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Bonus point win sets up France showdown

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WALES gave themselves the best chance of finishing second in the Six Nations Championship as they beat Italy 38-14 at the Principality Stadium on Sunday afternoon (Mar 11).

Italy kicked off following a rousing rendition of Bread of Heaven and it wasn’t long before the Welsh Dragon roared into life.

Wales turned the ball over before winning a penalty which Gareth Anscombe kicked to touch. From the resulting line-out Wales worked the ball to the middle of the field and Hadleigh Parkes burst through the tacklers to touch down under the posts. Cardiff Blues kicker Anscombe added the extras.

From the kick off Italy won the ball back but Owen Watkin intercepted a pass and ran into the 22 before offloading to George North who went over for the try and Anscombe once again added the extras.

Any thoughts the home side had of an easy afternoon soon evaporated as Italy worked the ball over to the left hand side for Zebre’s Matteo Minozzi who reached over in the corner after breaking the tackle of Liam Williams. Tommaso Allan then added the conversion.

Wales continued to put the pressure on with kicks into the Italy 22 and on 16 minutes they nearly had a third try but a knock on prevented debutant James Davies from going any further.

From the resultant Italy scrum Wales were able to win the ball back and they thought they had their third try as Williams passed to Steff Evans on the left wing who kicked inside towards the posts and Gareth Davies ran on to touch the ball down.

However, French referee Jerome Garces went to the TMO to check if Davies was in front of the kicker which video replays proved to be correct and the try was ruled out.

With twenty minutes gone it was Italy’s turn to for a spell of pressure but a loose pass saw Williams kick the ball forward and pounce on it just past the halfway line only for Italy to win the ball back.

Captain Taulupe Faletau was doing his best to show why he had been given the armband for the game and he produced one of the biggest hits of the game as he floored Italy kicker Allan. Thankfully after a few minutes of treatment he was back on his feet.

Italy again had a good spell of pressure and won the ball twice in quick succession from turnovers before being given a penalty. Allan, perhaps still feeling the effects of that monstrous hit, sent his kick wide of the posts and the score stayed at 14-7.

Shortly before the break Wales won a penalty and Anscombe showed his fellow kicker how it was done as he increased the lead to 17-7.

On the stroke of half time the ball was kicked to the left hand side but Steff Evans couldn’t quite collect the ball and he knocked the ball on. Italy’s Minozzi ran in to collect the ball with Liam Williams also running in close behind who made another crunching tackle on the Italian.

Referee Garces again went to the TMO as replays showed Williams’ shoulder catching Minozzi on the cheek. After some delay, Garces showed Williams a yellow card, much to the anger of the Welsh fans.

The second half started with Wales a man light but that didn’t seem to affect them as they went in search of a third try.

Davies charged down a clearance kick giving Wales a scrum which saw Davies pass to Cory Hill who stretched his way over for that third try and Anscombe added the extra two points.

Moments later, Italy attacked but Davies was deemed to have knocked the ball on deliberately and he was given a yellow card, meaning Wales were two men light, albeit for another two minutes.

Williams’ penalty ended but Coach Warren Gatland decided he would bring Halfpenny on in his place, and he got one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon as he entered the field.

Dean Budd and Tommaso Benvenuti tried their best to get Italy back into the game but some good defending from Wales meant they were unable to go any further.

James Davies then passed to Faletau who in turn found Justin Tipuric but he knocked the ball on and the chance had gone.

With 65 minutes gone, Patchell offloaded quickly for George North who dropped down for his second try of the game and Wales’ fourth giving them a bonus point. Halfpenny then added the extra two points.

With ten minutes to go Patchell found Parkes who threw a lobbed pass out to the wing where Tipuric was on hand to collect and touch down in the corner for Wales’ fifth try and Halfpenny converted again.

With five minutes to go, Italy looked to restore some pride and it was sub Federico Ruzza who found Mattia Bellini who touched down before Allan added the extras.

The bonus point win puts Wales second in the table, a point ahead of England and France and with one final round of games to come, Wales will be hoping they can finish in style.

On Saturday (Mar 17), Wales take on France, also aiming to finish second, at the Principality Stadium (Kick off 5pm) while Six Nations Champions Ireland take on England at Twickenham (2:45pm).

