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Scarlets into European Quarter Finals

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FOR the first time in 11 years the Scarlets have reached the European Cup quarter finals having secured a 30-27 victory on Saturday (Jan 20), over Toulon and in doing so replace them at the top of the group 5, which included Benetton Treviso and Bath.

It was not only the belief achieved from the victory the previous at the Recreation Ground Bath which set the barometer for Wayne Pivac’s men but the way it was won.

The game against Toulon was one which envigored all the sleeping giants from their slumber and Parc Y Scarlets became a cauldron of emotion as the weeks build up reached a crescendo.

The French visitor didn’t arrive just to enjoy the party and for long periods held the upper hand requiring the home side to search for some much need water for life. It came majestically from the Hydro North Stand, with a choral rendition worthy of any ‘Twmpath’ where the rousing beat echoed around a near full house capacity of 14,476.

The first half began where the Bath encounter had ended against Toulon, the three times winners who are also through to the knockout stages as one of the best runners up.

Free flowing rugby, utilising the space created from the impact runners led by skipper Ken Owens resulted in New Zealand winger Tom Prydie racing over in the third minute for try created by full back Rhys Patchell’s long pass, converted by outside half Dan Jones, who also converted a charged down effort from centre Hadleigh Parks before crossing himself under the posts to establish a 27-16 lead.

Toulon displayed the form which made them European kings as they responded immediately to Pyrdies opening try when a throw to the back of the line out by hooker Guilhem Guirado led to a disciplined drive from his fellow forwards, for Springbok number 8 Duane Vermeulan to touch down.

Jones extended the lead to 10-5 as English referee Wayne Barnes whistle became centre of attention as he was consistently punishing indiscretions at the gain line, with outside half Anthony Belleau responding in kind and atoning for his earlier missed conversion.

The lead switched away from the Scarlets when England winger Chris Ashton intercepted Patchell’s loose pass in midfield to race 65 metres for a converted try. Bellau was at fault when the adopted ‘Kiwi’ centre Parkes scored, as his clearance kick was charged down by flanker Aaron Shingler who showed ‘Giggs’ like footballing skills for Jones to also add a penalty, before Bellau did the same.

The action was non stop, end to end and at times close to the knuckle with neither side wilting under the enormity of the prize for victory. The Scarlets game didn’t change with prop Rob Evans and a subdued Irish second row Thaig Beirne appearing in midfield to create chances.

Parkes was also instrumental in the third try as he cleared his lines, with Wales newest squad member James ‘Cubby’ Davies harrying to set up a prime front foot attacking position. The line out was secured, and quick hands allowed Jones to ghost in unopposed with Bellau ending the first half action with a penalty and 27-21 scoreboard in favour of the Scarlets.

The standard set in the first half was so high the following forty minutes would have done well to live up to it and such was the case, as it became like the day after the Lord Mayor’s Show. A positive for the home throng’s voices was the reappearance after injury for former Toulon full back Leigh Halfpenny, the Gorseinon born international content to ease himself back in with an accomplished final fifteen minute.

Absorbing the black tide was important; Davies with 23 and Owens with 21 led the troops into battle as the ‘billy cans brewed’ in the background, the side making a thumping 134 tackles.

Substitutions as is the norm in rugby at present played their part in a grinding second half. The Scarlets showed they could ‘dog it out’ to muster the required win, with the only points coming from the boot of replacement play maker Francois Trinh-Duc with the difference being a strike from 45 metres from Patchell on fifty minutes, although Trinh-Duc’s overtime drop kick from 30 metres came within a whisker of spoiling an ‘epic’ occassion.

Pivac would look at the replays for the game, noting with some concern the ease in which the French flair broke tackles and made good yardage. Toulon will be a tough opponent in the later stages of the competition as they arrived with out suspended international centre Mathieu Bastareaud but it will be the defence display which Pivac can take pride.

In the space of eight days the West Walians have shown their steel and panache, making the Easter weekend quarter final showdown with La Rochelle, travelling from the South West of France a potential blockbuster at Parc Y Scarlets.

