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Wales end Autumn Internationals with win

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By Jonathan Twigg

THE final game of Wales Under Armour Autumn International series saw Wales beat South Africa 24-22 at the Principality Stadium on Saturday (Dec 2).

That was thanks to, in no small part, a man of the match performance from debutant Scarlets centre Hadeligh Parkes, three years to the day since the New Zealander signed for the Scarlets and become eligible for his adoptive county.

The hosts ended the series on a high with victory over the 2007 World Cup winners, their third consecutive such victory despite fielding a side which had seven changes from the opening game defeat 29-21 to Australia.

A forward-orientated outfit, the South African set piece couldn’t dominate a Welsh pack well led by skipper Alun Wyn Jones, where the embattlement of the mauls was an area of contention for French referee Jerome Garces.

Wales have tried this Autumn to play an open and expansive style favoured now by coach Warren Gatland although the jury is still out on whether it will see its rewards at the 2019 world cup.

The opportunity to expose both new and inexperienced players to international rugby was a bold one from Gatland where his plans were also hampered by injuries although he was aware that his army of English based players, Talupe Faletau apart couldn’t play in.

The pack chosen by Gatland, skipper Jones and Faletau apart mustered 66 caps between and epitomises how the Welsh management team viewed the games as ensuring Wales have strength in depth moving forward.

Saturday’s starting XV included seven Scarlets which kicked off the game, with another two appearing from the substitute’s bench. Centre Scott Williams, departing next season for the Ospreys, scored the opening try for the second successive week and erased any concern over his future selection in Welsh squads after he was omitted in the initial draft selection by Gatland.

Another to benefit from a run in an international jersey was winger Steff Evans who is mercurial with the ball in hand as spectators anticipate what he can produce but he is still at a schoolboy level when it comes to defensive work and tactical understanding.

That will develop as he builds a working relationship as part of a back three which must include former Scarlet Liam Williams and Leigh Halpenny who on Saturday had a welcome return to form as his prodigious accuracy with the boot had come under scrutiny.

Evans may find himself out of the side come the six nations as Hallam Amos would be ahead of him and George North would be in contention.

Parkes’ first game for his adopted country will be one to remember as he partnered club colleague Scott Williams and five Scarlets in the back line, a tribute to the work current Scarlets coaches, headed by Wayne Pivac are doing in West Wales.

The thirty year old makes key decisions with calm acuity and scored two first half tries after Williams had crossed the whitewash in the fifth minute.

Wales’ new style has struggled to score tries, having crossed the whitewash just five times prior to this game and the opening try came from Williams after a cross kick by Dan Biggar was caught by Amos who flew from out wide gaining 30m finding Williams on his shoulder to glide in from 20m and Halfpenny added the extras for 7-0.

Three minutes later following the Men of Harlech turning over possession outside the Springbok 22m box, Biggar cleverly varied his play putting in a deft grubber kick and Parkes collected from 10m capitalising on the visiting defence being at sixes and sevens, to score a debut try under the posts for 14-0.

The Springboks have struggled on their tour of the northern hemisphere, losing 38-3 to Ireland on their opening game and skipper Eben Etzabeth needed his side to get their A game in motion, where they were 5kg a man heavier upfront.

After 18 minutes but a prolonged review by the TMO saw Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx effort ruled out as he was deemed to have been held up over the line and their efforts were wasted when from the ensuing attacking Scrum 5 Williams intercepted to put Steff Evans off and running over 50m as play swung from one 22m box to the other.

Wales were in control and the dynamic Biggar rifled a bullet kick over 65m which forced full back Andries Coetzee to fall over the touchline and allow Wales the line out throw for another attacking position where Parks was strong and direct in looking to break the gain line.

South Africa lacked a leader behind the pack, where Marx scooped a low ball and combined well with back row man Siya Kolisi to gain 25m to establish a foothold in the game when a high tackle resulted in outside half Handre Pollard reducing the deficit to 14-3 after half an hour.

Two minutes later, Coetzee was far too relaxed in clearing the ball as Biggar charged down his kick, which resulted in a second try by Parkes when Faletau collected the bouncing ball and pop it inside for the Kiwi to score under the posts and a 21-3 lead.

Like the week before Wales had the majority of possession and territory but this week had turned this into points although worryingly for defence coach Shaun Edwards they allowed the visitors back into the game before half time when a break out of defence by winger Dillyn Leyds took play 50m up field where the kick ahead bounced kindly for fellow winger Warrick Gelant touchdown and Pollard convert for a half time score of 21-10.

