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Hendy set up tense title run in with victory over Whitland

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By Jonathan Twigg

HENDY emerged from their battle of the champions with Whitland on Wednesday (May 2) winning 22-17 on a tranquil evening at Hendy Park.

Recognised by opponents throughout the division as the two teams who deserved to be playing at a higher level they produced an encounter not short on skill, passion and drama to which both camps can take acclaim from the spectacle provided in front of an appreciative crowd.

Amateur sportsmen and clubs thrive on games where their season hangs on the outcome, those long evenings during a rain soaked winter when their respective coaching teams planned like professionals, the next step in their quest for promotion.

In their 125th anniversary year, the Centreframe sponsored ‘green and red army’ showed their cards early, turning back a straight forward penalty attempt taking a scrum in front of the posts and outside half Rhydian Morris all but squirmed over the try line, Barry based referee Tom Spurrier ruling it out as he wasn’t convinced of the touchdown.

Morris did open the scoring with a well struck penalty, the work rate in the tight areas from lock Rhodri Hughes, flanker Richard Kinnear and number 8 Gavin Thomas, drawing visiting second row Dai Ebsworth over the ball, where both sides were ‘up for the game’.

Whitland settled and hassled scrum half Gruffyd Jones into a loose pass over Morris head in the goal area, setting a scrum which drew a penalty and outside half Nico Setaro set a line out five metres out.

Ebsworth took clean ball, the well drilled ‘green machine’ running in pods to roll around before number 8 Jack Mason was driven low over the line, Setaro landing the conversion, the credentials set for a game that had no parallels in terms of league rugby this season.

Players maybe be ‘categorised’ into Division 2 but their aptitude to absorb from their coaches and peers is without precedent, epitomised by scrum half Jones whose early loose pass was his only blemish in a high intensity game.

Home coaches Dorian Jones and Chris Morgan can call upon the expertise of the Shingler brothers, Aaron, a flying Welsh back row forward with the Scarlets and his brother, Cardiff Blues pivot Steven.  No pretence in the warm up; solid counsel, knowledgeable of what their charges can engross and the little details that turn games, fine-tuned.

Whitland didn’t arrive to be bridesmaids, their intention to run the ball evident with the calibre of inform winger Sean Coles lurking.  Scarlets academy player Scott Lloyd and Aaron Ebsworth on the wing were defensively strong, their efforts a principle of osmosis for their team mates, Hendy momentum nullified and skipper Marc Jones the catalyst to move forward with back row colleagues Ryan Morgan and Dan Evans.

Setaro, Lloyd and centre Gino Setaro brought full back Josh Thomas into the line, where he was direct, opening gaps and creating space with the visiting front five in support.

Props Aaron Mayne and Mike Ryan are not just anchors for a scrum with the experienced Raff Williams bedding down alongside an equally venerable Ebsworth, not that short of his own half century of birthdays, but still plying his trade alongside his nephew on the wing. Setaro took control, hoisting an up and under cross field, young Ebsworth winning the battle with his opposite number Tom Havard and the ball fell into the hands of Coles, looping off his wing to score a converted try.

14-3 wasn’t a fair reflection.  The home charges had chances, not taken where the pressure, even at this level showed. “Not clinical in the key areas” said Coach Chris Morgan post-match, the ball spilled at significant times, centres Iwan Mayze and Josh Davies alongside full back Jake Neuman dangerous with ball in hand. Neuman found space combining well with winger Dyfan Williams, their second wind evident, flanker Lloyd Morris strong in carrying the ball as was second row Ashley Banfield alongside Kinnear.

“We talked about territory” Morgan went on to explain about the half time huddle.  “We needed to make them play where it mattered and force mistakes, squeezing the game and then back our skill levels to capitalise.”  Never have truer words echoed around the village as Hendy came out with purpose in the second half.

Whitland were forced deeper into their own half and ‘the squeeze’ applied onto the key protagonists, forcing choices which the ‘green machine’ may not have had to make all season.  Touch kicks went awry, handling errors occurred, the ball lost at the central turnover area.  With a sniff of victory in the air the Hendy pack were on song, tight in the scrum as the front three, props Ben Bachup and Shaun Williams alongside hooker Chris Bowen came to the fore.

Whitland were wilting, unable to play their expansive game, firefighting the advancing throng, their tackle count mounting to stop ‘men of the match’ second row Hughes and centre Davies.

Momentum with Hendy, Morris missed a penalty awarded by the Championship graded referee.  Spurrier was a key player in the game, being ‘seen but not heard’, emphatic in his control but empathetic to the occasion, calling misdemeanours, although Morris was unable to transfer them into points. Neuman nearly crossed wide out as the home crowd vocal presence could be heard along the M4 corridor driving Hendy on, motivation if ever their heroes needed it.

