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The future is bright for Wales

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By Jonathan Twigg

A NEW look Wales team with an average age of under 22 conceded a last minute equaliser at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday (Nov 14) to first time World Cup qualifiers Panama.

The South American country, playing their first game against the ‘Red Dragon’ qualified through the Concacaf group for Russia but struggled against a Welsh side manager Chris Coleman selected with one eye on the future, despite this possibly being his last game in charge.

Tom Lawrence had opened the scoring for his side striking a low drive into the opposite corner after cutting in from the left wing, a just reward for the efforts of his team mates who dominate the game with nearly 70% possession.

Lawrence may have scored the goal, but it was Sheffield United winger David Brooks who stole the plaudits for a sensational performance where he was confident to run directly at opposition defenders before supplying quality balls into the danger area for youngster Ben Woodburn and the venerable Sam Vokes.

Vokes missed a first half penalty after Dave Edwards was tumbled over in the box, as Belgium referee Bert Vertenten issued four yellow cards as the game became a little feisty.

Neil Taylor was one of the Welsh cards alongside 17 year old Ethan Ampadu, as the Chelsea player was another youngster who gave a performance which belied his tender years.

When Wales next turn out in five months’ time for a competitive fixture in the China cup, injuries permitting, he could be the fulcrum of a midfield trio which will allow Arsenals Arron Ramsey and Joe Allen more freedom to push forward in support of Gareth Bale.

At 27 years of age Pembrokeshire born Joe Allen has become an international players of undisputed acclaim, held in high esteem by colleagues, press and the supporters; the Stoke City midfielder was recently voted the supporters’ ‘Player of the Year’ for the second season in succession.

He has come a long way since his formative years, educated at Narberth Primary School and then Ysgol Y Preseli to making his Swansea City debut in May 2007 and becoming a key name on Chris Coleman’s team sheets.

Such is the level headedness of Allen his eloquent tones were humble when he stated: “It’s extra special to win it from the fans; they’ve been amazing home and away so thanks to everyone who voted. They’re just so positive, they embrace the whole occasion.”

The popular midfielder has however come in for some rough justice in recent times, perhaps cynically deposed off in the World Cup play-off defeat to Ireland in Cardiff last month which raised the eyebrows of Coleman.

Allen is essential to the sides he plays in, being a quick thinking, quick passing and now in more recent times, an enforcer. Allen didn’t start out that way, and it wasn’t until a £15 million move to Liverpool in 2012 that his demeanour changed, mentally and physically, taking on an appearance to suit his new style.

Growing out his hair and beard, the baby faced ‘assassin’ Allen started to look a little like Jesus. This prompted fans to start calling him the Welsh Pirlo and is not akin to standing tall defying his stature; ask Troy Deeney of Watford who felt the rath of Allen when he decided not to return a ball which had been kicked out of play so one of his team mates could receive treatment.

Pirlo, an impressive Italian who himself is leaving New York City at the end of the season after plying his trade with assurance at Inter Milan then Juventus, there is more than just the looks which many see as a comparative to Allen, winner of 31 international caps and a representative in the Great Britain 2012 Olympic team.

In a career that now sees him playing for former Welsh manager Mark Hughes Allen has played champions league football for Liverpool on top of wearing the captain’s armband for his country, exciting times lie ahead for the Wales and Allen will be a key component.

During their failed attempt to reach Russia, Wales lost just their final game shoot out with the Republic of Ireland, but it was the fact they dropped points in five draws which undid their progress.

If Allen can play in a more advanced role then those draws could become victories and the Euro championship may see another rendition of ‘please don’t take me home’, although Cardiff could be one of 13 Cities which hosts games as UEFA celebrate 60 years of the tournament which will cumulate with a Wembley final.

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All Blacks storm Tregaron

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NEYLAND moved back to the top of League 3 West A on Saturday (Dec 15) as they stormed through Tregaron to beat them 71-3.

Storm Deirdre did its best to disrupt the game but the Athletic Ground pitch held up well with rain and strong winds battering the pitch for much of the eighty minutes and it was the All Blacks storm that prevailed.

The away side turned up late for the game and only had 14 players meaning they would have to opt for uncontested scrums but they deserve credit for their efforts.

Despite being a man light Tregaron took the lead. Having missed a penalty moments before, Huw Bonner made amends for that miss with a penalty.

