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 Scarlets scrum half Gareth Davies appeared in the amphitheatre as a concussed Rhys Webb was withdrawn and despite Scarlets hooker Ken Owens and his line out jumpers being unable to win that set piece battle the scrum was gaining momentum.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

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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Sport

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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Sport

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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