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Whitland remain unbeaten

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By Jonathan Twigg

“A HAPPY camp is a winning camp” according to Coach Gareth Bennett and the GD Harries sponsored ‘Green Machine’ of Whitland were in buoyant mood on Saturday (Nov 4) after they kept their unbeaten start to the season in tact after against previously unbeaten visitors Pontarddulais.

The Borders are committed to play a style of rugby where they are willing to play the situation which falls before them, where a precarious 9-7 lead at half time in the face of a swirling wind could have led to them wilting in the face of a side intent on leaving Parc Llwyn Ty Gwyn with something to show for their efforts.

They scored the only try of the game two minutes before the break when winger Gethin Williams crossed wide out for fellow winger Paul Geary to add a majestic conversion to put the ‘Ambers’ 7-6 ahead, but had to settle for a losing bonus point as the home sides outside half Nico Setaro kicked them to victory with five penalties.

Setaro took a while to settle into the flow of the game as he was guilty of some poor tactical kicking as his side were second best in the early exchanges in all aspects.

The scrum found itself disrupted from the start, as skipper Marc Thomas lost one against the head and throughout the first half they continually failed to secure line out ball which would have allowed them a platform from which to play on the front foot.

Setaro missed an effort from just beyond the 22m line after six minutes before ‘The Bont’ lost influential Loose Head prop Andrew Williams two minutes later as he found himself exposed to some rough treatment on the floor and the ebb of the game swung in Whitland’s favour.

Hooker Thomas was tenacious in his tackling and driving play supported by the ‘boiler house’ veterans Raff Williams and 47 year old Dai Ebsworth.

Ebsworth experience of playing for three decades, including at Narberth was evident both on and off the ball as he became a go to man in the line out which led to a second penalty failed penalty attempt for Setaro after winger Liam Price had run over 25m with the ball in hand.

Fellow winger Sean Coles also combined in a sweeping 50m run with Price and the home pressure finally paid dividends midway through the half when Setaro’s penalty was successful after Pontyates referee Justin Thomas marched forward for ten metres after some dissent.

The visitors were penalised eight times in the first half, mainly for not releasing the player in the tackle as they slowed the game down with many on field injury assessments.

The tactics galvanised Thomas, Ebsworth, Number 8 Jack Mason and flanker Benji Kirk to put in the hard yards for their side and a second Setaro penalty after 32 minutes extended the lead.  Williams try came about thanks to second row Jordan Daniels and flanker Dean Courtney setting a platform for the winger to cross.

In time added on at the end of the first half a counter attack from their own half saw Setaro’s angled kick fielded by full back Aled Stone, a product of the Clubs junior and youth set up.  Instead of putting the ball out of play to end the half he tried to run from within touching distance of his own posts to be caught by the marauding home back row and the resultant penalty from wide out for not releasing allowed Setaro to lead his side from the field with a 9-7 cushion.

Centre Josh Thomas entered the fray after half time for Whitland as ball player Johnnie Thomas moved to the wing to replace Sean Coles, victim of a dead leg.

The second half game management from the home side saw them stifle any effort by Pontardullais to get ahead with some excellent handling and miss moves shipped the ball wide to winger Thomas and Price ensuring the game was played deep in the visitors territory.

Setaro and full back Scott Newton are composite ball handlers and kickers from hand, alongside Thomas and Price as they dictated both the tempo and tactical play which saw them combine and travel at times over sixty metres with ball in hand.

Coach Dan Mason was complimentary of this play as ‘the players are encouraged to express their ability at all times’.

He added: “There may have been a hangover from our last game at Tumble alongside nerves due to the ‘magnitude of the game’ at the start of the afternoon but we are all confident in our own and our team mates skills.  Bennett, added ‘there is no better feeling for a front five forward to get up from the battle on the floor to see the ball 40m downfield and it keeps a spring in our step and a smile on our faces.”

Replacement Thomas also added a new dimension to the play after the break by taking and carrying the ball to the first defender with fellow centre Alun Davies enjoying the freedom created to ensure Setaro and the back three could perform.

Flanker Ryan Michael was instrumental in leading a high defence line alongside scrum half Adam Davies who edged out his more experienced counterpart Adrian Killa or the visitors as the game wore on, which restricted the ability for Stone et al to run back from deep, resulting into the kicks into the hands of Newton, Setaro and Thomas.