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Scarlets’ late surge sees off Ospreys

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Pro-14 Conference B

Ospreys 14 – Scarlets 16

 
A LATE try from Angus O’Brien secured the derby day spoils in a nail-biting Guinness PRO14 Boxing Day clash against the Ospreys.
The Ospreys, playing as the official ‘home’ team at Parc y Scarlets, had led for the majority of a tense contest.
But with 71 minutes on the clock, a superb off-load from replacement Blade Thomson paved the way for full-back O’Brien to slice through and dive over for the crucial score.
Man of the match Dan Jones added the conversion to put the Scarlets in front for the first time and the West Walians were able to finish the match on the front foot to claim the annual festive bragging rights and a crucial win to keep them in the hunt in the Conference B standings.
O’Brien hadn’t been named in the original match-day 23, but was brought in at the 11th hour as a replacement for Johnny McNicholl.
In blustery conditions, Scarlets enjoyed the early pressure, but despite hammering away at the Ospreys line were unable to come away with any points.
Instead, it was the Ospreys who were first on the board after 14 minutes through the boot of fly-half Stephen Myler.
The opening quarter was proving a cagey affair with both sides unable to get any momentum going.
A moment of individual brilliance from scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams, who dummied and sprinted clear from 40 metres, extended the Ospreys’ lead on 22 minutes, but the Scarlets’ response was swift with Jones landing a penalty straight from the kick-off.
Jones hit the upright with another attempt, then a pin-point cross-field kick from Steff Hughes just evaded the grasp of wing Steff Evans with the line at his mercy.
A powerful scrum on the stroke of half-time led to a long-range penalty chance, but O’Brien’s strike drifted wide with the Ospreys going in ahead 8-3 at the break.
Myler extended his side’s lead early in the second half, but Jones kept Scarlets in it with his kicking out of hand and off the floor.
Two more penalties from the Carmarthen fly-half to one from Myler made it 14-9 going into the final 10 minutes.
Then the Scarlets struck.
With Thomson having a big impact off the bench, the back-rower plucked a ball out of the sky as the Scarlets surged forward. He was involved again soon after, producing a sublime pass to O’Brien who cut a great angle to the posts.
With only two points in it, the Scarlets showed their composure to make their way downfield and set up camp in ‘home’ territory for the final minutes, denying the Ospreys any chance to snatch the win.

Glenn Delaney reflected on the absence of fans from the stadium.
“You go back 12 months and there were 15,000 people here and I don’t think I have experienced anything like it. This place was electric.
“I say it every week, we are very fortunate to be in the position we are and we are only here by virtue of the supporters of this great club. We want the fans back here as soon as possible.
“Hopefully, they found a chance to shout at the TV screens, get involved and share the experience. The derby season is passionate, the only thing we are missing is the people. We must get the people back into the game, they would have loved the occasion.”
On the performance, while Glenn Delaney was ‘delighted’ with the win, he added: “There is plenty for us to work on. We stayed in the game and that’s what you have to do in a derby.
“There were a lot of things we weren’t happy about in terms of our skillsets and penalty count, we were very ill-disciplined and we need to correct that. We were putting pressure on ourselves. We were trying to play and we were quite close on a couple of occasions, a couple of pass-kicks almost went to hand.
“Probably not having a game for a week or so showed, our timing was a bit off; we have had a couple of disjointed weeks, we looked a bit rusty. I thought the Ospreys were excellent, put us under pressure and took their points well.”
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Scarlets slay Dragons

