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Scarlets soar into European Cup Semis

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By Jonathan Twigg, photos by Darren Harries

SUCH a magnificent occasion on Friday (Mar 30), a Quarter Final of the Heinekein European Cup in the depth of West Wales at Parc Y Scarlets, French giants, metaphorically and physically La Rochelle in town; reminiscent of King William in 1066, to conquer, greeted by a capacity 16,000 natives.

A warm message of welcome from European Rugby’s Chairman Simon Halliday, a flying England winger from the last millennium his roots stretched with longevity to his birth place, Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire.

Like King William, having conquered the struggle for La Rochelle was to consolidate their assets, something they failed to do after securing an early 7-3 lead after six minutes, through a converted try by second row Romain Sazy.

Full back Leigh Halfpenny had struck with not five minutes played, a penalty for offside and reduced the lead a minute after the western based side on the Bay of Biscay’s touchdown, with an immaculate reproduction, this time from just inside his opponent’s half.

The Scarlets are a team of Samson Lees, the props uncompromising style making him a fans favourite, anchoring the choral Hymns and Arias at crescendo level. Prop Uini Atonio was stopped in his tracks likewise number 8 Afa Amosa, the Scarlets also winning the crucial first engagement at the scrum set piece, against a heavyweight eight, looking then to play their open game.

‘Try of the round in this seasons Champions Cup for the Scarlets’ Halliday had pronounced, not once but on two occasions. That is no mean feat looking at the quality on show in this seasons tournament, where Wayne Pivac’s charges have a skills set to crunch the shells of any snail in its way; able to up their game to push unseen boundaries making the Easter date of 2018 on par with 1066 for notability.

The fringes were rough and ready, robust tackling and yardage measured in centimetres on the gain line, drawing a mistake, Halfpenny obliging on 17 minutes for a 9-7 lead. Enter a new gladiator, Pontyberem junior Josh Mcloed to the amphitheatre for an injured Paul Asquith, feeding the crowd their ‘bread of heaven’ destructive if the truck and trailer before them, which would last all through the night.

Second row David Bullring dominated the front of the line out, scrum half Gareth Davies afforded time and space to punctuate holes and Ospreys bound centre Scott Williams darting arrow like after 25 minutes, Welsh international Halfpenny, a former adversary with Toulon, majestic going four from four.

‘Freestyle’ rugby witnessed in the cauldron a throwback to the ‘billy can’ victories over Bath at the Rec and Toulon acted as catalysts, the home side with a full complement internationals back in harness, awash with history from eleven years ago, Munster the fall guys, hooker Ken Owens the only player to have witnessed such an occasion before.

Kiwi centre Hadleigh Parkes couldn’t release a scoring pass as the outside cover closed in the twilight, the crowd aware that the breeze would favour the home side in the second half. Rhys Patchell at outside half was dictating direction as players lay strewn across the hallowed turf, the intensity of the conflict taking its toll, with scrum half Alexi Bales slotting a penalty on the half time whistle, his second successful kick for score of 12-10.

Man of the match Owens, an unbloodied hero took not one step back, leading his forwards into the mix in the second half, Aaron Shingler and Tadgh Beirne standing like beacons atop of Snowdon. Crammed to the rafters, the atmosphere electric the crowd played their part as the visiting juggernaut was stopped in its tracks as the Dragon roared fire. Puff the magic dragon, lived by the sea but in this case, unlike little boys, the Dragon would live long as the air from the Lougor estuary built mountains of men. Halfpenny stretched the lead, centre Arthur Retiere sensing his team needed some gusto cleverly built a pathway to the Scarlets line, as his side searched a first victory away from home in 2018.

The penalty count rose quickly, the Scarlets defence holding firm, as did English referee Luke Pearce issuing warnings as try scorer Sazy catch and drive was stopped, wave after wave of French delivery succumbing and the Scarlets, who released the tension as Davies quick tap and go took play over the halfway line.

‘Escargots’ are usually served as a starter in France and it was the dynamic home back row who broke this snails shell, as the definition suggests ‘eating them alive’ a slow and absorbing feast, garlic emanating from within the broken mollusc.

Expensive these French snails maybe, both as a delicacy where 500,000,000 are consumed annually and from their bank role, which saw centre Pierrre Aguillon and Steve Barry wear their black coloured jersey. Snails, 80% water and 15% protein are easily consumed from the tongue, but beware of a marine cone snail, able to paralyse a fish instantly; a new nickname perhaps for the newest Welsh cap James Davies, Cubby now anything but a young fox, developing a name in his own right.

The final quarter saw Carmarthen Quins former star Dan Jones replace Steff Evans, the back line were ‘mustard’ as the diminutive youngster plays with a Gaelic flamboyance. Beirne set a driving maul from the line out, Parkes made a 20 metre break and Patchell, now at full back strode over before Halfpenny, with no nerves and his side led by twelve points at 22-10.

