the Australian national sevens league. Alisha Butchers, who also played for the Adelaide ‘Romas’ has been named on a bench that also includes uncapped Ospreys prop Ruth Lewis.

Coach Chris Horsman says he is pleased with the level of competition in the squad.

“There was debate and competition around every position in the selection meeting, which is exactly what we want,” said the 14-times capped former Wales prop. “We set out to develop strength in depth during the autumn and those games really gave us a chance to look at the group with the 2021 Rugby World Cup in mind.

“There was a case for every player to be involved in some way but we feel this match-day squad is the best placed to make the most of the opportunity this weekend. As in the autumn, we want to go out and perform in every game, improving all the time.”

Italy finished in second place in last season’s competition, beating France comfortably on the way.

“Italy has always been a key match for us and this Sunday will be no different,” added Horsman. “It will be a tough game with no hiding place. We have asked a lot of the players, increasing the intensity of training and they’ve met the challenge head-on. The aim of that is not only to perform under pressure during the Six Nations but also, longer-term, to close the gap on teams above us in the world rankings.

“We are concentrating on ourselves and this week, not looking beyond the challenge of Italy on Sunday.”

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Sport

Aber prevail in tough contest

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ON SATURDAY, Aber completed an unbeaten January during which they played four games winning each one. The team’s efforts propelled the club from 8th position, with 20 league points at the start of the month, to 4th position with 38 league points at its close.

In October of last year, Aber had narrowly beaten Gorseinon at the Welfare Ground and this return fixture was by no means as simple as the score suggests.

The visitors started powerfully and were very physical, and the hosts had their work cut out.
From the start Gorseinon varied their tactics, using their big forwards to make inroads into Aber’s defence and then moving the ball wide to exploit opportunities outside.

Early on they could have made more of the overlaps they created but too often cut inside and wasted valuable chances.
So intense was the visitors’ pressure that it took a full ten minutes for Aber to break out of their half own half.
When they did, Steffan Rees put them 3 – 0 ahead with a simple penalty. Gorseinon replied with a penalty of their own from Popham when Aber were penalised for not rolling away.

The score remained at 3 – 3 almost until the interval.

However, with the clock ticking down to half-time, Gorseinon upped their game. After stealing the ball from an Aber attack, they launched an attack of their own.

An attempted catch and drive led to a ruck from which the ball was swiftly moved out to unmarked left wing Thomas to score the game’s first try. Phelps’ excellent conversion gave Gorseinon a lead of 3 – 10 at the interval.

Aber started the second half full of intent and were to maintain this for the full forty minutes. An astute kicking game pinned Gorseinon in the corner of the pitch and allowed Aber to apply the screws.

From a penalty in midfield, Steffan Rees found touch five yards from the visitors’ line. After Gorseinon were penalised at the resulting lineout, Aber chose a scrum. A huge shove enabled No 8, Lewis Ellis-Jones to touch down for the hosts’ first try of the game. The conversion was missed but at 8 – 10 the home side were reaping rewards for their growing dominance.
The score galvanised the home team.

Ian Ellis at full-back was a constant threat to the visitors as he looked for openings to break through their defence or chip ahead to create opportunities for his wingers. After one such break involving Ellis and Matthew Hughes, the ball was moved to the right where Dylan Evans rounded off the move with a fine try. This was very well converted by Steffan Rees and Aber moved ahead for the first time in the game at 15 – 10.

Gorseinon hit back when a failure to gather the ball cleanly from the kick-off led to a ruck from which Aber’s clearance kick was charged down by lock Evans. He gathered the ball and raced on to score a good opportunist try to level the scores at 15 – 15.

Against a determined defence, Aber mounted more and more attacks and it was from a phase of inter-passing down the left side of the field that Matthew Hughes broke through to score near the posts. Rees converted, moving the hosts on to 22 – 15. He added a penalty to increase this lead to 25 – 15 before Adam Carvell pounced on a lax Gorseinon pass, to intercept and score Aber’s bonus try. Steffan Rees added the simple conversion to close the scoring at 32 – 15.

After a two-week break for Six-Nations matches, Aber will face Felinfoel away on February 15.

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