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Wales ready for Six Nations

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By Jonathan Twigg

THE 2018 Six Nations Rugby Championship kicks off on Saturday (Feb 3) when Wales, captained by Alun Wyn Jones, welcome Scotland to the Principality Stadium in a match to be refereed by Frenchman, Romain Poite.

Coach Warren Gatland’s squad has been hampered with many high profile injuries, the latest being former Scarlets full back Liam Williams alongside scrum half Rhys Webb and his half back partner Dan Biggar.

The Welsh nation’s attention will be focused over the next seven weeks on the rugby and local interest has been heightened due to the Scarlets progressing to the European Cup quarter finals where they play La Rochelle on Friday (Mar 31).

The opening game against a Scottish side who have revelled in attacking flair under coach Gregor Townsend in the Autumn Series will offer a test which Gatland’s charges will have to meet front on to secure a victory. Winning will set down a marker by which the side will be judged.

They travel to Twickenham a week later to take on England before crossing the Irish Sea to take on the Emerald Isle in Dublin at the end of the month.

Both England and Ireland are at the top of their game at present, where any positive result will see euphoria amongst rugby followers. Gatland has changed his blueprint of direct rugby through hard running centre partnerships now opting for a more creative player at 12 which follows the way the Scarlets have developed this season.

Rhys Patchell could well have the nod to partner Gareth Davies at half back and the back division would feature fellow Scarlets, winger Steff Evans and Leigh Halfpenny, although neither have played a lot of ruby in recent weeks.

The centre partnership may be pivotal, with Osprey bound Scott Williams linking with adopted Kiwi Hadleigh Parkes after both impressed in the Autumn Series.

Prop Rob Evans should pack down on the coal face alongside Scarlets captain Ken Owens and fellow prop Samson le has returned to full fitness and may become the third player in the front row.

Back row dynamos Aaron Shingler and newbie James ‘Cubby’ Davies, brother of injured centre Jonathan, are also probable starters for Gatland meaning the Pivac influence of ‘expect the unexpected’, albeit abstractly, could well influence how well Wales perform.

Following the two testing trips on the road, Wales return to the Principality Stadium to take on Italy on Sunday (Mar 11) when the fixture follows the Women’s international between the two countries, before the finale of the season when France take on the ‘Men of Harlech’ a week later.

Predicating any result in sport is precarious at the best of times and the Six Nations championship often depends on which country has the key fixtures at home. Wales would be looking to secure three home victories, where the toughest encounter will be the opener against our Gaelic cousins.

Travelling to Twickenham and Dublin are daunting for any side where realistically a positive result will be an outside chance at best.

England, with colourful Aussie hooker Eddie Jones in charge are hardworking and Wales may have to live off limited possession, although the Scarlets faced such a scenario when they travelled to the ‘Rec’ and comprehensively dismissed Bath in front of Jones watching eyes.

Where there is a will there is a way as veteran second row Alun Wyn Jones leads the side knowing it could present a title showdown against Ireland, possibly the toughest of opponents in their own back yard.

With some optimism the prediction is for four victories, the three home fixtures and an exhilarating performance to light up the return journey down the M4 for those die hard supporters making the trip to HQ.

England will also return with four victories, beating Scotland in the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield and France in Paris as recompense for their humbling at Wales hands.

Ireland, with a win over Wales may find the final game at Twickenham one step too far as the ‘Rose’ will find it unbearable to lose two home games meaning they also end on four victories.

Italy will pick up the wooden spoon without securing a win, ahead of France with Scotland in fourth position.

Representing Wales on the referee’s circuit will by Nigel Owens, who has a long association with Pontyberem RFC in the Gwendraeth Valley, taking centre stage when Ireland take on France.

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Nigel Owens hosts virtual rugby quiz for Pembroke Panthers

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PEMBROKE Panthers RFC enjoyed a rugby return during lockdown after winning a competition which saw international referee Nigel Owens host their own virtual clubhouse quiz, thanks to Principality Building Society.

The women’s squad at the Pembroke club beat more than 1000 entries to win Principality’s Clubhouse Quiz competition. With many clubs affected by widespread flooding at the start of this year and now closed indefinitely due to coronavirus, the building society is continually looking for ways to support grassroots rugby clubs in Wales.

Pembroke Panther Lucy Neale, 30, entered her team with the hope of bringing the players together online. She said: “We’d usually see each other up to five times a week between training sessions, matches and socials, so it’s been a really strange time. I thought I’d enter the club thinking it would be a nice pick-me-up for us all, but never actually expected to win so it was an amazing surprise.”

The team were tested on their rugby knowledge by world cup referee Nigel Owens over video conferencing platform Zoom, where players won tickets to Welsh internationals at Principality Stadium, signed rugby shirts and balls, and tickets for a tour around Principality Stadium. The quiz included a guest appearance from former Welsh international Tom Shanklin.

Lucy continued: “It was such a memorable and special evening for us all. We’re usually quite a lively bunch but we behaved well for Nigel. We’re so thankful to Principality for putting on the quiz and allowing us to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience as a team.”

As sponsors of Principality Stadium and the National Youth Leagues for grassroots clubs in Wales, Principality has a strong relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union and knows how much rugby means to communities across the country. With matches on hold currently, the building society wanted to be able to bring the buzz of the clubhouse to the home.

Clubhouse Quiz host, Nigel Owens, said: “Principality’s Clubhouse Quiz was a fantastic way to bring one team closer together and Pembroke Panthers really showed off their rugby knowledge. Rugby plays such an important role in Welsh communities and I know they’ll be missing the action on the field right now, so it was lovely to have been part of this experience to bring this team together. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sin bin any of them either.”

Julie-Ann Haines, Chief Customer Officer at Principality Building Society, said: “Many rugby clubs across Wales have had a really difficult year, with flood damage to pitches and clubhouses now followed by coronavirus. This was our chance to recreate the camaraderie of the clubhouse for one team and we hope that it brought plenty of laughs and memorable moments for Pembroke Panthers at this challenging time.”

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Wales v Scotland postponed

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WALES’ Six Nations match at home to Scotland on Saturday has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The two other Six Nation fixtures had already been postponed and no date has been confirmed to complete the 2020 Championship.

The Welsh Rugby Union had insisted earlier on Friday the game would “go ahead as planned”.

A WRU statement read: “The Welsh Rugby Union has maintained an open dialogue with, and continued to seek advice and direction from, the National Assembly for Wales and other stakeholders, including the Six Nations, on this fast-moving issue.

“Whilst medical advice remains consistent, we have decided that it is in the best interests of supporters, players and staff to fall in line with recent measures taken across the UK and global sports industries.

“The WRU would like to thank all parties for their counsel on the subject and will make further announcements with respect to rescheduling the fixture in the coming days.

“Every effort has been made to stage this game and we appreciate that individuals will have been inconvenienced. Given the fluid and unprecedented nature of this issue a postponement became the only viable option.”

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Domestic football at all levels in Wales suspended

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THE FOOTBALL Association of Wales has today (13 March) taken the decision to suspend domestic football at all levels in Wales with immediate effect until April 4 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The intention at this time will be to resume the football schedule depending on the medical advice and conditions from the relevant authorities at that time.

The FAW is fully aware of the impact this will have on the domestic game but the health and safety of all fans, players, volunteers and stakeholders are of paramount importance.

The FAW will continue to monitor this situation on a day-by-day basis and will continue to provide updates when appropriate.

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