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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

Bush qualifies for Paralympic games

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PEMBROKESHIRE’s Para-taekwondo star Matt Bush has qualified for the Tokyo Paralympic games this summer.

At the European Paralympic Qualification tournament, Bush, who is the current world champion, beat Hungary’s Zoltan Kiss 29-1 in the +75kg final.

Para-taekwondo will make its debut at this summer’s Paralympics with the competition set to take place from September 2-4.

Bush, from St Clears, became Britain’s first ever world champion in the sport in 2019 began his latest tournament in fine style, seeing off Roman Ivaniuk of Ukraine 38-2 in the semi-final.

Matt told BBC Sport that it felt ‘so good’ to have secured his spot in the team.

The heavyweight athlete has made quite the mark on the mats. He has medalled at the Korean Open, Oceania Para Taekwondo Championships and the Pan America Para Taekwondo Open.

The GB team for Tokyo will be officially announced later this summer.

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Sport

Lawrenny through in Village Cup

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LAWRENNY are through to the next round of the Village Cup after they beat Llandysul on Sunday (May 9).

Both teams were rained off the previous day but some good work meant that the game was able to go ahead.

Llandysul batted first but were bowled out for 82 in 26.3 overs as Jamie Lewis took five wickets for the visitors.

He went on to finish with figures of 5-22 from his seven overs while the home side’s top scorer was captain Llew Hughes who made a score of 20.

Lawrenny did not have it all their own way in their reply as Rhys Jones bowled well to finish with figures of 3-10.

However, an excellent knock of 52 from Harry Thomas steered Lawrenny to their target inside the 24th over.

Elsewhere, Carew’s game away at Drefach was called off while Cresselly had already received a bye to the next round.

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Sport

Lawrenny earn big win over Whitland

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LAWRENNY got their 2021 season off to the perfect start on Saturday (May 1) as they beat Whitland by 189 runs.

Whitland won the toss and elected to field but they could only watch as the home side piled on the runs before being bowled out for 264.

Kyle Marsh top scored with a score of 81 while Kurtis Mars also scored 45.

Tom Cole added 32 and James Phillips chipped in with a score of 29 as they batted well.

Wayne Howells and Jonathan Thomas finished with identical figures of 2-27 as Whitland’s bowling did at least keep the score below 300.

Whitland knew they would need to bat well to knock off the runs needed but came up against Ryan Morton who took four wickets for the loss of 17 runs.

Kurtis Marsh also claimed two wickets without conceding any runs as the visitors chances got smaller and smaller.

Geraint Jones did score 30 for Whitland but that was as good as it got as they were bowled out for just 75.

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