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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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Quins seal KO Cup semi-final place

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PEMBROKE Dock Quins had a fine Bonus Point win on Saturday (Dec 9), despite a bitterly cold afternoon at Bierspool against a Wasps side who never gave up, scoring no less than 11 tries in the process.

It did not take long for the Quins to get on the Scoresheet with Left Wing Liam Hargreaves -Gibson running in after 8 minutes for his third try of the Season, Full Back Lewis Davies added the extras.

Lewis Davies, who was having a fine game at Full Back, then ran in from 30 yards for the Quins’ second try which he duly converted himself.

The Quins were now firmly in the box seat, and Captain and Centre Thomas Doyle soon finished off a fine move as he grabbed his sixth try of the Season which was again converted by Lewis Davies to give the Quins a 21 Point lead.

In the 25th minute the bonus point try arrived again through Thomas Doyle and Lewis Davies added the extras.

As the Half was drawing to a close Right Wing Arron James produced a remarkable bout of scoring with three tries in six minutes with only the latter being converted by Lewis Davies.

The Quins went in at half time feeling happy with themselves with a 45 Point lead.

The second half started just as the first half ended as, within 5 minutes, Arron James was at it again when he scored wide out and Lewis Davies added the extras with his best kick of the afternoon.

Five minutes later the Wasps hit back with a try of their own when Centre Gavin Jenkins scored after some good ball retention and outside Half Luke Hayman added the extras.

The Quins soon replied with their ninth try when Scrum Half James Skeels shot round the Blind Side to score in the Corner but this time, Lewis Davies missed the conversion.

The Quins were to add two more tries before the end through replacement Winger Rhys Bradney who scored in the corner and probably the best try of the match which was saved till last.

The home side attacked from deep, and as the ball was passed through numerous pairs of hands it ended up with Prop Jack Davies who ran in from 25 yards to score in the corner and Lewis Davies converted to bring his tally for the day to 19 points to also bring an end to the scoring.

The game was also doubled up as a Pembs KO Cup quarter-final tie meaning the Quins now advance to the semi-finals of the competition.

Team: Lewis Davies, Arron James, Arron Cookson, Thomas Doyle (Capt), Liam Hargreaves -Gibson, Jake Griffiths, James Skeels, Stefan Halward, Jack Brown, Hywel Baker, Sam James, Jack Byrne, Rob Hearne, Tom Clarkson, Jack Davies.

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Wizards too good for Swifts

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MERLINS Bridge proved too strong for Monkton Swifts as they ran out 4-0 winners on Saturday (Dec 9) to extend their unbeaten run to nine games.

The Swifts had won their previous four matches going into this game but were unable to find the back of the net despite having a few chances.

It was the Wizards who made the better start to the match and they could have gone ahead in the first minute.

Will Haworth crossed into the box for Nathan Greene but the striker couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and Monkton were able to clear their lines.

Haworth then saw an effort go over the bar before the home side took the lead with thirteen minutes gone.

Some good work from Andrew John down the left hand side saw him run on to the half way line and the ball was then played on to Haworth who passed to the edge of the box for Ashley Beck who fired into the net to make it 1-0.

Monkton’s Jimmy Russell was then booked for dissent having been warned previously about his language by the referee.

Luke Hayward and Nathan Greene both came close to scoring a second for the Wizards but both saw their efforts fly over the bar.

Monkton also came close to an equaliser when they saw a header go narrowly over the bar and Russell also had a goal-bound shot blocked.

With four minutes to go until half time the Wizards doubled their lead as Matthew D’Ivry crossed from the right into the box for Nathan Greene who superbly volleyed the ball home from the penalty spot.

On the stroke of half time they had a third when a cross from Will Haworth bounced off the far post and with the ball there for the taking, Joey George was quickest to react to prod the ball home from close range.

That goal all but ended any hopes of a second half Monkton comeback but they did well to restrict the Wizards to just one further goal.

Haworth grabbed a deserved fourth to seal the victory which sees them go above Monkton into third place.

The Wizards are now five points behind leaders Goodwick United with a game in hand.

On Saturday, December 23, Merlins Bridge face a tough game as they travel to second placed Narberth in what should be an excellent contest.

Monkton Swifts will be looking to bounce back from this defeat but they also face a tough game as they welcome leaders Goodwick United.

