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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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Thrilling finale sees Clarby through to Final

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CLARBESTON Road are the first team into the Senior Cup final after they knocked out holders Merlins Bridge on Wednesday night (Feb 21), thanks to a last minute deflected strike from Ieuan Cooke.

The Bridge, who had a man sent off with twenty minutes to go, had thought they forced the game into extra time when Chris Ormond headed in but it wasn’t to be as Cooke’s winner sent the Clarby players and fans into delirium.

The game was a repeat of last season’s Final which the Wizards won and both sides were clearly determined to reach the Final once more.

It was a quiet first half with Merlins Bridge shading the possession and having the better of the chances.

Will Haworth came close for the Wizards but his shot was pushed wide by Clarby keeper Lee Scott.

Adam Hawkins also tried his luck but his shot was tame and was easily saved by Scott.

On the half hour mark, Clarby’s Jason Griffiths tried a long shot but Bridge keeper Gary Thomas was equal to it.

A minute later, Griffiths flashed a ball across the face of goal but nobody was able to get on the end of it.

Joey George then sent an inviting cross to the back post for Hawkins but as the Clarby players appealed for offside, he could only send his effort into the side netting.

Matthew D’Ivry then played Hawkins in once more but he dragged his shot well wide of the posts.

Then on the stroke of half time Clarby got the all-important breakthrough as Tom Reubens beat the defender before sending a shot towards goal which was deflected in by the Wizards’ Richard Hughes.

There was still time for Merlins Bridge to come back and from the kick off a long ball was missed by the Clarby defence allowing Will Haworth in but his shot was saved at the near post.

The half time whistle went with Clarby leading by a goal to nil but the game was still up for grabs.

The Wizards started well in the second half and Luke Hayward saw his effort pushed wide by Scott and from the resulting corner, Hawkins saw his volleyed effort also saved.

Mike Turpin then sent a cross into the box which had to be tipped over by Bridge keeper Thomas with players lurking.

Bridge top scorer Nathan Greene was introduced to the action and he almost made an immediate impact when he turned and shot towards goal but Scott got down well to save it.

Then came a few moments of madness from Bridge defender Richard Hughes as he was booked and then brought down Clarby’s Matthew Davies and after waving play on, referee Sean O’Connor waited for play to end before producing a second yellow card for Hughes.

Despite being down to ten men the Wizards still had chances and Hawkins saw a shot saved before Greene saw an effort cannon back off the crossbar.

With three minutes to go the Wizards were awarded a free kick which D’Ivry delivered and Chris Ormond rose highest to head the ball into the net despite the best efforts of the Clarby keeper to save it.

That got their tails up and moments later Greene headed over from a corner as the Bridge pushed for a winner.

Then, deep into injury time, a ball into the box fell to Ieuan Cooke and his effort looked as if it would be saved by Thomas but a Bridge defender stuck an unfortunate leg out and the ball bounced off him and into the net.

Nathan Greene heads over from a corner

That sent the Clarby players and coaches wild and they held on to reach the final for the second year in a row.

They will now play the winners of the second semi-final between Carew and Hakin United which takes place next Wednesday (Feb 28).

Speaking after the match, Clarbeston Road coach Matthew Ellis said: “Everyone gave 110% as we knew we would have a tough night ahead of us. They started at a high pace and were on top until we changed formation slightly and this slowly got us into the game.

“The goal came at the perfect time and gave us a massive boost going into half time knowing they would have to break us down and would leave gaps at the back. Tom Reubens has been excellent this season and showed his power and pace to create the goal.

“The sending off didn’t really affect the game as we kept the same shape and allowed them to have the ball in their half as we tried to conserve energy for the final onslaught.

“It was a big blow when they scored when they did, I gave away the free kick which led to the goal so when Cookie got the goal in injury time I was ecstatic as none of us wanted extra time.

“It is a massive achievement for the team and the whole club as it is so well run behind the scenes. This is a reward for both us and them.

“Two senior cup finals in two seasons is outstanding, let’s hope this season we will be the winning side!”

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Nuemann set to make first start for Wales

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FULLBACK Lisa Neumann will make her first start for Wales at Donnybrook this Sunday (Feb 25) (15:00) in Round Three of the Women’s Six Nations.

The 23-year-old from Pembrokeshire is the only new player in the starting line-up to face Ireland. Meanwhile, loosehead prop Cara Hope could win her first international cap from the bench.

