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Scarlets in Seventh Heaven

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By Jonathan Twigg

THE Scarlets won their fifth consecutive Guinness Pro 14 derby match of the season on Friday (Jan 5) at Parc y Scarlets against a young and inexperienced Dragons, 47-13.

The Gwent side, who have been defeated 24 times in the last 29 fixtures, started with 17 year old scum half Dan Babos and debutant flanker 18 year old Ben Roache but conceded seven tries as a rampant home side dominated the game.

The Scarlets remain on top of the Conference A table after this third derby victory in a ten day period, thanks to a 14-11 win on the 4G pitch at Cardiff Arms Park against the Blues and a last gasp try from flanker Josh MacLeod on the last Saturday of 2017 saw them triumph 12-9 over the Ospreys, despite playing for a long period with 14 men after the dismissal of Welsh winger Steff Evans for a tip tackle.

Coach Wayne Pivac, set his stall out at the start of the season for his charges to return with six victories over their Welsh rivals and they now head to Judgement Day VI on Saturday (April 28) to take on the Dragons in the final Derby match at the Principality Stadium.

No. 8 John Barclay had the honour of leading the team out on his one hundredth appearance and his was in the thick of the action from the off as outside half Dan Jones drew Pontyberem born winger Ioan Nicholas quickly into the game.

An early scoring opportunity came when Jones pinged a cross field kick into the space occupied by winger Tom Prydie who spurned the chance when pressurised in catching the ball by full back Carl Meyer.

Haverfordwest born Rob Evans worked some magic in the lose to start his back division at a quick pace through the hands where play moved seventy metres down field and skipper Ken Owens led the charge as his pack of forwards disrupted the visiting scrum.

It was the Dragons outside half Arwel Robson who opened the scoring with an offside penalty after 15 minutes before the home side responded through another Evans inspired move ram adrift when full back Rhys Patchell failed to find Kiwi born Welsh international Hadleigh Parkes as the play crabbed cross field.

Owens picked second row Steve Cummins out from a five metre line out allowing the forwards got some momentum and former Whitland flanker James Davies crossed wide out for Jones to land the extra two points with a magnificent conversion

Ten minutes later the home eight dominated the scrum set piece and drew another penalty which Jones kicked long down the touchline; the pattern of play for the evening was firmly set as the Scarlets were happy to track with their tried and tested dominance up front.

Owens found Barclay at the base of the line out from which Parkes broke the gain line allowing Jones to switch play, for centre the Steffan Hughes to put in a grubber kick and winger Pyrdie won the foot race to score, which Jones failed to convert.

Coach Bernard Jackman astutely changed both props for the visitors before his side suffered the ignominy of a yellow card having identified the need for an improvement before the game was lost completely but pressure on winger Pat Howard drew a yet another mistake after half an hour.

Owens found his target in the line out again and the ball went through several phases before Davies made 20 meters towards the posts and the pulled the cover defender into the mix for Jones to cross unopposed under the posts and convert his try for 19-3.

The Scarlets support play and handling made an effective and timeless display of attacking rugby appreciated by the knowledgeable crowd; this is a Region whose players hearts are firmly ensconced in the local environment capturing the life and blood of the community clubs across West Wales.  None more so than Hendy born flanker, Aaron Shingler a divide and conquer king on the floor to secure the ball.

Three tries to the good and the Black Dragons were unable to get out of their own half as the home side searched for the bonus point try before half time led by scrum half Aled Davies, who became a tad vigorous in his tackling as the game edged towards half time.  Full back josh Meyer stepped up and reduced the deficit from the half way line to 19-6 after outside half Robson had been replaced by Robson Blake.

The sides returned for the second half and a low key opening fizzed into life after seven minutes as replacement second row Rynard Landman’s first touch was a weighty size 12 right boot to carry play deep into Scarlets territory. The defence held firm with Shingler and Davies foraging well allowing Parkes to make good ground from first phase possession.

The Dragons were more involved in the play, primarily through Landman and his boiler house partner Joe Davies although there was little respite as Cummins barged through for the Scarlets, neatly popping an inside pass to Patchell who timed the final pass for Aled Davies to scamper in from 20 metres under the posts for a converted try and 26-6.

With the bonus point in the bag after eleven second half minutes another Haverfordian Simon Gardiner replaced Samson Lee in the front row for the scrum to be anchored by former Sir Thomas Picton School props; fitting in the year which sees their school becoming defunct and the new Haverfordwest High being born from the embers of their amalgamation with Tasker Milward.

Skills taught in school were evident with the fifth try as play swayed back and forth before Shingler straightened the line to score another converted try, after Patchell, Nicholas and Hughes had been instrumental.

Pivac gave a run out to the replacements bench as the game developed into a rout where the words of former Scarlets captain Simon Easterby rang around the West Wales cauldron “In essence, I wanted to lead by example.” Such words are a suitable epitaph for current skipper, Ken Owens.

