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Sport

Battling Wales’ wait for All Blacks win goes on

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By Jonathan Twigg

A PACKED Principality Stadium in Cardiff witnessed a sporting occasion on Saturday (Nov 25) when the New Zealand All Blacks, under the stewardship of former Wales Head Coach Steve Hansen emerged with a 33-18 victory over Warren Gatland’s Welsh side, to extend their winning run to 30 and with it extend the longest winning sequence in international rugby.

Not since Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, a year when Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest have Wales lowered the All Blacks colours, conceding over 1000 points in the process; the All Black side on Saturday showed ten changes to the one which drew the final test of the summers battle with the British & Irish lions, showing true character to win the game scoring four tries in the process.

Wales included eight Scarlets players in their staring XV in a ‘phoenix’ moment they were led out by centre Scott Williams who was winning his fiftieth cap, even though he failed to make the original squad selection for the Autumn series.

The crowd had been whipped into a frenzy on the cold winter evening thanks to the RAF band of the Regiment of the Royal Welsh who will be celebrating their centenary next year. A former fighter pilot from Cardiff, Roald Dahl utilised a period of ‘grounding’ to hone his writing skill but not even he could have scripted the drama which unfolded before the 74,500 capacity crowd, starting wih the anthems to the ever impressive Maori ‘Haka’.

The kick off saw the ball plunged into the hands of Jake Ball with the Scarlets lock forward setting the platform for Dan Bigger to hoist a ‘Gary Owen’. Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams looked shaky as play was moved back a forth across the pitch by Wales.

From a scrum 5m out the Welsh pack got a nudge on and Scarlets full back Leigh Halfpenny opened the scoring with a ninth minute penalty. Scarlets scrum half Gareth Davies appeared in the amphitheatre as a concussed Rhys Webb was withdrawn and despite Scarlets hooker Ken Owens and his line out jumpers being unable to win that set piece battle the scrum was gaining momentum.

Wales were enjoying both territory and possession but as in any groundhog scenario, the Webb Ellis cup holders first foray into the Welsh half by winger Rieko Ioane set in motion a flowing All Black move.  Scrum half Aaron Smith took up the mantle and moved back outside to find winger Waisake Naholo who ran over Scarlets winger Steff Evans to stun the crowd into silence, and Barrett rubbed salt into the wounds with a brilliant touchline conversion for a 7-3 lead.

The difference between the world champions and any pretenders to their crown is the clinical way they ensure they score when opportunities are presented to them. Wales have a fluency in their running and passing through the channels but let themselves down with a lack of vision and composure at the crucial time.

Winger Hallam Amos had one such opportunity as did Taulupe Faletau who spilled the ball with the white line beneath him as ferocious battle lines were drawn deeply in the turf. A shoulder dislocation to Ball brought forth asthma sufferer Cory Hill proving such a lifelong debilitating illness does not prevent participation at the highest level.

Big game players develop as their experience builds, where young winger Evans will take solace as he was found wanting at key times, with missed tackles and grubber kicks to make him turn.

New Zealand developed a game plan to play on this but could not prevent the influence of Scarlets prop Rob Evans on the game; now the nominated first receiver as he put Biggar into space to create the opening for Evans to flutter those magic daps, the reason why the youngster has been selected by Gatland.

On his tail was six foot six Scarlets flanker Aaron Shingler who linked well with back row colleagues Faletau and Josh Navidi to offer Halfpenny a 45m penalty which he failed to accept. The back row trio were using front foot ball and the All Blacks made 86 tackles, 70 more than their hosts as they kept the saucepan simmering and not boiling despite Halfpenny taking the score back to 7-6.

Scrum half Davies volleyed the ball though for the Welsh forwards to hit the gain line at pace, although the World champions themselves refused to settle for an easy three points when offered.  They were happy to go live with a quick tap and drive from three penalties which was rewarded with second try for Naholo in the corner for a 12-6 lead.

