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Swans keep boyhood dreams alive

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By Jonathan Twigg

“Premier League games against the big teams are always very special, and tonight’s game will have added spice with the result being vitally important to both teams” said under fire Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins OBE on Monday (Jan 22).

The game started in a stonewall tribute to local St Joseph’s player Mitchell Joseph who tragically died whilst playing from a cardiac arrest, along with footballing greats Cyril Regis and Jimmy Armfield, a World Cup winner in 1966.

The result, a 1-0 win for Swansea over Liverpool, achieved with 28 percent possession, a fifth of their opponent’s shots at goals and a third of the corners won. The only statistic that mattered was the score line. A story born from any boyhood comic, where the evil character could have been Captain Can, a German wearing the oppositions armband of leadership. ‘Sleepy G’ this game wasn’t as bottom of the table Swansea, six points from safety started with three central defender to defeat the ‘Reds’ for the first time since Spurs rumbled them at Wembley in September.

The start was cagey, Swansea lacking belief to be direct, compensating by fronting up in challenges but having no outlet amidst the footballing ‘capital of Wales, way down by the sea’.

Chances were created by both sides but restricted in their tenacity through technical discipline, Manager Carvalhal stated post match ‘when you come up against a F1 car you may struggle in a race. If you put that F1 car amongst some London traffic it is no longer a F1 car as it has to respond to the traffic around it’.

An analogy worthy of any comic book hero; maybe a new Tinkerman has risen from the Phoenix and all boys know what happened to the last Tinkerman to grace the Premier League.

Liverpool sloppiness four minutes before half time gave away a corner which they didn’t deal with and pin ball around the penalty spot saw the ball fall to centre back Alfie Mawson. He swung a right foot to bury the opening goal, his third of the season but at a cost with his central defensive partner Fernandez taking a bloody nose from his own players celebrations.

Liverpool’s indiscipline saw a yellow card for a clinical challenge by Robertson on Ayew and another for Matip, when he poleaxed Clucas as the red engine oil stuttered to disable the turbo boosters. Referee Neil Swarbrick signalled the half time interval which brought a crescendo of voices, the volume not heard at that level all season.

Liverpool’s tempo after the break was more warming as Swansea midfielder Fer was guilty of picking up the man in blacks cards, albeit as confetti after Swarbrick dropped them to the amusement of the ‘Jack army’.

The atmosphere was reminiscent of 1980s and you ‘could not help but fall back in love’ with the beautiful game; McNaughton made a last ditch tackle on Robertson recalling memories of February 1981, when 22,604 at the Vetch Field cheered the Mersey beat when current Club legends Leighton James and Alan Curtis netted in a 2-0 victory. The Liberty faithful, 20,886 were treated to the same intense feeling as the halcyon days, with the big Pole in the goal tipping a driven free kick from Salah over the bar on the hour mark.

It would be incorrect to state ‘only one set of fans were singing’ at this juncture but the powerful Fabianski was commanding in goal even at times heading his side in the right direction and reducing the Champions League last sixteen entrants to speculative long range shots.

Swansea put Carroll on for Dyer, as did Klopp, Lalanna for Chamberlin and Ings thrown on for Wijnaldum but the white wall ensured any cracks were quickly cemented over, with Van der Hoorn a beacon shining before Fabianski before Ayew, unbounded and uncompromised was broken, to be replaced by Bony.

To Max Boyce singing Hymns and Arias the enormity of Swansea lifting themselves to 20 points against a team who defeated the previously unbeaten league leaders Manchester City just a week ago glistened through. ‘Comon City’ was an eruption of volcanic proportions and certainly for those ‘Swansea till they die’ proponents seeing four minutes of added time read like a comic book finale.

Salah blasted over and Firmino, clear in front of goal felt the reverberations of the choir as his header rebounded off the upright. “We are in hospital” said Carvalhal, “in a serious condition, but no longer in Intensive Care.” One in the onion bag for my Harry and all Jacks, for when the chips are down it becomes ‘together stronger’. Alive and kicking, still bottom of the Premier League but just six points off a place in the top half.