Could this be the highest profile game witnessed in the modern rugby era? Rest assured it is the most important in over a decade.

Sport

Penybont secure Championship conference place

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PENYBONT secured their place in the Championship Conference for the second phase of the JD Cymru Premier after they beat Haverfordwest County on Friday (Apr 2).

Manager Rhys Griffiths will have been delighted with his side, who, prior to Friday’s game, had already gained 11 more points this season than they had in the entirety of the 2019/20 season.

Ahead of the game, Haverfordwest knew they needed to win to stand a chance of moving into the top six.

A County win, coupled with a defeat for Caernarfon Town, could have seen them sneak into sixth place but it wasn’t to be for Wayne Jones’ men.

The Bont applied the pressure early on but were unable to test County keeper Matthew Turner.

There was concern for Turner shortly before the half hour mark as he claimed the ball but fell awkwardly under the challenge of Kane Owen.

After receiving treatment he was taken off to be replaced by Wojciech Gajda.

With 45 minutes on the clock the Bont had a corner which Owen floated in and it was Sam Snaith who got his head to it to score despite the best efforts of Gajda.

It was a big blow to the Bluebirds who would have hoped to have been level at the break.

Three minutes into the second half, Ben Fawcett forced his way through but his effort was blocked by the Bont defender.

On 53 minutes, the ball was played into the box from a free kick and sent back across goal to Snaith. He took one touch to flick the ball up in the air and acrobatically shoot towards goal but Gajda made an excellent save to keep his side in the game.

Five minutes later, the Bont doubled their lead as the ball was played to Mael Davies who sent a low driven shot into the bottom left corner of the net.

Sub Marcus Griffiths had an effort for the visitors but his shot towards the bottom left corner was tame and keeper Morris made a comfortable save.

With just over fifteen minutes to go, the ball was played forward for Fawcett but he couldn’t get enough power on his shot and saw his effort saved by the Bont keeper.

The Bluebirds won a series of corners with seven minutes remaining but they were unable to get an effort in as the Bont defended well.

As the clock ticked towards the 90, the Bluebirds’ task of scoring three goals to win the game became increasingly unlikely.

The Bont saw the game out to seal the win and they can now look forward to the second phase of the season in the Championship conference.

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Pitch bookings for organised under 18s outdoor activity resume

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL is now able to accept outdoor pitch bookings for organised children’s outdoor activity.

It follows the Welsh Government allowing U18 organised sporting activity to resume.

All Council outdoor pitches are now taking bookings and the council is inviting all junior clubs to get in touch and to book their space.

Whatever your team sport, as long as you are delivering organised sports sessions for children, activities are fully risk assessed and you follow the safety guidelines specified by your sport’s governing body, the council is open and ready to welcome you back.

For more information, to make your booking and to get started please email leisureadmin@pembrokeshire.gov.uk with your club name, the sport you will be training for, the number of players who will be attending along with the days and times you would like to book for.

Please also add your name and contact details along with the space you will be booking and, importantly, the leisure centre you wish to book for.

Further news on facility re-opening will be released as it happens. Check www.pembrokeshireleisure.co.uk and follow Pembrokeshire Leisure on Facebook for updates, news and ways to keep yourself healthy.

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Sport

A 48-7 victory over Italy leaves Wales a win from the Grand Slam

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IT was always going to be a tough game for the Italian side, but now it is official, Wales are one win away from the Grand Slam!

Wales scored seven tries through Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens (2), George North, Callum Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit as they secured a comfortable Six Nations win in Rome.

The unbeaten tournament leaders reeled off a third successive bonus-point victory to increase pressure on their rivals for silverware. Italy meanwhile are staring down the barrel at another Wooden Spoon – they haven’t won a Six Nations match since 2015.

STILL A BIT OF WORK TO DO

The Welsh captain, Alun Wyn Jones, who is just one win away from winning his fourth Six Nations Grand Slam told S4C: “We were pretty clinical, particularly in the first half.

“We’re a tad frustrated with the second half but it’s a case of job done and plenty to work on.