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Captain Bony calms the ship

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By Jonathan Twigg

A MAN of the match performance from Captain Wilfried Bony led the charge for Swansea City on Saturday (Dec 9) when his second goal in consecutive games sealed a dour 1-0 victory on a dark and gloomy afternoon over West Bromwich Albion at the Liberty Stadium.

Securing a valuable three points lifted Paul Clements under pressure Swans side off the foot of the Premier League table as Bony’s winner sparked a chorus of ‘Hymns and Arias’ with nine minutes remaining.

Substitute Tammy Abraham’s effort was cleared off the line at the far post from a Ki Sung-Yueng corner before the Ivory Coast strikers’ driven right foot shot which thundered beyond former England goalkeeper Ben Foster.

The Swans started the game at the foot of the table but took solace from the fact they had won five out of six fixtures when they had been in a similar situation previously. Their visitors hadn’t won a game in the Premier League for four months and were on a run of three consecutive defeats in their travels to West Wales.

The green shirted Albion started brightly keeping the ball and moving it around across the floor much unlike teams who play under their new manager Alan Pardew’s banner.

Without creating opportunities apart from a Jake Livermore shot midway through the half to punish the home side, the play meandered precariously towards stalemate at half time, unsurprisingly perhaps as former Bayern Munich Assistant Manager Paul Clements side had netted just eight goals in 15 league games.

Winger Nathan Dyer drew a foul from Claudio Yacob after 18 minutes which earned him yellow card which proved to be a catalyst for the apprehension surrounding Swansea’s play subsiding for the remainder of the first half as they gained superiority in terms of possession and territory.

The closest they came was when midfielder Livermore headed against his own post from a dipping Tom Carroll free kick as the visitors screened the play well through skipper Jonny Evans and his centre back partner Yacob across the 18 yard box.

Bony’s opportunities were restricted despite midfielders Carroll, Ki and Roque Mesa enterprising combinations  with Dyer and full back Martin Olsson getting behind the opposition defence through the outside channels, where Sam Field collected a yellow card after 35 minutes as he tried to disrupt the inter play.

Centre half Alfie Mawson squandered a great opportunity to head an opening goal when he found space six yards out with seven minutes remaining before Swansea came out for the second half on the front foot.

Bony managed to break the defensive shackles on him with a strong and direct run but pulled a driven shot wide of the post, which added to the derisory tally of 27 shots on target this season for his side, the worst across any of the major European leagues.

Clement’s introduction of Jordan Ayew after 54 minutes for Wayne Routledge injected more spirit and it created opportunities to test Foster, from which Bony drew heart to become an influential figure on the game as the Baggies eventually wilted under the pressure and conceded the only goal.

Tammy Abraham should have sealed the victory in injury time when he was worked free to stride beyond the covering defenders only to wrench his effort wide when one on one with Foster, an effort which the eighteenth created in the match, but only three were on target.

Mesa picked up a second half yellow card as did Carroll before he was replaced by Luciano Narsingh, with Evans and substitute Chris Brunt for the Albion, alongside Welsh striker Hal Robson Kanu as he berated referee Dean on his way off the field to be replaced just before the goal, by Oliver Burke.

The crowd of 19,590 greeted the final whistle knowing they find themselves a point adrift Alan Pardew’s side who hover one place outside the relegation places; two wins would catapult Swansea to mid-table, which would be a welcome festive tonic as the January transfer window opens, allowing Clement an opportunity to re-inforce his squad which for most of this season has looked short on the quality required for survival in the Premier League.

Their first win since October was certainly scrappy where the immaculately dressed Clements’ initial reaction to Bony’s strike was to dance down the touchline coupled with a huge sigh of relief to go with his elation.

His bold offensive substitutions achieved the result he required as unbeaten table toppers Manchester City visit on Wednesday evening to fully test Clements’ skills and aptitude as a focused and thoughtful tactician.

The roadshow then heads to Goodison Park to take on an Everton side themselves on a run of four unbeaten games since former England supremo Sam Allardyce took the reins before fellow relegation rivals Crystal Palace arrive at the Liberty for a key Yuletide fixture on Saturday (Dec 23).

Swansea head on the road after Christmas, firstly again to Merseyside to face Liverpool at Anfield on  Boxing Day and Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday (Dec 30) before hosting Tottenham Hotspur at home on Saturday (Jan 2).

Clement and his side will take confidence from Saturday’s victory which has eased the pressure in the cauldron after Club owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien afforded Clement their ‘public support’.

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