“Lisa has been pushing hard for a place in the starting team and she deserves her opportunity this Sunday,” said Phillips, who has enjoyed the benefit of having former Wales international Gareth Wyatt coaching the backs since the start of the tournament. “We have a lot of talented back-three players in the squad, so we think Lisa will slot in well alongside Hannah Bluck and Jess Kavanagh-Williams – two players who pose threats from the wing.”

Phillips recently spoke about his team not being burdened by an “emotional hangover” from the result at the Twickenham Stoop, and insists that preparations for Ireland have been geared towards one thing. “We need to show that we’re improving in the areas that we’ve been working on this year,” said Phillips. “This will be a game between two very evenly-matched teams, and coming off the back of the last match we’re very keen to give a good account of ourselves.”

The last time both teams met in competition was during the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August – a game Wales won by 10 points at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. However, Phillips says that result won’t count for much come Sunday in Donnybrook, particularly after Ireland’s winning performance in a pre-Women’s Six Nations friendly with Wales in Ystrad Mynach earlier this year.

“Ireland were competing for a Grand Slam going into the final game of the competition last year, so we know how much of a strong team they are. The World Cup was a bit of an anomaly for them, so they’ve had a point to prove since then.

“They’ve got a lot of new personnel across the board, but the team is settled and experienced. It’s up for us to  show what we’re about as a team. We’ll certainly be prepared for a hugely competitive match in front of a boisterous Irish crowd this Sunday.”

Wales Women team to face Ireland:

15 Lisa Neumann (Scarlets)

14 Hannah Bluck (Cardiff Blues)

13 Kerin Lake (Ospreys)

12 Rebecca De Filippo (Dragons)

11 Jess Kavanagh-Williams (RGC)

10 Elinor Snowsill (Dragons)

9 Rhiannon Parker (Cardiff Blues)

1 Caryl Thomas (Scarlets)

2 Carys Phillips (c) (Ospreys)

3 Amy Evans (Ospreys)

4 Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys)

5 Mel Clay (Ospreys)

6 Alisha Butchers (Scarlets)

7 Beth Lewis (Scarlets)

8 Sioned Harries (Scarlets)

Replacements

16 Kelsey Jones (Ospreys)

17 Cara Hope (Ospreys)*

18 Meg York (Dragons)

19 Natalia John (Ospreys)

20 Nia Elen Davies (Scarlets)

21 Jade Knight (Scarlets)

22 Robyn Wilkins (Ospreys)

23 Hannah Jones (Scarlets)

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Merlins Bridge and Clarbeston Road set for Senior Cup semi-final

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TONIGHT (Feb 21) sees the first Senior Cup semi-final taking place at the Bridge Meadow Stadium in Haverfordwest and it promises to be an excellent game.

Merlins Bridge face Clarbeston Road in a repeat of the 2017 final which the Wizards won and they won’t want to release their grip on the trophy just yet.

However, Clarbeston Road were a Division 2 side back then, and now in Division 1, they will be keen to show how far they have come in just under a year.

Clarby got to this stage after surviving a scare in the third round as they beat second division Hundleton 3-2, thanks to a last minute goal from Jason Griffiths. The Road had earlier wins against St Clears and Fishguard Sports.

The Wizards eased into the last four after thumping Angle 7-0 after previous wins against Solva and Lamphey.

Action from the 2017 Senior Cup Final between Merlins Bridge and Clarbeston Road

Neither side has been tested to the full from their earlier games, with the exception of Clarby against Hundleton, in the competition and tonight is set to be a real test for both teams.

A look at the league table indicates it will be a close game with Merlins Bridge sitting fourth and Clarbeston Road sitting two points behind in fifth, albeit having played four games more.

The teams come into the game having played just once so far this year due to the bad weather across the county.

Clarbeston Road got back into the swing of things on Saturday (Feb 17), with a 6-0 thumping of Milford United, a win which coach Matthew Ellis described as a ‘Nice game to get back into things before the semi-final’.

Jason Griffiths scored a hat trick in that game to take his tally of goals for the season to 19 and the Wizards will do well to keep him quiet tonight.

Merlins Bridge were in West Wales Cup action at the weekend for their first game since December 16 and they beat Port Tennant Colts 1-0 thanks to a Luke Hayward penalty.

The cup mentality the Bridge had on Saturday will still be with them tonight which could work in their favour.

The teams are yet to meet in the league this season so the game could go either way.

The winner will go on to the final where they will play the winner of the second semi-final, which also takes place at the Meadow next Wednesday (Feb 28), between Hakin United and Carew.

Tonight’s game kicks off at 7pm so make sure you get to the Bridge Meadow to support your team.

Good luck to both and may the best team win.

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