However, that was as good as it got for the visitors as Neyland hit back almost immediately. A good move involving Patrick Bellerby and Alex Codd was halted but play was brought back for an earlier foul. From the resulting play Sam Cataki touched the ball down and George Evans added the extra two points for a 7-3 lead.

Delme Bateman then went on an excellent run and he found Ben Williams inside who ran on to touch down under the posts. Evans again converted.

The All Blacks were not done there as Patrick Bellerby broke clear to scored Neyland’s third try. This time Evans was unsuccessful with the conversion.

They then had their fourth try and a bonus point, all inside the opening ten minutes as Alex Codd touched the ball down after it was kicked into the try area. Evans sent the conversion wide and Neyland held a 24-3 lead.

Neyland continued to look for more tries and after one move came to an end for a knock on, Scott Buirds, playing on permit from Whitland, supplied the try-scoring pass for Iestyn Evans. Namesake George then added the extras once more.

From a Tregaron scrum Neyland scored their sixth try. The ball was knocked on but Codd kept the play alive kicking the ball forward before touching down. Evans converted again.

Codd again came close to scoring as he ran into the 22 but Tregaron were able to keep the All Blacks out and clear the danger.

One player from each side was then sent to the sin bin as they squared up to each other but it did little to affect the flow of play.

On the stroke of half time Neyland scored their seventh try as they broke free again and George Williams crossed the whitewash. Evans added the extras and Neyland held a commanding 45-3 lead at the break.

At the start of the second half Neyland seemed determined to pile on the misery and scored another try in the corner through Tom Hughes. Evans sent the conversion wide.

Owain Evans was next to get his name on the score sheet and George Evans added the extras.

Tregaron then won a series of penalties which saw them enter the Neyland 22 but they were unable to find a way through as the All Blacks cleared the ball away.

The ball was then kicked on and Bellerby ran on to it, kicking it forward again before touching down. Evans then added the conversion for a 64-3 lead.

Bellerby then completed his hat trick late on with Neyland’s eleventh try and Evans added the extras.

It was an excellent win for Neyland which sends them back to the top of the table, having now played more games than the teams around them.

They are next in action on Saturday (Dec 29), when they travel to Pembroke Dock Quins. Tregaron will look to bounce back in their next game, at home against Llanybydder.

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Otters continue winning run

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AFTER a week of wet and stormy days, and a wet start last Saturday (Dec 8), it was surprising that the game at Newbridge was still on and was one of only two games played in the Championship due to the state of the grounds.

Newbridge kicked off with the strong wind blowing diagonally across the pitch, for the first five minutes both teams persisted with a kicking dual before the Otters set up a promising movement passing the ball wide only to end with a forward pass.

After six minutes the Otters won a penalty, Nick Gale came forward to attempt a 40 metre kick which was just off target.

Initially, the Otters appeared to be penalised frequently at the breakdowns giving Newbridge opportunities to attack. From their line out Bridge moved the ball smartly with centre Mathew McGovern making a diagonal break only to be stopped in his tracks by the strong Otters defence.

At the breakdown Bridge offended enabling Jonathan Rogers to gain touch on the halfway line. From the lineout the ball moved across the threes to Ianto Griffiths who kicked for the corner only for the wind to hold it up and for Newbridge to call a mark. Their kick was gathered and returned, Newbridge again kicked and the Otters receiving the ball attacked but were stopped and at the breakdown the referee awarded the Otters a penalty just outside the 22 line.

Again Nick Gale came forward and at the last moment the wind moved the ball to the right of the posts. Newbridge kicked out, Ryan Bean gathered and made ground with Jack Price alongside, the ball was moved away from the stand side only for the slippery ball to be knocked on.

It became clear that the Otters pack had control of the tight with Newbridge being penalised and Jonathan Rogers attempting to find touch, Newbridge returned the kick, Ianto Griffiths gathered and raced forward, at the breakdown, the Otters retrieved the ball and moving right towards the stand passed to Nick Gale who raced forward and when tackled passed to Ryan Bean, he moved left and unfortunately the ball was adjudged to have been passed forward.

At the scrum Newbridge heeled and kicked the ball into touch. At this point Tom Kaijack had to leave the field, Bradley Davies came off the bench which resulted in Dan Jacobs moving over to tight head prop.

