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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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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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