Wales did want to play and a length of the field counter attack in the final minute of the half set Amos away on a 40m burst. Biggar freed Williams who strode for the corner as the half time whistle saw them just a point adrift and had Tom and Glyn Richards from the Castle Inn, Newport purring with disbelief.

“The atmosphere is electric and Wales have fed off the passion within this cauldron. Credit the All Blacks who have smothered the Welsh fire and hold a lead when they have been under the cosh for the majority of the game” screamed Glyn.

Wales were dangerous and had stopped the Kiwis playing, pushing them back through the gate and making them defend with vigour, but it was in the final third where the difference stood out.  Faletau was set at outside centre for the offensive line but perhaps tiredness, familiarity or compliancy prevented the importing scores appearing. The All Blacks possess brilliance, which Wales have but perhaps don’t exploit for the final piece of magic to finish the jigsaw.

The second half began with a more even share of the ball and Naholo straightened his running line to put Ioane through the defence line; when he was stopped Naholo was on hand to score under posts for 19-11 from which Doctor Jamie Roberts replaced Williams to hopefully inject a change in fortunes as prop and Evans departed with fifteen minutes remaining.

The Welsh ambition died when Biggar’s popped pass lacked peripheral vision as his support players were off the pace; Ioane read the play to collect and scoot over for a converted try at 26-11. Amos and Navidi continued to set a belligerent platform; Faletau came close to scoring and the scrum reached a dominant stratosphere, with Kiwi skipper also Sam Whitelock yellow carded.

With a man advantage a solid scrum ensued from which Davies emerged from the blindside to squeeze over from 10m and Halfpenny superbly converted for 26-18 but two scores still required for victory.

The seven man All Black pack absorbed their man deficit and from quick ball off their own scrum Smith looped around replacement Lima Sopoaga for man of the match Ioane to arrive off his wing and blitz over for a classic try, converted by Barrett to end the games scoring 33-18 with five minutes left.

Wales have one game left in their Autumn Series against South Africa, before their attention will switch to the opening game of the Six Nations.

A Gregor Townsend inspired Scotland arrive at the Principality Stadium on Saturday (Feb 3) for the afternoon kick off which will bring a stern test which Wales will have to meet front on.

Sport

Rugby pays tribute to Tommo

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TRIBUTES have poured in following the news that popular Scarlets match-day announcer Andrew ‘Tommo’ Thomas has passed away at the age of 53.
Tommo was a huge character at Parc y Scarlets on match-day, bringing his infectious personality to the mic.
An official statement from the Scarlets said: “We are devastated to hear that the voice of Parc y Scarlets, Andrew ‘Tommo’ Thomas, has passed away suddenly.
“Tommo was a hugely popular figure as the Parc y Scarlets match-day announcer, a passionate Scarlets fan who brought his character and energy to every match.”
Scarlets chaplain Reverend Eldon Phillips said: “We are devastated to hear this tragic news. Tommo loved the Scarlets and put his heart and soul into his role as our match-day announcer.
“A huge character, he was much loved by supporters, players and staff.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Donna and son Cian at this sad time.”
Scarlets head coach Glenn Delaney said: “This is desperately sad news. Tommo will be greatly missed by us all. I’ll miss his smile, energy and passion. Gone too soon, much love to his family at this terrible time.”
Attack coach Richard Whiffin tweeted: “Incredibly sad news. Tommo will be greatly missed by us all. Will miss his match day hugs! Love to his friends & family at this terrible time.”
Referee Nigel Owens took to social media to say: “Rwy methu credu y peth. Well I am devastated. A great man and a true friend. I Cant beleive it. Cydymdeimlad dwys iw wraig ar mab ac ir teulu I gyd. Bydd colled enfawr ar ei ol. Always had a smile on his face. RIP Tommo
Tommo was hugely popular with Scarlets players who posted tributes on their own personal social media pages.
Springbok Uzair Cassiem said: “Devastated by the news of your passing! Always got the biggest smile, big handshake before and after games! To the family and friends of Andrew Tommo Thomas, condolences from my family and myself.
Wales prop Rob Evans said: “Really sad to hear the news about Tommo tonight. Thoughts are with his family, a great man full of laughs.”
Former Scarlets captain Rupert Moon said: “Lost a great friend @TOMMORADIO …… my brother by another mother. Thoughts with his family & all his many friends. Sleep well buddy. Big boys do cry.”
Another ex-Scarlets skipper Matthew Rees said: “Can’t believe the news coming from west tonight. Tommo you were a true gent. PYS will never be the same!!”
Former Scarlets full-back Morgan Stoddart said: “Hearing of the passing of @TOMMORADIO, dreadful news. What a great man. He brought laughter to any room he entered. Will be remembered and missed. #TrueScarlet
Title-winning Ireland lock Tadhg Beirne, now with Munster, said: “Very sad news to hear of the passing of Tommo. An absolute gentleman, a passionate Welshman, and a true Scarlet.”
Among the other former players to pay their tributes were Kieron Fonotia, Michael Tagicakibau, Ryan Lamb, Rhys Thomas and Gareth Maule, while messages of condolence came from Cardiff Blues, Dragons and Ospreys,
Dragons hooker Richard Hibbard said: “Really sad news, RIP Tommo. What a great bloke.”
Tommo was also a popular radio presenter. He had been with BBC Radio Cymru between 2014 and 2018. He then left to present a daily program on Nation Broadcasting station. In 2011 he won the Radio Presenter of the Year award for his work on Nation stations in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.
Rhuanedd Richards, Editor of BBC Radio Cymru, said: “Tommo was proud of his roots and a unique broadcaster who loved to entertain his audience on Radio Cymru. With his powerful voice and larger than life personality, his love for his family, west Wales and of course the Scarlets were a great influence on his broadcasting.”