Setaro landed two more penalties as the graft of his forwards put their side 15-7 ahead with ten minutes remaining although it could have been different had Geary not slipped when attempting a straight forward penalty attempt a minute later; he made amends with five minutes left after work from Daniels drew Michael offside as his side felt the loss just when his side most needed him most of Number 8 Jacob Miles, an attacking dynamo alongside his scrum half Killa all afternoon.

A vociferous visiting contingent in the stands became frustrated as the play couldn’t transfer to give their idols an opportunity to win the game where a Club spokesman at the end of the game praised ‘Whitland’s second half performance, which ended our unbeaten league start, although the losing bonus point may prove crucial as the season draws to its climax.”

The final word on an absorbing Whitland Ladies sponsored top of table encounter was left to Bennett. “As coaches it’s a case of osmosis as these players just want to take everything we are giving them onto the pitch.  We have no expectations beyond our next game and we are able to use players out of position when the need arises; our philosophy of trying to play rugby beyond our outside centre will remain.”

Next week Pontarddulais entertain St Clears whilst the unbeaten Green Machine travel to Mumbles to take on a side which were unable to field a team last weekend.

Sport

Merlins Bridge and Clarbeston Road set for Senior Cup semi-final

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TONIGHT (Feb 21) sees the first Senior Cup semi-final taking place at the Bridge Meadow Stadium in Haverfordwest and it promises to be an excellent game.

Merlins Bridge face Clarbeston Road in a repeat of the 2017 final which the Wizards won and they won’t want to release their grip on the trophy just yet.

However, Clarbeston Road were a Division 2 side back then, and now in Division 1, they will be keen to show how far they have come in just under a year.

Clarby got to this stage after surviving a scare in the third round as they beat second division Hundleton 3-2, thanks to a last minute goal from Jason Griffiths. The Road had earlier wins against St Clears and Fishguard Sports.

The Wizards eased into the last four after thumping Angle 7-0 after previous wins against Solva and Lamphey.

Action from the 2017 Senior Cup Final between Merlins Bridge and Clarbeston Road

Neither side has been tested to the full from their earlier games, with the exception of Clarby against Hundleton, in the competition and tonight is set to be a real test for both teams.

A look at the league table indicates it will be a close game with Merlins Bridge sitting fourth and Clarbeston Road sitting two points behind in fifth, albeit having played four games more.

The teams come into the game having played just once so far this year due to the bad weather across the county.

Clarbeston Road got back into the swing of things on Saturday (Feb 17), with a 6-0 thumping of Milford United, a win which coach Matthew Ellis described as a ‘Nice game to get back into things before the semi-final’.

Jason Griffiths scored a hat trick in that game to take his tally of goals for the season to 19 and the Wizards will do well to keep him quiet tonight.

Merlins Bridge were in West Wales Cup action at the weekend for their first game since December 16 and they beat Port Tennant Colts 1-0 thanks to a Luke Hayward penalty.

The cup mentality the Bridge had on Saturday will still be with them tonight which could work in their favour.

The teams are yet to meet in the league this season so the game could go either way.

The winner will go on to the final where they will play the winner of the second semi-final, which also takes place at the Meadow next Wednesday (Feb 28), between Hakin United and Carew.

Tonight’s game kicks off at 7pm so make sure you get to the Bridge Meadow to support your team.

Good luck to both and may the best team win.

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Sport

Antwhistle praises Pembrokeshire’s best

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GRAEME ANTWHISTLE, Head Coach of Swim Wales visited Pembrokeshire County Swimming for a two day review of their development pathway on Thursday (Feb 7) and Friday (Feb 9).

Swim Wales work closely with their Regional Development Centres where Antwhistle has a critical friend role towards supporting Pembrokeshire Head Coach Craig Nelson and his Assistant Sam Jones who are working with the best swimmers in Pembrokeshire.

The overall aim is one of driving forward a pathway for producing success on the international stage, with the Governing Body offering opportunities to all swimmers in the Principality to reach that goal.

Pembrokeshire County is an integral cog in this wheel where swimmers in the National Performance squad and National Development squad are on his radar and from his recent visit he commented, “I’m impressed with the progress with swimmers from Pembrokeshire, where it was a noted success their performances at the Swim Wales Welsh Winter Open.”