Skipper Etzebeth didn’t appear after the half time oranges, replaced by Oupa Mohoje and he galvanised the side alongside Marx and immediately reduced the deficit when Pollard scored an unconverted try 21-15.

Scarlets prop Rob Evans, an undoubted cornerstone of the Welsh side for years to come with an unbuckling presence at the set piece and a mantra as a silky, mobile ball handler, was replaced by team mate Wyn Jones and outside half Rhys Patchell appeared for an injured Biggar.

From his first touch Patchell was ‘Biggaresqe’ finding Amos with a cross field kick whilst being is all hands with tricks in the mix where he called the shots for a back line which now included six Scarlets in the back division.

Upfront another to establish a high profile in the Autumn Series, flanker Aaron Shingler was a tower of strength alongside his skipper Jones in securing line out ball, although he would have an honest reflection over the tackle area which became a key battle ground as the aerial game worked well to keep the red tide moving forward.

As the second half wore on the South African side came more into the ascendency to deservedly take the lead when centre Jesse Kriel, his sides current leading try scorer crossed wide out, before Pollard landed a superlative conversion for a 22-21 lead.

Wales for the second half had been off the pace and the momentum they derived in the first half to score three tries had dried up as they were starved of possession.

Tried and tested in previous games Wales sought out Faletau as a wide receiver as they tried to break up the games pattern, with Shingler leading a line out drive for a Halfpenny penalty to regain the lead 24-22 with 15 minutes left to the satisfaction of the majority of the 65317 crowd.

Kolisi was a strong presence for the green shirted Springboks whilst immense work from Wyn Jones in the loose was a welcome sight for his team mates as Patchell sent play back over half way line.

Winger Leyds, normally full back had an aura about him when running with ball in hand and there was an international debut at scrum half for Louis Schreuder where Jones was again to the fore with some thumping tackles in a sturdy Welsh defence.

For the final five minutes Wales required composure and guile, which came through a solid scrum and Patchell putting the ball deep into the opposition half to secure victory.

Thoughts move now to the Six nations championship, which will open on Saturday (Feb 3) when Gregor Townsend inspired Scotland are welcomed to Cardiff as Wales will look to develop from their fifth place in the table last season.

Scotland cannot be underestimated after their dismantling of Australia a fortnight ago whilst also running the All Blacks close the week before. If Wales come through that on the front foot they travel to Twickenham the week after for an evening kick off where Gatland will be picking his side on a ‘horses for courses’ format and the squad will be reflective of this.

Another stern test awaits the Welsh Dragons at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin when Ireland will be the opponents before a Cardiff return on Sunday March 11 against Italy for an afternoon kick off and the final game the following Saturday when ‘Les Blues’ are hosted for a 5pm kick off.

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Swifts upset the odds

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MONKTON Swifts pulled off a shock result on Saturday (Oct 13) as they beat former Senior Cup winners Goodwick United 3-2 to progress to the third round of the tournament.

Storm Callum had done its best to disrupt the football programme but the pitch in Monkton was in excellent condition.

Chris Richards scored to put the Swifts ahead and Ben Steele then slotted in a penalty to put the home side in control.

Thomas Powell scored to give Monkton a 3-0 lead and Goodwick knew they would need to play well in the second half to stand a chance of going through.

Jordan Griffiths had a chance to bring his side back into the game when he was brought down in the box and a penalty was given. However, he was unable to put the spot kick away.

Goodwick pulled a goal back early in the second half as Steven Dockerty’s shot was deflected into the net by a Monkton player.

Monkton could have scored a fourth when Steele’s cross across the face of goal just evaded everyone. Steele then also saw a shot saved by the Goodwick keeper.

Goodwick did pull a second goal back though when Lee Hudgell sent a fine long range effort into the bottom right hand corner to make it 3-2.

Griffiths came close late on with a free kick but he sent his effort wide of the post and they were unable to find a goal which would have sent the game to extra time.

It was an excellent win for the Swifts and they will now look forward to their third round tie.

Before that they will return to league action on Saturday (Oct 20) as they travel to Clarbeston Road. Goodwick will look to bounce back when they take on Milford United at Marble Hall.

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Sport

Tasker announces retirement

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OLYMPIC Bobsledder Bruce Tasker has announced his retirement from the sport after eight ‘rollercoaster years’.

The former Ysgol Greenhill pupil took to his Instagram account to share the news and he thanked those who have been involved with him throughout his career.

He said: “I have been meaning to post this for a while, but I guess I’ve been putting it off, but I have to announce that after 8 rollercoaster years in the sport of bobsleigh, I am retiring as an athlete.

