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‘Dancing in the rain’ which the Gale brings

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By Jonathan Twigg

SINCE the turn of the new Millennium, Narberth RFC has been one of the premier club sides in South West Wales.

They currently sit in second place behind Pontypool in the WRU Championship table, a division in which they have remained since the WRU national leagues inception in the mid 1990’s.

The coaching guru in charge of the current Otters side is Sean Gale, a former Scarlet’s player whose commitment is recognised by all associated to the Pembrokeshire club. Commitment is part of Sean’s DNA, where any former work colleagues at the West Wales Fire Brigade testify.

The Fire Brigade have a long association to rugby in the West Wales area, with many players with Scarlet’s and its predecessor Llanelli RFC finding themselves on a career pathway with the ‘Brigade’.  Gale served for 32 years in the noble profession after Ronnie King opened the door of opportunity and is unsurprising that the ‘vow of allegiance’ he showed to his career, has been visible at the Lewis Lloyd Ground for a decade.

A man of few words whose compassionate tone rings clearly and when heard instantly captures the attention of those present. Never a raised intonation and the positives not the negatives proffered; a blueprint which fellow coaches Liam Gadd and Lloyd Phillips follow.

Sean was a graduate from Graig comprehensive school in the heart of Llanelli and had an instantly recognisable name to live up to. His dad Norman, revered in the Town as a front row hard man, captain of both his home town club and Country where he won 25 caps in a period when Wales were a team to mix it with the best.

Sean has recently crept quietly beyond the half century in terms of age, still living in Llanelli and committing to travelling three times a week to Narberth for training and games from his home in Swiss Valley. Married to Elizabeth for over 25 years he recognized her unstinting support of his rugby journey, alongside his mother Ann. Norman passed away in 2005 and it’s now his son Nick who shares his dad’s rugby memories alongside daughter Hannah.

Returning to the squad after a six month injury Nick plays under his dad’s stewardship, being a strike runner from the back three as opposed to his dad’s likeness for packing down in the front three.

“Living and breathing rugby is something I’m used to” Nick warmly stated with a beaming smile.  “Dad, never had a hair out of place and no stone unturned. He wants the best for me as a son and as a player with Narberth. I’ve come to understand when I need to listen and occasionally speak on a rugby matters! Dad cares; about his family, friends and colleagues, including the players in the squad and this is repaid tenfold from those of us lucky enough to be in the inner sanctum.”

The front row is not a place for the faint hearted where camaraderie exists well beyond the 80 minutes of battle. “I enjoyed my tussles with Mike Griffiths immensely” chuckled Sean.

Mike, the Cardiff prop, formally with Bridgend won 35 Welsh caps but Sean added: “I had the utmost respect for him. He was a tough person to scrummage against, but he did it fairly and without prejudice. I also played alongside the icons of Welsh rugby, current National assistant coach Rob Howley and British Lion winger Ieuan Evans before I hung up my boots for the final time in Llanelli colours in1999. That final game was against Romania, twelve years after my debut against Pontardulais.”

Memories are important and Sean recounted with pride when he played against the All Blacks in 1997, a game lost by over 80 points; he narrated his efforts of scoring two tries against Namibia highlighting such achievements come only from hard work. Sean was always seen as a good trainer, where his rugged stature came to the fore in games as a strong ball carrying prop; a try scorer!

“I managed 10 tries in one season for Bridgend which is a record for a prop” and one which he still shares with Whitland born prop Meredydd James.

Sean won seven secondary schools caps as a second row, with a stand out victory in 1985 when an unbeaten All Blacks schools side toured the Principality under Graham Henry.

He also played for the Wales Under 20’s and Under 21’s and made the ‘A’ team squad but never had the opportunity to run out on the pitch.

He clocked up 209 appearances for Llanelli with the final three years as a professional player whilst maintaining his service record with the Brigade, before chalking up 90 games in Bridgend colours and enjoying a ‘final season’ at Heywood Lane, playing for Tenby United in 2002-03.

Sean has qualities which any respected person, let alone a coach would hope to have associated to him.

He is honest and hardworking whilst continuing to maintain a drive to achieve more.  His family heritage is a cornerstone of his life and this shines through in his commitment to rugby.