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Sport

Crymych win at new home

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Crymych 132- 3 defeated Hundleton 74-7
IT WAS a happy start to Crymych CC’s new life at Ysgol Y Preseli playing fields as the home side brushed aside Hundleton in the Alan Brown Cup.
The visitors won the toss and elected to bowl first, with the pitch showing signs of Monday’s heavy rain. Crymych opened with captain Sam Kurtz and chairman Rhodri Lewis, who started steady after a couple of tight overs from B Adams and S Williams (1-12). Both batsmen rotated the strike early on before Lewis chipped a ball to Peter Fox off Williams’ bowling for 7.
Kurtz then lifted the tempo with some boundaries, after Rich Thorne departed for 2, cleaned bowled by Stapleton (1-24). Osian Wyn the next batsman in as Kurtz reached his 50 in only 31 balls, having been dropped early on. Kurtz departed for 87, bowled by B Adams (1-42). Wyn and new batsman Dan Griffiths (3) then ran hard between the wickets in the final overs as the home side set the visitors 133 to win.
Hundleton’s reply got off to a rocky start as opening bowler Ioan Davies clean bowled both S McNiffe (1) and B Adams (0). Peter Fox caused the homeside some concern though, as he struck a couple of big sixes on his way to 24, before being caught and bowled by Dan Griffiths.
J Williams carried his bat for most of the innings, but as he looked to lift the run rate he was stumped by Kurtz, off Dan Jones’ slow stuff. Tight bowling from Wyn (1-14) and Ali Davies (1-6) Both Humphries and Lockyer departed without troubling the scorers with Griffiths clean bowling the latter for final figures of 2-13.
UMPIRE Dave Brandon
Crymych 132-3: Sam Kurtz 87; Osian Wyn 20*
B Adams 1-42; S Williams 1-12; C Stapleton 1-24
Hundelton 74-7: P Fox 24; J Williams 25
Dan Griffiths 2-13, Ioan Davies 2-9, Osian Wyn 1-14, Ali Davies 1-6, Dan Jones 1-16
Crymych win by 58 runs

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Swans grab last gasp play-off spot

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WAYNE ROUTLEDGE’s last-gasp header saw Swansea City secure a play-off spot with a handsome away victory over 10-man Reading on a dramatic Wednesday night (July 22).