Beirne was a culprit as the visitors tactics of five metre line outs were stopped illegally, referee Pearce lenient, before heroic defence saw the lines cleared, the crowd restored to full voice. Inexplicably Halfpenny blotted his copybook after Bullring and replacement Werner Kruger dug deep the game in its final throws of glory.

The French side were unable to invade Scarlets territory, Owens and Parkes making headway before McLoed burnt a furrow on the touchline, Williams taking up the mantle, crossing from 25 metres unopposed, Halfpenny resumed normal service and the party in the park bellowed loud and clear.

The final score, at 29-17, a length of the field consolation try from replacement Pierre Boudehent secured the Scarlets place in the European Champions Cup semi-final, as Glynneath’s President Max Boyces signature tune danced the yellow brick road.

Following the other quarter finals, Scarlets will now play Leinster in Dublin’s Aviva stadium on Saturday (April 21), the heart and soul of Llanelli left many a head ‘felinfoel’ the following day. Rest assured, Llanelli and the whole region are ‘quite alright’ as they entertain Glasgow Warriors on Saturday (Apr 7), no thought yet of the semi-final date with destiny.

Sport

Wizards sink Swifts to set up Carew final

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MERLINS Bridge set up a Senior Cup Final date with Carew as they beat Monkton Swifts 3-0 at the Bridge Meadow on Tuesday night (Mar 19).

Both sides named strong line-ups for the game, determined to make it into the final, but it was the Bridge who proved the stronger as they exacted revenge for a 5-1 league defeat to the Swifts earlier in the season.

A good crowd gathered to watch the game despite persistent light rain throughout the evening.

A minutes silence was also held prior to kick off in respect of former Merlins Bridge player Denzil (Tally) John, who sadly passed away.

The Wizards had previously beaten Monkton 3-0 in the West Wales Cup and from the first whistle it was clear that they were in a confident mood.

Adam Hawkins and Nathan Greene linked up well but when Greene was tackled the ball fell to Laurie Haworth whose shot was saved.

Hawkins then saw a shot saved after he had been put through and he then played a one-two with Jordan Thomas whose shot hit the post.

Monkton then had their first chance as James Russell won a 50-50 but he saw his shot blocked wide for a corner.

All that action came in the first five minutes and it set the tone for the rest of the game with both sides coming close to opening the scoring.

The Bridge then came close again when Dai Davies sent Greene through but he flashed his shot across goal and wide.

With half an hour gone Russell came forward but dwelt on the ball too long leaving Dylan Davies and Ben Steele frustrated after both made good runs.

Blake James then saw a cross go straight into the arms of Bridge keeper Gary Thomas who then also saved Davies’ deflected shot.

With seven minutes to go until half time, the Wizards took the lead as Laurie Haworth turned excellently in the left corner and ran into the box before crossing for Hawkins who fired in to the roof of the net.

Five minutes later they doubled their lead as Ashley Beck played the ball through for Haworth who poked the ball past Swifts keeper Michael Murray to make it 2-0.

Monkton looked to respond but a corner on the stroke of half time from Chris Richards went out over the bar.

It left the Division 1 leaders with a mountain to climb in the second half and they knew they would need an early goal if they were to get back into the game.

Ten minutes in the Wizards had the first real chance of the half as Haworth won the ball and crossed for Beck but he shot wide.

On the hour mark Monkton won a free kick on the edge of the D but Steele’s free kick bounced back off the wall.

The Bridge won a series of corners which came to nothing and when Monkton looked to break off one, Hawkins made a desperate lunge to try and stop the attack. He was booked for his challenge which may have done more harm than good as he was then replaced by Will Haworth.

With twenty minutes to go sub Ryan Griffiths crossed into the box but Russell’s looping header was comfortably claimed by Thomas.

Moments later it should have been 3-0 as a slip allowed Greene in but he fluffed his lines and scuffed his shot wide.

The Swifts continued to look for a way back into the game and when Steele went down in the box he was adamant he had been pushed but referee Angus Scourfield waved away his prolonged protests.

Davies then saw a shot saved and then came perhaps their best chance of getting back into the game as a good move found Richards but Davies could only head wide from his cross.

They were soon made to pay for their missed chances as Laurie Haworth found Greene in the box who knocked in to all but seal the win.

Greene and Matthew D’Ivry were then taken off in a double change, perhaps with one eye on the West Wales Cup semi-final with Hakin next week.

The game had been won but Monkton’s Josh Richards, who had only came on in the second half, let his frustrations get the better of him late on as he overstepped the mark and saw red for his language.

Merlins Bridge saw the game out and will now look forward to the final with Carew. That game will take place on Saturday, April 20, again at the Bridge Meadow Stadium.

Speaking after the match, Merlins Bridge boss Matthew D’Ivry said: “We are really pleased with the result. We were confident that if we played to our abilities that we would get the result.

“We were confident on the back of the season we have had so far, having only had one loss to Monkton. It wasn’t about getting revenge, but more about us achieving what we had set out to do.

“Last night our experience in the bigger games shone through and that gave us the edge.”

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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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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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