A storyline only for the comic book? Maybe not as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp acknowledged, ‘the stadium was theirs tonight and the confidence grew from it’, which abodes well for the next four months on the rollercoaster.

Sport

Joyce thrilled with first Six Nations try

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JASMINE Joyce relished her first Six Nations try as Wales Women ended the campaign on a high by playing some fine rugby in a 24-5 win over Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park.

Electrifying wing Joyce produced an individual performance as part of a fine team display from Rowland Phillips’ team in the Welsh capital.

Joyce scored the fourth of Wales’ tries by sprinting down the right touchline in sensational fashion as her team followed their win over Scotland with a second straight victory.

“It was literally a great team performance. We are going to be buzzing for a long time after that,” said Joyce.

“It’s the best we’ve played in a very long time both as a squad and in terms of individual performances. I think we can enjoy ourselves after that one – it all clicked.

“We have been getting better and better. Against Italy we managed to get a draw, but I think in this campaign they have shown they are something most teams don’t think they are. Italy are on the up, which we saw with their win over France on Sunday, and for us to get wins over Scotland and now Ireland is massive for us. It’s great to give us some momentum going into next year’s Six Nations and then the World Cup in 2020.”

Ireland dominated the opening quarter and finally made their pressure count as teenage wing Beibhinn Parsons opened the scoring. After that, they failed to score a point and Wales showed a clinical edge with their best performance of the campaign as they sealed their first Six Nations over Ireland since 2011.

Home tries came from Jess Kavanagh, captain Carys Phillips, Bethan Lewis, and Joyce.

Kavanagh’s was a fine effort too as she scored in the corner, while Phillips and Lewis provided tries from the forwards. It was left to Team GB Sevens Olympic star Joyce to round off the scoring and she did exactly that in an effort which was eerily similar to the one she had ruled out against Italy.

“We’ve got to make sure we enjoy the experience of this win and do it together,” added Joyce, who scored a try, made 208 metres, five line breaks, and four tackle breaks against Ireland.

“We had a different kind of mentality coming into this game in terms of trying to get the ball wide and I think we did that. I must have had about 10 carries and to finally get a try right at the end was amazing.”

Wales were beaten by France and England, drew with Italy, and then downed Scotland and Ireland to round off an encouraging Six Nations campaign. Phillips’ side ended the tournament in fourth place.

“To get our second win of the campaign is massive for us and we’ve ended up finishing fourth which is a massive step up from last year,” said Joyce.

“We couldn’t ask for much more than that. England and France are a step above the other nations, but we want to keep building on this moving forwards.”

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Sport

Wales thump Ireland to seal Grand Slam

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WALES secured a historic Grand Slam on Saturday (Mar 16), as they thumped Ireland 25-7 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

Going into the game they knew that a win would see them crowned Six Nations Champions and that anything but would have opened the door for the Irish or England to snatch the title.

However, Wales were in no mood to let their Grand Slam hopes fade away and scored with just over a minute on the clock gone, and they never looked back.

It was the perfect start for Warren Gatland’s men as Ken Owens’ throw found its way to Gareth Anscombe who beautifully chipped over for Hadleigh Parkes to catch and touch down. Anscombe then added the extras.

It meant that Jonathan Sexton’s first act of the game was to restart it but they very nearly scored moments after, only for an excellent tackle.

Jacob Stockdale picked the ball up and looked as if he would run to the try line but Parkes made a try-saving tackle and Wales were able to win the ball back.

Wales increased their lead with a penalty on 18 minutes with a 49-metre penalty from Anscombe and they continued to push forward, not wanting to sit on their lead.

Two minutes later they had a penalty advantage but when the ball was kicked ahead, Gareth Davies’ over-eagerness saw him tackle the Irish player after the whistle had gone, much to the displeasure of the four Irishmen around him. The penalty was reversed.

Irish errors continued to be punished though and with five minutes of the first half remaining, Anscombe sent another penalty through the posts to make it 13-0.