The livewire Wales Hooker was everywhere in his time on the turf, running through 60 minutes before giving way to the younger legs of Ryan Elais. 

Scarlets were playing simple yet effective rugby, driven on by the commanding voice of Pivac, whose expectations of high standards are the basis for the successes. The Dragons were on the back foot and conceding penalties to stop the forward dominance to little effect as replacement flanker Wil Boyd was the recipient of his sides efforts after another Cummins catch in the line out; a sixth try converted by Patchell for 40-6 with twenty minutes to play.

Patchell had moved into the first receiver position and was calling the shots with fast hands and quick feet, putting Jonathan Evans away and Rhys Jones slid in for a converted try to leave them three points shy of the half century.

The home side had runners appearing at will, with or more importantly without the ball as an obviously fatigued and demoralised Dragons side succumbed.  Patchel again put on the burners sweeping the ball across the pitch as Italian referee Marius Mitrea whistle penalised the Gwent side for offside.

Morgan Williams was guilty of an indiscretion for the home side in a brief foray into their territory with centre Jack Dixon raising spirits briefly on the cold night which quietened the 9347 crowd.

Turning down a straight forward penalty kick Angus O’Brien tried to get a nudge on as the Dragons plundered through numerous phases of tight play rewarded when Lloyd Fairbrother scrambled over for Blake to convert; 47-13 with seven minutes to play.

Patchell was nominated as man of the match as the dying embers of the game saw the Dragons enjoy the possession and territory, a little to late to affect the game result but enough for them to take some heart and soul from their visit to West Wales.

Sport

Greene’s double sinks Swifts

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MERLINS Bridge booked their place in the last 16 of the West Wales Cup on Saturday (Dec 8) as they beat Monkton Swifts 3-0 at the Racecourse.

A good crowd gathered to watch the game that was played in blustery conditions which caused problems for both teams throughout the match.

Neither side was able to gain an upper hand in the first half but it was the Wizards who eventually took the lead shortly before half time.

A slip allowed Joe Leahy in and went one-on-one with the Swifts keeper before finding the back of the net.

The windy conditions continued in the second half and Will Haworth came close to doubling the home side’s lead but his shot was saved.

They then made it 2-0 as Haworth crossed from the left for Nathan Greene at the back post who headed low and into the net.

Peter Thomas then played a good one-two with Greene but Thomas sent his shot over the bar.

Greene could have had a second soon after but, after the Swifts keeper had come off his line, he could only send his effort over the bar.

He wasn’t to be denied his second however as a through ball set him up and he fired low into the bottom left corner of the goal to make it 3-0.

On Saturday (Dec 15), Merlins Bridge return to league action with a game against bottom side Milford United at Marble Hall.

Monkton Swifts will look to bounce back as they travel to Herbrandston.

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Bluebirds prepare for Pontypridd test

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HAVERFORDWEST County will be looking to progress to the next round of the JD Welsh Cup on Saturday (Dec 8), when they welcome Pontypridd Town to the Bridge Meadow.

The Bluebirds enjoyed a thrilling 4-3 win against Swansea University in the last round having previously beaten STM Sports 2-1 away from home in the first round.

They currently sit third in Welsh League Division 1 with seven wins from their ten games so far this season.

They will also be looking for another cup run having already reached the fourth round of the League Cup.

Visitors Pontypridd also enjoyed a thrilling 6-3 win in their second round game with Goytre and they also won 2-1 away from home against Llanidloes Town in the first round.

They may sit second from bottom in Division 1 of the Welsh Leagues but their cup run has shown that they should not be underestimated.

The game is a repeat of the third round tie from last year which Pontypridd won 3-1 and the Bluebirds will be looking to avenge that defeat.

This is the Bluebirds’ only home game in December so make sure you get down to the Bridge Meadow to show your support.

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Bowen wins Young Sportsman of the Year

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WELSH jockey, James Bowen, 17, has won the Carwyn James Young Sportsman of the Year Award at the Wales Sports Awards on Tuesday, December 4, at The Celtic Manor.

The Awards which are an annual amalgamation of BBC Cymru Wales and Sports Wales to make the biggest Welsh Sporting celebration of the year, it is intended to showcase the best of both elite and grassroot level of sporting achievement.

Speaking to James on his award he said: “It came as a bit of a shock to me, I didn’t realise I had done that well this year”.

Bowen, who has been racing for the past 18 months, at just 16 became the youngest rider to win the Coral Welsh Grand National in 2018 on Raz De Maree. He is no stranger when it comes to awards, recently collecting the Rising Star Award at the inaugural Welsh Horse Racing Awards at Chepstow Racecourse.

On his Rising Star Award James said: “It was exciting to win this award as it’s the first time these awards have been done at the racecourse”.

On his recent career highlights James added: “I would like to thank everybody who has worked with me over the years, and all the trainers who have helped me get here.”

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