Now a level 3 coach he worked with the Scarlet’s Academy for three seasons after starting out with Tumble where he was a player/coach before becoming forwards coach with Llanelli, Swalec champions in 2005.

He joined Narberth in 2006 following an invitation from then Director of Rugby Jonathan Dodds after they worked together at the Scarlets Academy and with the Wales amateur side.

Coaching was always something he strove to do following a lifetimes involvement nurtured in the early days from the family pub, a stone’s throw from Stradey Park. Frequenting the hostelry on a regular basis were Llanelli greats like Stuart Gallacher and Ray Gravell.

“Dad coached the Scarlets, so it was a natural progression for me to stay in the game as a coach once I finished playing because it means so much to me; it’s in my heart and soul” said Nick.

Sean’s mantra as a coach is to build his teams around a strong forward platform, never taking a backward step to an opponent, before then trying to play an expansive style.

He remains ambitious for Narberth as he fondly recounts: “I was impressed by the warmth of the welcome I received; it’s a very friendly club but importantly for me one which remains driven to be successful.”

He is focused in his approach and philosophy, determined to keep Narberth in the top two of the National Championship.

Doing so will be no mean feat as it is increasingly difficult with Premiership clubs able to cherry pick the best players, which is part of the player pathway in the Scarlet’s region.

Sean said he would be interested in developing his coaching career and with a raised eyebrow and a killer grin Sean recalled the time he was ‘hoodwinked’ into believing the then Llanelli maestro Gareth Jenkins was offering him a role back with the Scarlets. “I enjoyed setting the training programme after that faux pas by Adrian Killa”, he said.

Sean remains committed to Narberth as he explained his eagerness for the national leagues to remain as the current structure is under review by the WRU.

“One thing that frustrates me as a coach is the imposed Autumn break which happens for the international period in November.

“I find this hard because we go a month without competitive fixtures to keep my players at their top of the game. I have had memories which are significant in my life story and I hope those under my wing today build their own storyboard, which they can do if we all work together to get the right environment.”

Narberth as a club are equally as ambitious and are watching the debate on the restructuring of the national leagues with the same interest as Sean.

“We want to finish as high as possible every season; the result in every game is important, but not as important as the enjoyment the game brings” pointed out Rob ‘Basher’ Lewis, the clubs hardworking administrator. “Narberth have the right man in Sean at present and we can see the professionalism and passion he brings being embedded in the Club.”

Narberth hope the winds of change doesn’t occur, yet Sean’s strengths include his man-management of players and the rapport he has with the committee and supporters.

“He is currently irreplaceable as that skill set is difficult to replicate. As a club we need a figurehead to ensure our development plan is delivered” said Rob. Narberth have the foresight to hopefully enhance the playing facilities with a 4G surface and build on the senior team’s success so it emanates through the youth and junior sections.

They have a trademark association with brand names in the County and are in discussions with new partners to help them build their dreams.

Clearly Narberth can manage the ‘here and now’ as they have a structure off the field to accommodate a match day experience to rival a professional club.

There are no Otters burying their heads underground as they strive to improve each year, sharpening their teeth ready for the next challenge whilst, fully embracing the ‘gale’ in which they find themselves.

“We are not waiting for the gale to pass us by” said Basher “but we are dancing in the rain he brings.”

Sport

Vikings smash seven past Clarby to lift Senior Cup

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HAKIN United lifted the Senior Cup for the first time since 2012 as they put in an excellent second half performance to thump Clarbeston Road 7-1 on Saturday (Apr 21).

The Vikings had raced into a two goal lead but Clarbeston Road’s Tom Reubens pulled a goal back as the game was evenly poised at 2-1 at half time.

However Hakin smashed in a further five goals in the second half to put the result beyond doubt.

Justin Harding: Scored and set up a goal for Hakin

The game was only three minutes old when Hakin’s Leigh Marchant sent a cross into the box which Clarby keeper Lee Scott flapped at before his defenders cleared the danger.

The first goal came on eight minutes and it was a goal worthy of gracing any final stage. Nicky Woodrow flicked the ball up and volleyed the ball into the back of the net, leaving the keeper with no chance.

Adam John then saw a shot blocked before Ben Fawcett made his way through a couple of defenders before firing into the net to double Hakin’s lead.