On the stroke of half time, Ireland were guilty of collapsing the scrum and Anscombe again scored a penalty to give Wales a 16-0 lead at the break.

The first score in the second half would prove crucial, a Wales score would deflate Ireland while an Ireland score would give them hope.

After both sides traded penalties it was the home team who got the first points as Anscombe again punished Ireland with a 33-metre penalty which sailed just inside the posts to make it 19-0.

The Grand Slam was within Wales’ grasp and when Sexton’s restart went out of play, you got the sense that an Irish comeback seemed unlikely.

Another penalty from Anscombe made it 22-0 with just under half an hour to play but Ireland came back looking for a way into the game. However, try as they might they passed the ball out of play.

Connor Murray then came close to scoring but was held up and some excellent defending saw Wales turn the ball over.

With just over ten minutes to go Anscombe scored his sixth penalty to continue his perfect record and it was only a matter of time before Wales were crowned champions.

There was still time for Ireland to attack though and came close as Wales were penalised for being offside on three occasions but a knock on allowed Wales to clear the ball.

As the clock ticked over the 80 minutes, Wales knew they had done enough to secure the Grand Slam and a fourteenth win in a row but Ireland were not going down without a fight.

Stockdale was again halted but the ball was recycled to Jordan Larmour who dived over for a consolation try. Jack Carty added the extras but the celebrations for Wales had already begun.

It was a third Six Nations title for Warren Gatland in his final tournament, his second Grand Slam, proving that Wales were the one team to beat.

They will now look forward to preparing for the World Cup in Japan which starts in September.

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Wales name unchanged team

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WALES have named an unchanged matchday squad for their final 2019 Guinness Six Nations encounter against Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.

Warren Gatland will oversee his 50th Six Nations match for Wales this weekend and his side goes into the game as the only unbeaten team in the tournament with four victories to their name.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones will equal Welshman Gethin Jenkins’ total test appearance record as he moves to 134 test caps (125 Wales, 9 British & Irish Lions) and to joint fifth in the overall world test appearance list.

Jones again packs down with Adam Beard in the second-row, with Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis continuing together in the front-row. Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty comprise the backrow.

Gareth Davies and Gareth Anscombe are named at half-backs with Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies in the centre.

Josh Adams, George North and Liam Williams once again comprise the back-three for Wales.

“We’ve named an unchanged squad and rewarded the players for the last couple of outings and the last couple of victories.

“These players are on a very good run, they are a hugely impressive group and they deserve to be going into the final weekend with everything to play for.

“It is a great reward for them for the hard work they have put in and we are all looking forward to what is going to be a huge game.

“For a number of us as coaches this is our last Six Nations game and the fact that it is in Cardiff is extra special. There is bound to be a bit of emotion on Saturday and that is something to embrace.”

Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith and Dillon Lewis provide the front row cover on the bench with Jake Ball and Aaron Wainwright completing the forward contingent. Aled Davies, Dan Biggar and Owen Watkin provide the backline cover.

Wales team to play Ireland (Saturday, March 16, KO 14.45 BBC & S4C)

15. Liam Williams (55 Caps)

14. George North (82 Caps)

13. Jonathan Davies (72 Caps)

12. Hadleigh Parkes (14 Caps)

11. Josh Adams (10 Caps)

10. Gareth Anscombe (25 Caps)

9. Gareth Davies (40 Caps)

1. Rob Evans (34 Caps)

2. Ken Owens (63 Caps)

3. Tomas Francis (39 aps)

4. Adam Beard (12 Caps)

5. Alun Wyn Jones (Capt) (124 Caps)

6. Josh Navidi (15 Caps)

7. Justin Tipuric (63 Caps)

8. Ross Moriarty (30 Caps)

REPLACEMENTS:

16. Elliot Dee (17 Caps)

17. Nicky Smith (27 Caps)

18. Dillon Lewis (11 Caps)

19. Jake Ball (31 Caps)

20. Aaron Wainwright (7 Caps)

21. Aled Davies (15 Caps)

22. Dan Biggar (69 Caps)

23. Owen Watkin (12 Caps)

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