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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

Vikings smash seven past Clarby to lift Senior Cup

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HAKIN United lifted the Senior Cup for the first time since 2012 as they put in an excellent second half performance to thump Clarbeston Road 7-1 on Saturday (Apr 21).

The Vikings had raced into a two goal lead but Clarbeston Road’s Tom Reubens pulled a goal back as the game was evenly poised at 2-1 at half time.

However Hakin smashed in a further five goals in the second half to put the result beyond doubt.

Justin Harding: Scored and set up a goal for Hakin

The game was only three minutes old when Hakin’s Leigh Marchant sent a cross into the box which Clarby keeper Lee Scott flapped at before his defenders cleared the danger.

The first goal came on eight minutes and it was a goal worthy of gracing any final stage. Nicky Woodrow flicked the ball up and volleyed the ball into the back of the net, leaving the keeper with no chance.

Adam John then saw a shot blocked before Ben Fawcett made his way through a couple of defenders before firing into the net to double Hakin’s lead.

John was then sent through on goal and he beat the keeper to the ball but Clarby’s defenders got back to snuff out the danger.

With 22 minutes gone, Clarbeston Road got themselves back in the game as Jason Griffiths crossed the ball into the middle for Tom Reubens who squeezed the ball under Adrian Devonald and into the net.

Leigh Marchant then saw a cross hit the bar as the action switched back and forth before Clarby won a series of corners but were unable to find the net.

On the stroke of half time, Justin Harding crossed into the box for Wilson but his shot was saved.

It remained 2-1 at half time and both sides were still very much in with a chance of winning the Cup.

Clarbeston Road came close to equalising three minutes into the second half as Matthew Davies beat the keeper to the ball but he lost sight of the ball as it bounced in the air and Hakin were able to clear the danger.

Challenge: Players of both sides go for the ball

Ten minutes later, Hakin added a third goal as Harding sent a free kick into the box and Nicky Woodrow got a touch on it to divert it into the net.

With just over an hour gone, Ryan Wilson crossed into the box for Ben Fawcett and his header went in despite Scott getting a touch to it.

Four minutes later the game was as good as over as Harding fired the ball into the top corner with Scott again getting a touch on it.

Hakin continued to attack and with ten minutes to go they made it six as Woodrow side-volleyed in his third goal to complete his hat trick.

John then sent a free kick into the box but Daniel Armstrong’s header was well tipped over the bar by Scott.

However, just moments later it was seven as the ball fell to Jack Wilson on the edge of the box and he drilled it low into the bottom left corner of the net.

That was the end of the scoring and it left referee James Olyott, who had an excellent game in the middle, to blow the whistle for full time.

It sparked wild celebrations amongst the Hakin players and supporters as they sealed a first Senior Cup win since 2012.

Hakin’s Ben Fawcett was named man of the match and Kristian Bennett picked up the trophy for the first time as a manager.

Winning manager: Kristian Bennett

Speaking after the match, Kristian said: “I am just overwhelmed, I couldn’t have asked for a better performance in the final. Give Clarby some credit they battled back and it was anybody’s game but in the second half the boys smashed some good goals in.

“I did rip into them at half time, just because we gave the goal away and let them back in the game when we were well on top, that’s all it takes and Clarby Road are a good side.

“It’s brilliant, first Senior Cup as a manager, total new feeling but absolutely awesome.”

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Pembroke replace Cardiff in Bowl Final

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PEMBROKE will take part in the final of the WRU Bowl after all after semi-final opponents Cardiff University were found to have breached the competition’s eligibility rules.

The National Bowl Final will take place on Sunday, April 29, at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

Pembroke were beaten by Cardiff in the semi-final but lodged an appeal following the game.

Pembroke, whose Youth team will compete in today’s National Youth Plate Final v Tondu (Principality Stadium, 1.15pm) will now face Porthcawl in next week’s National Bowl Final in the first of the National Finals Day encounters (1pm), Nant Conwy play Brynmawr in the National Plate Final (3.15pm) and Merthyr play Newport in the National Cup Final (5.35pm).

All three finals will be broadcast by S4C and tickets for National Finals Day are available on www.wru.wales/tickets

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Carew earn deserved win

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CAREW earned a deserved 3-1 victory on Friday night (Apr 20) as they beat Neyland thanks to goals from Jordan Richards, Sam Christopher and Alex Bayley.

It also means that the Rooks are still very much in with a chance of finishing third in the league as they, Merlins Bridge and Clarbeston Road are all locked on 39 points.

Jordan Richards gave the hosts the lead in the first half and it could have been much more for the home side if they had taken some of their chances.

Instead it remained 1-0 at half time and Neyland were still in with a chance of getting something out of the game.

Alex Bayley came close to scoring for the Rooks after he beat a tackle to run into the box before cutting side but his effort was saved by the Neyland keeper.

Neyland then brought themselves level as Jake Booth slid the ball across the box and Geraint Rees was on hand to tap the ball in.

Jordan Richards then did well to keep hold of the ball on the by-line before passing to Sam Christopher who fired past the keeper.

Bayley was causing problems for the Neyland defenders and he brushed past one of them before firing low into the bottom corner of the net to make it 3-1.

Neyland looked to get back into the game late on but Carew held on for the three points.

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