“The excitement I feel every time I pull on this red jersey is insurmountable, so I’m looking forward to getting back to it on Monday and preparing for next weekend.”

Jones added: “It’s job done, but there’s still a bit to work on.”

Another heavy defeat will again raise the inevitable questions about Italy’s position in the Six Nations and whether there should be relegation.

The facts speak for themselves.

Today marked a 31st successive defeat for the Azzurri in the competition, with their last victory coming against Scotland in 2015.

Italy have not managed a home Six Nations win for eight years, with 20 successive losses.

Italy have conceded 187 points and 26 tries in four games this year.

 

Line-ups
Italy: Trulla, Bellini, Brex, Canna, Ioane, Garbisi, Varney; Fischetti, Bigi (capt), Zilocchi, Cannone, Sisi, Negri, Meyer, Lamaro.

Replacements: Fabiani for Ioane (7-18), Lovotti for Fischetti (65) Riccioni for Zilocchi (33), Lazzaroni for Cannone (52), Mbanda for Meyer (26-36), Violi for Varney (63), Mori for Garbisi (54) Padovani for Trulla (44).

Wales: L Williams; Rees-Zammit, North, J Davies, Adams; Biggar, G Davies; W Jones, Owens, Tomas Francis, Hill, AW Jones (capt), Navidi, Tipuric, Faletau.

Replacements: Dee for Owens (54), Carre for W Jones (57), Brown for Francis (45), Ball for AW Jones (54), Wainwright for Faletau (51), L Williams for G Davies (52), Sheedy for Biggar (52), Halaholo for North (46)

Match officials
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Touch judges: Pascal Gauzere (France) & Christophe Ridley (England)

TMO: Tom Foley (England)

MATCH ANALYSIS

Surely it was discipline that was the main problem for Italy.

Mistakes and an incredible ability to give away stupid penalties, as a series of needless errors allowed the visitors to build an insurmountable lead early on.

It all started with Paolo Garbisi sending the ball dead from the kick-off before Luca Bigi infringed at the breakdown. The captain then cynically stopped a Gareth Davies quick tap and was duly yellow carded. Against 14 men, Wales built up an advantage they would not relinquish as the visitors won the game before it had really started. It was not a good example from the skipper and is symptomatic of where the Italians are currently at.

Arguably since before the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour, the back has struggled for form, leading many to question whether that was it for the Welsh centurion. Although he is only 28, it must be remembered that North has been around at the top level for a long time and there is only so much the body can take in modern day rugby. However, the move into the midfield seems to have given him a new lease of life.

To the surprise of many, Callum Sheedy did not start against Italy after his superb performance versus England. Instead, it was the much criticised Dan Biggar who continued at fly-half and produced a significantly improved display before giving way to the Bristol playmaker in the second period. Sheedy was also excellent when he came on and it leaves Wayne Pivac with a decision to make going forward. No doubt, Biggar will start next week against France – albeit the head coach is not afraid of making a big call – but the 25-year-old is certainly not far off the first XV.

Much has been said and written about the Azzurri’s continued presence in the Six Nations and based on the evidence in this fixture, they really shouldn’t be playing in a competition of this stature. Franco Smith’s charges were never at the races with Wales racing into a 22-0 lead midway through the half without really breaking a sweat. Italy hardly threatened on attack – especially during the first half – and it looked like it was a case of men against boys for large periods of this Test. The result means they have now lost 31 matches on the trot, which is the longest losing streak in the history of the Championship, and they last tasted victory in a Round Three clash against Scotland in 2015. The time is now ripe for tournament organisers to reconsider their participation.

Although Italy were never in this encounter, Wales deserve plenty of credit as they impressed for the entire game and made full use of the opportunities which were presented to them.

Pivac will be delighted with the clinical fashion with which his players went about their business and they had their bonus point in the bag by the half-hour mark after Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau and Ken Owens (2) crossed for tries. Despite leading 27-0 at the interval, Wales did not take their foot of the pedal with North also crossing the whitewash soon after the restart and although Monty Ioane scored a try for the hosts, that was a mere blip as Wales continued to dominate and sealed their win with five-pointers from Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit.

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