“It has been a ridiculously fun few years where I’ve met and worked with some incredible people, made life-long friends, travelled to some amazing places and if I may try to be profound, grown as a person.

“There are too many people to thank in one post so I will try to keep the dust off my Instagram account and work my way through them in the next few weeks.

“But now though I must thank my Girlfriend for always supporting me and being the backbone of my career.

“Much like people to thank there are so many photos that I could post, but I will use one from where it all started, Lake Placid World Champs. We only finished 10th but it was the most important result of my career, for it was the one that allowed me to stay in the sport for 7 more years! The other handsome devils are Stu Benson, Joel Fearon, John Jackson.

“To all the selected athletes going away in a few weeks, have an amazing season, and enjoy every minute of it.”

Tasker and his team finished fifth in the Bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014 but two Russian athletes were disqualified meaning he and his teammates have been elevated to the Bronze medal position.

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Watch Wales for free in open training session

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WARREN Gatland’s Wales will train at Principality Stadium this half-term, from 2pm Monday, October 29, and the nation is invited to come and watch, for free.

Wales have hosted open sessions at their national ground ahead of the last two Rugby World Cups, with around 10,000 fans attending in 2013, before England2015, and also in both 2011 and 2012, before travelling to the tournament in New Zealand.

With 13 matches in less than 12 months to go until Japan2019 the build-up begins in earnest when head coach Gatland’s side face Scotland at home on Saturday, November 3, followed by Australia, Tonga and, finally, South Africa on consecutive weekends thereafter in this year’s Under Armour Series.

Over 200,000 tickets have already been sold across the four match campaign, with remaining tickets starting at £45 per head for adults (£15 concession) and £10 (Tonga), for the games – but supporters now have a fifth opportunity to see their heroes in action in Cardiff for free courtesy of the invitation issued by Gatland today:  visit www.wru.co.uk/tickets to register for your free ticket.

“We have some of the game’s most passionate and dedicated supporters in Wales and it’s fantastic that they are able to watch us train at the world’s best rugby stadium,” said Gatland, who is Wales’ longest serving and most successful coach, entering his final year at the helm.

“The open session kicks off our Test week ahead of the opening Under Armour Series encounter against Scotland and it should give supporters a great insight into the squad and our preparations.

“We know we will be well supported this autumn against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa, and fans will come out in force during the Six Nations, and for our warm-up matches next summer, but I can’t think of a better way to begin a huge year than by inviting everyone into the Stadium for free at the very start of it all?

“It’s not often supporters get the chance to see the players train in this way and as a squad we are looking forward to the session and hopefully training in front of a big crowd.”

Gatland will take charge of the kind of a typically intense training session he has become famous for, with fellow coaches Rob Howley, Shaun Edwards, Robin McBryde and Neil Jenkins all involved in various elements.

Gates open at 12.30pm and the squad is due to take the field soon after 2pm, with all of the action due to be played out live on Stadium big screens and commentary and ‘special guest’ interviews providing the backdrop to the day.

The format will evolve whilst the squad are in camp, as new formations are perhaps built and the opposition continues to be analysed, but the sessions usually last around 50 minutes.

Individuals who may not be involved and back room staff will be available to speak to the crowds via the Stadium PA system to give unique insight into the day’s proceedings and catering outlets will be fully stocked and available for supporter’s use.

Tickets are free at the point of registration online at www.wru.wales/tickets and can be printed at home right up until event day on Monday, October 29, with a six person limit applying to each registration.

When accessing tickets supporters will be given the opportunity to automatically donate to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation and Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust, although there is no obligation to do so with £0, £1, £2, £5 options available.

The Welsh Rugby Union and Scottish Rugby Union have joined together to create the Doddie Weir Cup, to be contested when Wales and Scotland meet, and are fundraising in the name of the former Scottish international at the fixture to support research into Motor Neuron Disease, donations to the charity can also be made directly online via myname5doddie.co.uk/donate

The Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust is the WRU’s permanent designated charity which supports players who have been injured through rugby.

“We are extremely grateful to our partner Ticketmaster for their help in making sure 100% of donations made will transfer over to the Doddie Weir Foundation and the Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust and helping us ensure access to the training session is entirely free of charge,” added a WRU spokesperson.

Under Armour Series 2019 at Principality Stadium:

Wales’ open training session, Monday, October 29 (Gates open 12.30pm), FREE

Wales v Scotland: Sat, November 3 (KO: 2.45pm)

Wales v Australia: Sat, November 10 (KO: 5.20pm)

Wales v Tonga: Sat, November 17 (KO: 2.30pm)

Wales v South Africa: Sat, November 24 (KO: 5.20pm)

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