Prior to taking up his position with Swim Wales Antwhistle was High Performance Coach for British Swimming based at Bath National Centre, an impressive credential for a man who has been coaching for over two decades.

Antwhistle has guided athletes such as Michael Jamieson, Jazz Carlin, Siobhan O’Connor and Andrew Willis to a combined 5 Olympic silver medals, attending high profile events on behalf of Great Britain at the European Youth Olympic Games, European Junior Championships, World Junior Championships, World Championships and Olympic Games.

Antwhistle has an abundance of skills, knowledge and a positive personality where his enthusiasm rubs off on swimmers, coaches and parents as Swim Wales strive to develop their performance pathway for clubs and coaches.

Antwhistle went on to say: “The progress of Pembrokeshire swimmers is clearly visible from when I last visited in November; credit to the squad for taking on board the messages of both support and challenges that I have set them as they are responding.

“If they can see the progress within their training and recognise what they are doing well whilst also having an objective view of the areas they need to improve, then they can believe in themselves to deliver the performance they deserve at next month’s Easter National championships.”

The Pembrokeshire squads have the support of a volunteer committee, headed by Chairman Paul Hayley (Tenby Dolphins), who works closely with the coaching team, Swim Wales and Pembrokeshire Leisure who are funding partners in the initiative.

Recent developments have seen the swimmers working under the guidance of Strength and Academy Wales and Claire Davies [Physiologist] to provide the best opportunity for achieving success.

Antiwhistle concluded: “The biggest challenge is to maintain focus as all of the ten performance clubs in Wales are now receiving this level of support and we are aiming for the sport to become ever more competitive.”

With Swimming on such a high in the County, the performance programme is attracting swimmers who weren’t previously based in the County which shows there is no better time to join the umbrella pathway for swimming.

Young people, after completing Wave 6 of the Learn to Swim programme can join one of six development clubs (Pembroke & District; Tenby Dolphin; Haverfordwest Seals; Milford Tigers; Fishguard Flyers and Preseli Panthers) and could then progress to the Performance Squads and possibly International success.

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Biggar, Williams and Halfpenny in Wales team to face Ireland

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WALES have made three changes to their starting XV to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (KO 14.15) with British & Irish Lions trio Dan Biggar, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny all returning to the side.

Biggar has recovered from a shoulder injury to make his 61st appearance for his country and will line up alongside Gareth Davies at half-back.

Halfpenny and Williams join Steff Evans in the back-three with Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams continuing their partnership in the midfield.

Wales have named an unchanged pack for the trip to Dublin.  The all-Scarlets front-row of Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee feature for a third consecutive game.  Cory Hill partners captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row with Aaron Shingler, Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty comprising the back-row.

“It is great to be able to bring so much experience back into the starting XV and into the backline,” said head coach Warren Gatland, who will take charge of Wales for the 100th time.

“It is the first week we have had everyone in the ‘green’ in terms of availability which is a nice luxury to have and a positive ahead of what is a very important test match against a very good Ireland side.

“We have been pleased with the depth we have developed in the back-three and pleased with how those players have gone but having the experience of Dan, Liam and Leigh coming back in is hugely important.

“We have been pleased with how the forward pack has been going and how they have worked as a unit but as always there is pressure for them to perform too.”

Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis are named as the front-row replacements with Bradley Davies and Justin Tipuric completing the forward contingent.  Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe and George North provide the back-line cover.

Wales Team to play Ireland:

Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets) (75 Caps)

Liam Williams (Saracens) (45 Caps)

Scott Williams (Scarlets) (53 Caps)

Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (3 Caps)

Steff Evans (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Dan Biggar (Ospreys) (60 Caps)

Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (29 Caps)

Rob Evans (Scarlets) (22 Caps)

Ken Owens (Scarlets) (54 Caps)

Samson Lee (Scarlets) (35 Caps)

Cory Hill (Dragons) (12 Caps)

Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (115 Caps) CAPT

Aaron Shingler (Scarlets) (15 Caps)

Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues) (9 Caps)

Ross Moriarty (Gloucester) (19 Caps)

Replacements:

Elliot Dee (Dragons) (4 Caps)

Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (28 Caps)

Bradley Davies (Ospreys) (59 Caps)

Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (54 Caps)

Aled Davies (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues) (13 Caps)

George North (Northampton Saints) (70 Caps)

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