Hughes once again claimed the ball off the top at a line out, seeing it set by the marauding home forwards, Morris releasing Neuman once more on a canter, the full back freeing Havard in space and fellow winger Williams touched down wide out for 14-10.

Gareth Bennett and Dan Mason, the Whitland gurus sensed the warning signals, making changes to stem the tide and revitalise their mantra.  Not shrinking violets, the duo like their counterparts Jones and Morgan are years ahead of the game, innovative but humble of their contribution to local rugby. “A bitter pill to swallow tonight” stated Bennett, “but we go again on Saturday.  Credit to Hendy, they won the game, did their homework on us and we congratulate them on their victory.  The title is still there for us, two wins from our final fixtures will see to that and we have a collective team spirit which drives us on.”

Their changes did force play from end to end, Whitland having opportunities whilst Hendy were not rewarded with penalty goal attempts, needing their cargo to step forward. Baccup and Hughes were ploughing an unrivalled furrow, hooker Bowen taking a pop pass back from the line out to put his side into the lead 15-14, now a true reflection of the game.

Hendy, in their quest for the title knew they needed a bonus point to go with the victory which was there for the taking. Williams, standing tall out wide and number 8 Thomas now a terrier to equal Whitland skipper Jones around the Park.

It was Thomas tenacity which set the play for Neuman to cross the whitewash as the game entered its final ten minutes, calmness personified as the full back powered over, Morris getting his name on the scoresheet with the conversion.

Whitland replacement centre Josh Thomas had an impact down the inside channel but his side had let slip their efforts during a fine first half display.  One more try would see the home side take a bonus point victory and leave Whitland with nothing for their performance, something the ‘eyes up rugby’ pushed by Bennet and Mason required.

Setaro, taking in the drama that had unfolded, quiet by his standards all evening had the opportunity to glean a point, the final kick of the game sailing through the uprights to reduce the deficit to five points, taking a point for his side which could turn out to be vital come the final whistle in ten days’ time.

Hendy take on Loughor on Wednesday (May 9) knowing they need a bonus point victory and hope Whitland slip up in their final two fixtures if they harbour any aspirations of lifting silverware. The Borderers travel to Fishguard on Saturday (May 5) before hosting Mumbles at Parc Llwyn Ty Gwyn the following Saturday.

Victory on the Moors against the Seagulls ensures the destiny of the title lies with them still, although the only other side to lower their colours besides Hendy this season were the team from the ‘Gateway to the Gower’.

Expect the GD Harries sponsored grandstand to be overflowing for the blockbuster, the ‘green machine’ putting behind any mental fatigue from recent games. League title opportunities are few and far between, the opportunity to be the bride and not the bridesmaid one to savour; an occasion befitting of an epic division 2 season out west.

Sport

Bluebirds awarded promotion to the Cymru Premier League

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Paul Davies MS and David Hughes during a visit to Haverfordwest County AFC before lockdown restrictions were introduced in Wales

HAVERFORDWEST COUNTY AFC have secured their promotion to the Cymru Premier League.

Following the Football Association of Wales (FAW) decision back in March to curtail all domestic football throughout Wales, many teams have waited in angst for clarification on how the promotion and relegation process would be decided.

The FAW, confirmed on Tuesday, June 16, using the ‘average points per game’ method that Haverfordwest County AFC had done enough to be promoted to the Cymru Premier for the upcoming 2020/2021 season.

Taking to their website to confirm the news, the club said “It is nothing less than Wayne, the coaching staff, players, board and volunteers deserve after a fantastic effort last season.

“It has been a long wait to learn our fate, but the club and its staff have worked tirelessly on and off the pitch to ensure we had as much in place as possible, and following the announcement we can now hit the ground running and prepare for next season.

“We cannot wait to welcome the best teams in Wales to The Bridge Meadow!”

Local Member of the Welsh Parliament Paul Davies has also added his congratulations to Haverfordwest County AFC on their promotion back to the JD Cymru Premier League.

Commenting on the achievement, Paul Davies said “It’s great that Haverfordwest County will once again compete in the Premier National League of Wales with the likes of The New Saints, Barry Town and newly crowned champions Connah’s Quay Nomads. The management and players have done a fantastic job in gaining promotion from the JD Cymru South League.”

“With the Conygar Bridge Meadow Stadium widely regarded as being one of the top grounds in Welsh non-league football, it’s only fitting that the Bluebirds will be back in the premier division.”

“I would also take the opportunity to thank David Hughes and Rob Davies for the work they have done as Chairman and Vice Chairman of the club respectively. I have known David for a number of years and he has worked tirelessly for the club. I’m delighted to learn that both David and Rob will stay on the Board as Robert Edwards takes over as Chairman. Their knowledge and experience will be vital moving forward into this exciting new era.”

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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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