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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

Bluebirds bag last-gasp draw

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JD Cymru Premier League • Haverfordwest County 1 – Caernarfon Town 1

A LAST minute Danny Williams equaliser secured a deserved point for the Bluebirds after a dominant performance at the Bridge Meadow.

The tone for the game was set in the first minute, as only a last-ditch tackle denied Cameron Keetch a shot at goal after he latched on to a lofted pass. The opening 15 minutes were relatively quiet, Tibbets comfortably saved a Sean Pemberton header and Matt Turner stopped Mike Hayes in his track as he had the ball in the box.

The Bluebirds enjoyed a lot of possession in these opening minutes, playing some good football on the pristine surface. The first real chance came as an Elliot Scotcher corner ricocheted around the box before it was cleared off the line. Just 5 minutes later, Scotcher himself hit the post from an excellently struck free-kick from just outside the penalty area. The next chance fell to Marcus Griffiths who couldn’t quite get on the end of a low cross across the face of goal.

Some bad news for the Bluebirds, Cameron Keetch departed the pitch on the 29th minute after suffering an injury, he was replaced by super-sub Jack Wilson. He was straight into the action as he was played through by Ben Fawcett, but he curled his effort just wide of the post. Matt Turner then saved a well-struck free-kick from the edge of the Bluebirds penalty area. Jack Wilson had the final chance of the half as his curling effort from the right skimmed over the bar. A stalemate at halftime, but the Bluebirds on top.

The second half began as the first ended, this time is was Gruffydd John with a last-ditch tackle to deny Danny Williams. After Sean Pemberton headed wide, Danny Williams played a lofted ball through to Jack Wilson, who headed over Tibbets but Joe Williams cleared the ball off the line. Then, 4 minutes later, Wilson repaid the favour as he sent a lofted ball for Williams to chase, but Tibbets saved his lob attempt.

The Bluebirds continued to create chance after chance. Jack Wilson had a strike cleared off the line, again and Marcus Griffiths saw his header saved by Tibbets.

Against the run of play, Caernarfon took the lead on 74 minutes. Mendes picked up a cross at the back post and squared for Mike Hayes who couldn’t miss.

The setback didn’t deter the Bluebirds who continued to press.

In the space of a minute, Jack Wilson, Dan Summerfield and Jack Wilson all had shots blocked in the penalty area. Jack Wilson then turned provider as his long throw met the head of Sean Pemberton but his effort was over the bar.

With 94 minutes on the clock, Jack Wilson went racing down the right, squared for Danny Williams, and he did the rest from a few yards out with the final kick of the game.

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Sport

Wales gear up for Paris

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Wales face Les Bleus in Paris in what will be their first match since March.

It is one kicking and skills coach Jenkins is looking forward to.

“It is nice to be back. It has been tough since March, but to be involved now and have the boys back is great,” said the former fly-half.

“It’s doing things a little bit differently to what we are normally used to, but the boys have had a head start and been very good helping us.

“We understand what is going on, both at home and in France, and we respect that 100 per cent.

“We are there to do a job, we are there to represent our country, and I would like to think we are going to do that as best as we possibly can both on and off the pitch.

“We will adhere to everything that is required of us, hopefully play a very good game on Saturday, and do our utmost to win the Test match and try and pick the nation up.

“It’s brutal for everyone whether you are a sportsperson or a non-sportsperson. It is not an easy situation at this moment in time. I hope we can put some smiles on faces.

“We want to win, plain and simple. We have lost our last few games. We are here to play well and we are here to win Test matches.”

France got the better of Wales in the Six Nations at the start of the year before Covid-19 struck.

“It seems an incredibly long time ago. People might disagree, but for me it was a Test match I believe we should have won. We had opportunities,” Jenkins said.

“We gave probably 14 points away if I am brutally honest. We left a number of opportunities out there.”

Both sides will use the game to warm-up for their remaining Six Nations clashes and then their Autumn Nations Cup campaigns.

On questions regarding Josh Navidi’s involvement, Jenkins added: “He is going through his protocols and we will see how he goes this week and for the weeks coming up.”

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New Welsh rugby kit launched

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THE NEW Macron Wales kit, to be worn for the first time against France in Paris on October 24, has been unveiled simultaneously in the private changing rooms of the national team headquarters in Hensol and the Wales Women squad’s current base in Swansea University.

Jonathan Davies and Ross Moriarty were joined ‘virtually’ by Wales Women captain Siwan Lillicrap and Gwen Crabb to reveal the kit against a backdrop of jerseys from the community game in Wales which have also been produced by the WRU’s new official technical partner.

The launch of the new kit has taken on a post-Covid feel with both squads currently training in respective ‘bubbles’ and so the community aspect of the partnership – £1m of free kit to be supplied yearly to Welsh rugby clubs over six years – has been reflected by a display of existing Macron community rugby shirts.

A set of unique features sees the red dragon of the Welsh flag embossed across lower back of the shirt, an embossed pattern covering the sleeves – cleverly transforming the hexagonal shape of the WRU three-feathers logo into ‘dragon scales’ – and the Welsh word ANRHYDEDD (honour), also embossed, on the back of the collar.

The ‘away‘ version is a black jersey with a white v-neck collar, this time tipped with red trim that is also found on the sleeves and cuffs.

Both sleeves again feature an all over embossed pattern, but this time a geometric graphic brings a new age look to the garment.

The Welsh dragon is once again embossed on the lower back and another Welsh word, ANGERDD (passion) is embossed on the back of the collar.

“The new kit is striking representation of Welsh rugby tradition and we are delighted to be able to launch our new seven-year partnership with Macron in such a spectacular way,” said WRU CEO Steve Phillips.

“We are delighted with the bespoke kit, training and leisurewear Macron has provided so far, where Italian design meets Welsh passion with impressive results.

“And we are sure that the Welsh rugby watching public will be equally impressed when they get their hands on their favourite pieces in the expansive product range available.”

Wales Women will wear the kit in action for the first time against Scotland in their own postponed Six Nations clash on November 1 and, from next season, Macron’s affinity with Welsh rugby will increase even further when the first instalment of £6m worth of kit over six years, is supplied to the clubs in the community game throughout Wales.

“The Welsh Rugby Union represents one of the pillar stones of world rugby and for Macron to stand side by side with this sporting giant, means that we as a brand, have reached yet another great milestone,” said Macron‘s CEO Gianluca Pavanello.

“Our goal is for the new kits to be instantly recognisable and something that clearly express the Welsh identity and spirit. We hope that our hard work has paid off and that the new collection will be loved by players and fans alike and that the kits evoke the emotion that such a great nation deserves.”

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