Steve Cooper’s side knew they had to win at the Madejski Stadium to have any hope of a top-six finish, and Rhian Brewster’s 10th goal of the season gave them an ideal start.

The sending off of Yakou Meite then gave the Swans a man advantage, but the Royals equalised before the half through a George Puscas penalty.

The Swans restored their lead through a classy finish from substitute Routledge, before Liam Cullen showed great composure to steer in his first goal for the club.

And when Routledge popped up at the death to complete his brace it put the Swans into the top six as Forest suffered a 4-1 defeat at home to Stoke, meaning Swansea got into the play-offs on goal difference.

The Swans started on the front foot, with centurion Connor Roberts having particular joy down the right-hand flank.

Brewster then nearly threaded Conor Gallagher in on goal after fine work by Andre Ayew, before Roberts hit a strike into the ground and over the bar after Jake Bidwell had made the overlap on the opposite flank.

The hosts responded by having a good spell of possession, probing and asking a few questions of their own.

But the visitors hit the lead in the 16th minute through Brewster. The striker picked the ball up some 30 yards out and got the ball out of his feet before smashing a long-range drive that completely deceived Rafael in the Reading goal.

John Swift curled a free-kick over at the other end, while more good work by Roberts could not quite end with Bidwell getting on the end of a deep cross before Rafael made a hash of dealing with a Gallagher cross.

Swift headed straight at Erwin Mulder from a good counter on the half-hour mark, with Ayew quickly advancing up the field to work Rafael again.

Opportunities were coming at both ends, with Mulder called into action again as Meite took aim from the left side of the area.
Swansea were riding their luck a little and had a let-off when a sliced clearance landed on top of the bar.

Matt Grimes had a free-kick pushed away by Rafael before the home side were reduced to 10 men after Meite had pushed Mike van der Hoorn in the face after a tussle for the ball.

But the hosts made light of the numerical disadvantage by levelling after Bidwell was adjudged to have fouled Andy Rinomhota, with Puscas beating Mulder – who got a hand to the strike – from the spot.

However, the Swans should have led at the break. Ben Cabango’s shot was blocked and fell to Jay Fulton, but the Scot pulled his shot wide of the target.

Rafael pushed away an Ayew drive right on half-time, with Swansea frustrated that referee Stephen Martin did not award them a penalty of their own as Fulton went down under a challenge from Omar Richards.

With Cardiff winning and Nottingham Forest losing, Cooper knew goals were needed and he made two changes at the break.

Yan Dhanda came on for Fulton, while Routledge replaced van der Hoorn, and they were immediately on the front foot.

With Swansea committing so many players forward, Reading looked to sit deep and play on the break and they proved resolute as the visitors battled to find a way through.

Grimes curled a free-kick wide of the target and Gallagher also threatened from distance, but the hour mark came and went without any clear-cut chances to show for their dominance of possession and territory.

However, when they did craft a sight of goal they took the chance clinically. Grimes produced a lovely ball, and Routledge controlled superbly to loft the ball over Rafael and into the net.

Unfortunately for the Swans, that goal went in moments after Forest had equalised against Stoke, which appeared to put a sizeable dent in their playoff aspirations.

Nevertheless, Cooper’s side continued to search for more goals in the hope events in the East Midlands would turn back in their favour.

They so nearly made it 3-1 with 17 minutes to play as lovely link play from Rutledge and Bidwell ended with Ayew steering just wide.

The situation was changing all the time, and Stoke retook the lead at Forest to leave the door ajar for the Swans.

And, when Stoke scored a third at the City Ground and Cullen coolly fired home his first senior goal for the club with six minutes remaining, they suddenly only needed a goal to finish in the play-off places.

Grimes had a deflected shot tipped over but the Swans then got the goal they needed in stoppage time as Routledge popped up to nod in at the far post, with Stoke’s fourth goal putting the matter beyond doubt a few moments later to spark delighted celebrations among Cooper, his players and his staff.

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