The game continued to see both teams attempting to gain ground, with both defences strong and when the movements made ground the slippery ball made handling more difficult and errors occurred. Penalties were occurring against both teams as the rucks became more intense.

Then on the half hour, Newbridge were again penalised enabling Jonathan Rogers to place the ball into touch on the stand side. At the lineout, Andrew Cooke caught the ball at the end of the lineout, feeding Rhys Lane who passed out only for Newbridge to halt the move and get penalised at the breakdown.

Again Nick Gale failed to find the target with his penalty kick. Conditions worsened as a very heavy shower descended on the proceedings. The Otters continued to attempt to make progress before the referee blew for half time with the game tied at 0 – 0.

Fly half Jonathan Rogers restarted the second half and immediately the Otters gained possession and advanced close to the line before Newbridge offend at the ruck. This time with a penalty kick in front of the posts Nick Gale easily kicked the ball through for a 0-3 lead.

Newbridge kicked off, again the Otters attacked but at the breakdowns the game was becoming a muddy scramble. This led to a further kicking dual which failed to create an opportunity for either side. Newbridge began to see a little more of the ball but were being repelled by the Otters.

On 60 minutes the Otters withdrew Andrew Cooke from the back row to be replaced by Steffan Phillps. At the lineout Alex Jenkins again proved his worth gaining good possession and occasionally winning the ball on the Newbridge throw.

The first scrum after the change in the back row saw the Otters push Newbridge back some 10 metres with the referee awarding them a penalty. From this kick, Jonathan Rogers put the Otters to within 5 metres of the try line. For an offence at the lineout Christian Francis the Newbridge number 8 received a yellow card and sent to the sin bin. The resultant penalty saw Jonathan Rogers place the ball into touch on the 5 metre line.

Alex Jenkins made a clean jump and take and immediately formed a maul which despite Newbridge efforts enabled the pack to cross the try line for Rhodri Owen to touch down. Nick Gale safely converted to give the Otters a 10-0 lead.

Sam Withers restarted the game and quickly gained possession. As they attacked the Otters were penalised for standing offside in defence. Withers kicked the penalty into touch on the far side near the 5 metre line.

From the lineout they set up a rolling maul, as the Otters attempted to hold the move, Newbridge threw in a few threequarters and crossed the line for centre Mathew McGovern to score, Sam Withers converted to bring the score to 7-10.

From the restart the Otters attacked in midfield only for Newbridge to wrench the ball as the players were going to ground and passed to McGovern who made an effective break only for the ball to end in touch. Newbridge showed determination to get ahead and the contact between players became quite intense with play just outside the Otters 22.

Newbridge’s yellow card returned,  but at a scrum, the Otters  heeled and on receiving the ball Jonathan Rogers made ground with his kick out of hand downfield. Newbridge offended and a scrum reset before the referee awarded the Otters a penalty as they over powered the Newbridge eight.

This time Nick Gale was successful with his penalty kick bringing the score to 7-13 on 75 minutes. Following this, Newbridge changed their front row and as a result the scrums became uncontested.

However the Otters controlled most of the remaining minutes of the game, playing safe and using Alex Jenkin superiority at the lineout. There was relief all round when the referee blew for full time.

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Veterans earn semi-final spot

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HAKIN United Over 40s finished 2018 by progressing to the semi-final of the Welsh Veterans Cup following a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Ferndale & District at the Observatory last Sunday (Dec 9).

The game itself was a very hard fought and competitive game with tempers boiling over on several occasions.

The Vikings were awarded a penalty inside the last ten minutes for a handball offence. Paul Jones scored from the spot to give Hakin the lead.

However, with virtually the last kick of the game, the ever dependable Jason Morgan in the Hakin goal made a rare mistake that gifted Ferndale & District a draw and a chance to win the tie on penalties.

However, it wasn’t to be for the visitors as Hakin emphatically scored all five of their spot kicks with Nigel Delaney, Nigel Armstrong, Michael McCarthy, Paul Jones and Matthew Price finding the back of the net to win 5-3 on penalties and earn a place in the semi-final.

Hakin United: Jason Morgan, Nigel Armstrong. Richard Bland, Nigel Delaney, Adam Collins, Shaun Mills, Stuart MacDonald, Richard Nash, Paul Jones, Michael McCarthy, Leigh Walters. Subs: Jamie Phillips, Gary Dawes, Matthew Price, Gerard Gray.

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