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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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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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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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