John was then sent through on goal and he beat the keeper to the ball but Clarby’s defenders got back to snuff out the danger.

With 22 minutes gone, Clarbeston Road got themselves back in the game as Jason Griffiths crossed the ball into the middle for Tom Reubens who squeezed the ball under Adrian Devonald and into the net.

Leigh Marchant then saw a cross hit the bar as the action switched back and forth before Clarby won a series of corners but were unable to find the net.

On the stroke of half time, Justin Harding crossed into the box for Wilson but his shot was saved.

It remained 2-1 at half time and both sides were still very much in with a chance of winning the Cup.

Clarbeston Road came close to equalising three minutes into the second half as Matthew Davies beat the keeper to the ball but he lost sight of the ball as it bounced in the air and Hakin were able to clear the danger.

Challenge: Players of both sides go for the ball

Ten minutes later, Hakin added a third goal as Harding sent a free kick into the box and Nicky Woodrow got a touch on it to divert it into the net.

With just over an hour gone, Ryan Wilson crossed into the box for Ben Fawcett and his header went in despite Scott getting a touch to it.

Four minutes later the game was as good as over as Harding fired the ball into the top corner with Scott again getting a touch on it.

Hakin continued to attack and with ten minutes to go they made it six as Woodrow side-volleyed in his third goal to complete his hat trick.

John then sent a free kick into the box but Daniel Armstrong’s header was well tipped over the bar by Scott.

However, just moments later it was seven as the ball fell to Jack Wilson on the edge of the box and he drilled it low into the bottom left corner of the net.

That was the end of the scoring and it left referee James Olyott, who had an excellent game in the middle, to blow the whistle for full time.

It sparked wild celebrations amongst the Hakin players and supporters as they sealed a first Senior Cup win since 2012.

Hakin’s Ben Fawcett was named man of the match and Kristian Bennett picked up the trophy for the first time as a manager.

Winning manager: Kristian Bennett

Speaking after the match, Kristian said: “I am just overwhelmed, I couldn’t have asked for a better performance in the final. Give Clarby some credit they battled back and it was anybody’s game but in the second half the boys smashed some good goals in.

“I did rip into them at half time, just because we gave the goal away and let them back in the game when we were well on top, that’s all it takes and Clarby Road are a good side.

“It’s brilliant, first Senior Cup as a manager, total new feeling but absolutely awesome.”

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Sport

Pembroke replace Cardiff in Bowl Final

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PEMBROKE will take part in the final of the WRU Bowl after all after semi-final opponents Cardiff University were found to have breached the competition’s eligibility rules.

The National Bowl Final will take place on Sunday, April 29, at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

Pembroke were beaten by Cardiff in the semi-final but lodged an appeal following the game.

Pembroke, whose Youth team will compete in today’s National Youth Plate Final v Tondu (Principality Stadium, 1.15pm) will now face Porthcawl in next week’s National Bowl Final in the first of the National Finals Day encounters (1pm), Nant Conwy play Brynmawr in the National Plate Final (3.15pm) and Merthyr play Newport in the National Cup Final (5.35pm).

All three finals will be broadcast by S4C and tickets for National Finals Day are available on www.wru.wales/tickets

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Sport

Carew earn deserved win

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CAREW earned a deserved 3-1 victory on Friday night (Apr 20) as they beat Neyland thanks to goals from Jordan Richards, Sam Christopher and Alex Bayley.

It also means that the Rooks are still very much in with a chance of finishing third in the league as they, Merlins Bridge and Clarbeston Road are all locked on 39 points.

Jordan Richards gave the hosts the lead in the first half and it could have been much more for the home side if they had taken some of their chances.

Instead it remained 1-0 at half time and Neyland were still in with a chance of getting something out of the game.

Alex Bayley came close to scoring for the Rooks after he beat a tackle to run into the box before cutting side but his effort was saved by the Neyland keeper.

Neyland then brought themselves level as Jake Booth slid the ball across the box and Geraint Rees was on hand to tap the ball in.

Jordan Richards then did well to keep hold of the ball on the by-line before passing to Sam Christopher who fired past the keeper.

Bayley was causing problems for the Neyland defenders and he brushed past one of them before firing low into the bottom corner of the net to make it 3-1.

Neyland looked to get back into the game late on but Carew held on for the three points.

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