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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 Scarlets scrum half Gareth Davies appeared in the amphitheatre as a concussed Rhys Webb was withdrawn and despite Scarlets hooker Ken Owens and his line out jumpers being unable to win that set piece battle the scrum was gaining momentum.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

Millers hold their nerve to send Neyland through

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HARRISON ALLEN Bowl Champions Neyland made it through to the quarter finals of the competition after they beat Haverfordwest with only two balls to spare on Thursday night (May 24).

Haverfordwest batted first but they were restricted to a total of 100-8 on an overcast evening.

Karl Rhead and Lee Summons both scored 1 before they departed early; Rhead caught by Andrew Miller off the bowling of Nathan Banner and Summons stumped by Sean Hannon off the bowling of brother Patrick.

That left Town on 9-2 but Simon Holliday and Danny Potter shared 27 runs for the third wicket partnership.

Holliday made 14 before he was superbly run out by Patrick Hannon and soon after Ben Field departed when he was caught by Gregg Miller off Patrick’s bowling.

Potter had made a score of 31 with four fours and a six but he was also run out, this time by Ashley Sutton, and Town had slipped to 56-5.

Jake Merry was then caught by Banner off the bowling of Henry Durrant for a score of 5 while Adam James smashed a six in his score of 11 before he was caught by Durrant off the bowling of Andrew Miller.

Archie Thomas did likewise in his score of 11 from eight balls but he was then bowled by Durrant.

That saw Town fall to 80-8 but Kieran O’Connor and Huw Scriven shared 20 runs to take Town to their total.

O’Connor finished unbeaten on 9 while Scriven smashed a six off the last ball to finish not out on 11 and take Town to three figures.

Neyland lost Paul Murray early in their reply when he was caught by Merry off the bowling of Adam James for a score of 6.

Nick Koomen and Ashley Sutton then shared a partnership of 20 before Sutton was bowled by James.

Koomen and Banner then shared 19 runs but that partnership came to an end when Banner was stumped by Scriven off the bowling of O’Connor for a score of 8.

Soon after Koomen, who had hit three fours and a six in a knock of 31, fell in the same manner as Banner and Neyland were left on 60-4.

Henry Durrant and Patrick Bellerby then swung the game back in Neyland’s favour with a good partnership of 25.

That came to an end when Bellerby was caught by Rhead off the bowling of Holliday for a score of 21 from 12 balls which included a four and two sixes.

Scriven then picked up his third stumping as he removed Durrant for a score of 11 to the bowling of Holliday.

That was the end of the wickets however as Gregg and Andrew Miller saw Neyland home, finishing not out on 6 and 7 respectively, with only two balls to spare.

The draw for the quarter finals will be made on Wednesday, May 30, at the next meeting of the County Cricket Club.

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Sport

Grandstand finish sees Croft take Silver

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A GRANDSTAND finish by Cardigan boxer Ioan Croft came just too late to capture the gold medal at the Three Nations tournament at Motherwell’s huge Ravenscraig Sports Centre at the weekend.

The 16-year-old from Crymych had been bidding to secure a second Three Nations crown to emulate his success of 2015.

And the fact that Croft beat Scotsman Nicholas Devlin in the semi-finals – the opponent he had defeated en route to Three Nations glory three years previously – appeared to be a good omen.

However, pitted against England’s Joe Tyres in the final, southpaw Croft appeared to pay the price for an over-cautious start.

With the English boy seemingly taking the first round, Croft started getting into his stride in the second.

The Welsh teenager appeared to gain the upper hand in the third and final session, catching Tyres with a variety of good clean shots.

Yet it was not quite enough to make up for his slow start and a crestfallen Croft dropped a 4-1 split decision.

“It was very disappointing,” the boxer’s dad, Cardigan ABC head coach Guy Croft, said afterwards. “I thought he’d just done enough to win.”

Although Croft had struggled to make the 56kg limit, his father refused to cite that as an excuse. “I’m not sure weight is all to blame,” he said.

“Ioan’s been finishing strong at the end of every round and his third round is always his best.

“He just takes a little while to get the measure of his opponent, which isn’t such a bad thing, although on this occasion it probably cost him the fight.

“Joe has had something like 75 bouts, only lost 12, and was 13 months older. Ioan’s had 62 and lost 10 so it was a good match.”

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Sport

Young Otters secure Griffiths Cup win

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NARBERTH were victorious in the Griffiths Cup on Tuesday night (May 22), as they beat Crymych 26-24 in a thrilling game that neither side deserved to lose.

The game was played at Neyland’s Athletic Ground and a good crowd was in attendance to watch rugby’s future stars.

The young Otters took the lead early on in the first half as Dylan Walsh went over for the opening try of the game and Lewis Hough’s conversion was successful.

Crymych then levelled matters as Rhodri George went over for the try before Harri Williams added the extra two points.

Kieran Allen then put Narberth back ahead with another try but the conversion was missed and the Otters held a 12-7 lead.

Shortly before half time, Crymych took the lead for the first time as Dafydd Griffiths went over for the try and Harri Williams added the extras.

It meant Crymych held a 14-12 lead at the break but the game was still there for the taking.

In the second half, Narberth re-took the lead as Kieran Allen scored his second try of the game and Llew Jones added the conversion.

Crymych came back to within two points of their opponents as Harri Williams landed a penalty to make it 19-17.

The Otters then extended their lead as they came forward and the ball was offloaded for Griff Evans who dived in under the posts for an excellent try. Llew Jones then added the conversion to make it 26-17 to the Otters.

Crymych responded well and put pressure on the Otters. That pressure eventually told as they worked the ball out to the right for Illan Phillips who burst through the tackles to touch the ball down. Harri Williams added the extras from just inside the half to make it 26-24.

It was Narberth who finished strongly but a penalty went wide and they then came close to scoring a try which would have sealed the game but a knock on 5 metres out halted their attack.

Crymych looked for a late score but Narberth kept them out well and when they turned the ball over with the eighty minutes up, they kicked the ball out to spark wild celebrations amongst the players and coaches.

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