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Wales U20 beat Junior Wallabies on opening night

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A RED wave of defence, coupled with a tireless ambition to attack, led Wales to a World Rugby U20 Championship victory on Wednesday night (May 30) against the Junior Wallabies.

In holding on to win 26-21 at the Stade de la Méditerranée, Wales banished any memories of 2017’s last-gasp defeat to Australia at the same stage of this tournament.

The Aussies drew first blood in Béziers, however: scrum-half and captain Ryan Lonergan punishing a Welsh indiscretion at the breakdown with a third-minute penalty from just inside Wales’ 10m line.

A great phase of attacking play by Wales, with inside centre Ioan Nicholas the catalyst, then offered a glimpse of their willingness to run the ball from anywhere on the park. The opposition was subsequently penalised for coming in at the side of the ruck, and fullback Cai Evans’s power from the tee saw the ball sail through the posts for the equaliser.

Nearing the end of the first quarter, Wales lost wing Rio Dyer to injury, replaced by fellow Dragon Joe Goodchild. He would soon have a telling impact on proceedings.

At the conclusion of the first quarter, Australia conceded a penalty for failing to release. Wales fell just short with the shot at goal that would have nudged them ahead. However, Evans made no mistake when presented with a similar opportunity a moment later – albeit this time further out; on the halfway line no less – wowing the crowd with his long-range effort to make it 3-6.

Just before the half-hour, Aussie fly-half Bayley Kuenzie kicked a scrum penalty to the corner. A quickly-won lineout and a pin-point crossfield kick later, and wing James Ramm was acrobatically tapping the ball down in mid-air for incoming fullback Mack Hansen to score an excellent try. Lonergan’s conversion attempt was wide: 8-6.

Gone 30 minutes, razor-sharp Wales scrum-half Dane Blacker took a quick tap deep inside the opposition 22. The young men in red had their tails up now, and once the ball was in fly-half Ben Jones’s hand, the Cardiff Blues man wasted little in time kicking through a bouncing ball that was pounced on by Nicholas for the try. Evans converted to give Wales a five-point lead: 8-13.

The Junior Wallabies hit back with another Lonergan penalty, but there was a lot more to come from Geraint Lewis’s team.

A scintillating outside break and fend by Corey Baldwin set the Scarlets centre up for a one-on-one with the last man in defence for Australia, by which point replacement Goodchild was well in support for Wales’ second try with three minutes to go in the first 40. Evans’s excellent conversion from the touchline made it 11-20.

Two minutes into the second half, and the Ospreys fullback produced another cannon of a penalty kick – this one only marginally inside the Australian half – to take Wales 12 points to the good: 11-23.

The Junior Wallabies put their sizeable scrum to good use in winning another penalty in the 48th minute, allowing Lonergan to slot a penalty inside Wales’ 22, making it 14-23.

Both sides had started to test each other aerially, but a period of ten minutes’ deadlock – memorable for a fantastically determined carry by Wales number eight Taine Basham – ended when Evans’s metronomic boot took the scores to 14-26.

Wales, up fast in defence, and led by the imposing figure of lock Max Williams and a Trojan-like back row featuring Basham, Dan Davis and captain Tommy Reffell, led the way in frustrating the Aussies in the final quarter.

New caps Will Davies-King and Rhys Davies in the front row were two of the well-judged second-half replacements made by the Welsh coaches, countering the big men Australia had also introduced.

Never ones to go gently into the night, Australia roared back into the game with a try from replacement back Tate McDermott with fewer than three minutes remaining. Inside centre Isaac Lucas converted to make it 21-26.

Showing the same sort of dogged composure that earned them victory in Donnybrook during the U20 Six Nations earlier this year, Wales ran down the clock to seal a thrilling win.

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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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Domestic football at all levels in Wales suspended

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THE FOOTBALL Association of Wales has today (13 March) taken the decision to suspend domestic football at all levels in Wales with immediate effect until April 4 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The intention at this time will be to resume the football schedule depending on the medical advice and conditions from the relevant authorities at that time.

The FAW is fully aware of the impact this will have on the domestic game but the health and safety of all fans, players, volunteers and stakeholders are of paramount importance.

The FAW will continue to monitor this situation on a day-by-day basis and will continue to provide updates when appropriate.

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