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Pro-14 Conference B
Scarlets 20 – Dragons 3
SCARLETS started 2021 as they ended 2020 with a Welsh derby victory at Parc y Scarlets.
Tries from man-of-the-match Sione Kalamafoni and replacement Sam Costelow, combined with the boot of Dan Jones ensured Glenn Delaney’s side made it a festive double to move them up to second in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 standings.
The Scarlets weren’t at their free-flowing best and will be frustrated by the amount of handling errors and ill-discipline in their performance, but the winning run continues ahead of next week’s clash with Cardiff Blues in the Welsh capital.
Despite a rare dry night in Llanelli, the opening 40 minutes was littered with errors from both sides and it meant the game had little flow.
The Scarlets enjoyed plenty of possession and territory, but too often passes failed to go to hand.
It was the Dragons who were first on the scoreboard thanks to a penalty from the boot of ex-Scarlet Josh Lewis.
Wales lock Jake Ball limped off moments later with a knee injury to be replaced by Tevita Ratuva, while Wyn Jones, on his 100th appearance, also left the field for a head assessment.
The outstanding Kalamafoni made a powerful surge up the middle of the field to put the Scarlets on the offensive, but again a promising move broke down.
Dan Jones levelled matters on 29 minutes, then added another penalty on the stroke of half-time after a quick tap from Kieran Hardy.
The Scarlets continued to enjoy the better of play in the second period, but had to wait until 57 minutes for the game’s first try.
More pressure led to Gareth Davies being taken out off the ball and Dragons lock Matthew Screech being shown yellow by referee Nigel Owens.
Scarlets went for the corner instead of the shot at goal and a well-worked training move saw Kalamafoni charge across the whitewash for his first try in Scarlets colours, a score converted by Jones.
With former Scarlet Rhodri Williams adding a spark, Dragons looked for an immediate response, but a brilliant turnover from Ratuva snuffed out the threat.
Then in the final play, replacement Sam Costelow picked up a loose ball, sped through the gap and around the final defender for a superb solo score, with the Wales U20s fly-half adding the conversion for good measure.
After the hard-fought win, Scarlets coach Glenn Delaney said: “I suppose it was a compelling contest of a different nature. You saw a lot of kicking battles going on, neither team wanted to give the other counter-attacking opportunities.
“I thought defensively we were very resolute, I never felt we were in danger on our goal-line, it was a bit stop-start with a couple of drop balls, but I am delighted to get the win and we did create a bit more in the second half.
“With these derby games, I am learning every time we play one, they all seem to be pretty much like this and perhaps bring out the best and worst in us because of the individual competition and contest.
“We would have liked to have done a bit more with the ball and the attacking breakdown with us was poor, the Dragons turned over a bit of ball there so we need to be better in that area and make sure when we make the breaks we are able to capitalise.”

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Wales Women building cohesion at start of big year

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Cohesion was the focus for new Wales Women head coach Warren Abrahams during his first training camp of 2021.

Having been in post just over a month, Abrahams has spent time watching the Welsh performances in the Allianz Premier 15s and getting to know players and staff but the two-day camp was a welcome opportunity for quality face to face time with an enlarged training squad.

“We achieved our key aims on the weekend. The main thing was to learn more about the players. The more we understand them as individuals and as a team, that’s where we can make them better as players.

“The ultimate goal at the moment is to develop cohesion. We have to have the right people and make sure we work incredibly hard on those relationships between players and with management. Everything is tailored to making the team better and we also had some meaningful conversations around the legacy this team wants to leave for the next generation of Welsh women’s rugby and this team has to be the role model for that. That is a long-term goal.”

Abrahams is buoyed by what he’s seen so far. The vast majority of this training squad play in the Allianz Premiership and our players aren’t just making up the numbers. They’re putting down some big markers – just look at Kayleigh Powell and Hannah Jones who both earned a Player of the Match recently and Jaz Joyce who was Player of the Month for December. We’re really proud of how well our players are doing, it’s great for the programme and those experiences are just going to make them better.”

Siwan Lillicrap added, “It’s been nice to get together so soon in the New Year – the first step in a huge year ahead. The focus this weekend was on building a foundation and exploring what we’ve got as a squad.

“I think we absolutely achieved that, the relationships are developing along with a confidence in the squad . It’s been a tough, challenging camp but that’s what you want as we build towards the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup.”

Lillicrap welcomed the input of the new-look coaching team, former Wales captain and Colwyn Bay head coach Rachel Taylor coming in as national skills coach and former Ireland international and Penclawdd forwards coach Sophie Spence joining the set-up as Wales’ World Rugby coaching intern.

“Warren has been very inspirational for us already. It feels like he’s been in post much longer as we’ve done a lot of work on zoom already. It’s great to have Rachel on board. She’s a role model for many of us with what’s she’s done on the field as Wales captain and off it as a coach and Sophie too with her international experience and coaching knowledge.”

Training squad:
Forwards: Abbie Fleming, Alisha Butchers, Gwen Crabb, Georgia Evans, Cerys Hale, Cara Hope, Molly Kelly, Natalia John, Manon Johnes, Kelsey Jones, Beth Lewis, Siwan Lillicrap, Robyn Lock, Shona Powell-Hughes, Donna Rose, Caryl Thomas, Meg Webb, Teleri Wyn Davies
Backs: Alecs Donovan, Beth Huntley, Bryonie King, Courtney Keight, Jade Knight, Caitlin Lewis, Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones, Jasmine Joyce, Kayleigh Powell, Paige Randall, Jess Roberts, Gemma Rowland, Lauren Smyth, Elinor Snowsill, Robyn Wilkins, Flo Williams

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