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Emphatic win for Otters

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AFTER this emphatic, seven-try win over visiting Rhydyfelin on Saturday (Feb 9), Narberth climbed to third place in the WRU Championship and are still targeting second.

With just six games to go, Narberth have now won 13 of their 16 matches this season and are on course for yet another excellent campaign.

It was a double celebration for the Club on the day that local hero Jonathan Davies, who played all his junior rugby with the Otters, captained Wales for the first time in the victory over Italy in Rome.

The pitch was in remarkably good condition despite the battering it took in the rain of two weeks ago but the high winds that had dogged the Tata fixture were again evident. Narberth won the toss and again elected to play into the wind in the first half.

Narberth came into the game after a short break because of the calling off of their game at Maesteg Quins the previous Saturday. The postponement might well have been a blessing in disguise as it allowed the team to recover after the bruising encounters with Pontypool and Tata Steel.

Certainly, the Otters flew out of the blocks from the Rhydyfelin kick-off which was gathered by Richie Rees inside the Narberth 25 and moved slickly to the left. Fluent passing between forwards and backs and a strong run by wing Yannic Parker took the home side into the opposition 22. A neat chip by centre Jake Jenkins was gathered by flanker Tom Powell who scored unopposed in only the first minute. Against a gale force wind, Ianto Griffiths’ conversion attempt was just wide.

Rhydyfelin were stung into action and came back strongly and for the following 15 minutes, it was like Ground-hog Day with a stream of penalties – mostly in the visitors’ favour each leading to a five metre lineout. From the first of them, Rhydyfelin captain and outside half Ross Lucas kicked immaculately into the corner and the Otters were penalised for collapsing the ensuing rolling maul.

Again, the visitors went to the corner but knocked on in trying to force the maul over the line and Narberth cleared the danger.

The driving maul seemed to be Rhydyfelin’s only attacking ploy as, in the 10th minute, they were awarded a penalty on the 22 metre line directly in front of the posts and to everyone’s surprise, they again kicked to the corner.

This time, in a smart move, prop Chris Phillips crashed over in the corner but the try was disallowed as the referee Steffan Edwards had spotted that Phillips’ path had been cleared of Narberth defenders by Rhydyfelin players and penalised them for obstruction.

In the 15th minute, the Otters were rather harshly penalised for a high tackle and yet again the visitors opted to go to the corner. When Rhydyfelin openside flanker Luke Studley knocked on, Narberth had weathered the storm of four successive five-metre lineouts and Rhydyfelin never again threatened.

The Otters’ lineout has not been at its best in recent weeks and again lost some of its clockwork accuracy on Saturday but, even against the strong wind, they gradually took complete control of the game and in the 29th minute, flanker Powell crashed over near the posts for his second try after a spell of sustained pressure and some excellent approach work by Richie Rees and Jake Jenkins.  Griffiths converted.

Five minutes later, Jenkins was again involved in a smart handling move and made a powerful run before being taken down just short of the line. The Otters regained the ball and Jenkins popped up to dive over and touch down just inside the corner flag.

The missed conversion meant Narberth went into half-time with a well-deserved 17-nil lead.

The whole game was peppered with penalty awards and in total, the home side were awarded 16 penalties against 10 for the visitors. Most of them were for niggly technical infringements and either side of half time referee Edwards issued yellow cards to second row Josh Hawkins for persistent offside offences and left wing Gavin Close for a deliberate knock-on.

For a couple of minutes early in the second half, Rhydyfelin were reduced to 13 men after replacement prop Callum Jones who had only been on the field six minutes was sin-binned when he was at the centre of a touchline fracas. There were a number of heated moments in the game as Rhydyfelin’s frustration boiled over but further trouble was avoided by the firm and decisive action by the young referee.

It took just six minutes of the second half for the home side to gain their bonus point try, this time from young scrum half Lewys Gibby. Receiving the ball from a lineout outside the Rhydyfelin 22, Gibby wrong-footed the back row with a cheeky dummy and sprinted in, completely unopposed. Again Griffiths converted.

The tide was now running fast against the visiting side and the two yellow card dismissals meant they were in some disarray, but they still tackled determinedly.

Their grit was not enough to prevent a 58th minute try when Jack Price, playing on the wing at the time, proved Rhydyfelin were suckers for the dummy as he showed fullback Chris Tottle the ball before stepping inside him to score at the posts. Ianto Griffiths duly completed his third conversion.

Two minutes later, it was two-try hero Tom Powell’s turn to see Narberth’s only yellow card of the game, this time for what the referee adjudicated was a deliberate knock on.

Two tries in the last five minutes rounded off the game for Narberth. The first, from a five metre scrum was made by a pickup by number eight Richie Rees who broke to the blind side and passed to Gibby.

The scrum half’s diagonal run brought him his second try of the game and then right on time, an elegant chip by full back Ianto Griffiths over the top of the approaching defence was kicked ahead by replacement wing Nick Gale just inside the left touchline and he neatly gathered to score in the corner.

The Otters completed the double over mid-table Rhydyfelin and in their two encounters this season, have amassed 77 points against the side from Pontypridd.

It was also a game in which the replacements also made a real impact, with props Dan Jacobs and young Ryan Rees making major contributions in both the tight and loose when they came on. Second row Roy Osborne made a robust and very promising debut for the Otters.

After the game, main sponsors Hywel Griffiths Plant Hire nominated Lewys Gibby as Man of the Match.

The Otters are home again on Saturday (Feb 16) with the visit of Trebanos, the Swansea Valley side who boast Justin Tipuric, the Welsh flanker as one of their coaching advisers. Trebanos always play an open style of rugby so it promises to be an attractive game to watch.

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Scarlets’ late surge sees off Ospreys

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Pro-14 Conference B

Ospreys 14 – Scarlets 16

 
A LATE try from Angus O’Brien secured the derby day spoils in a nail-biting Guinness PRO14 Boxing Day clash against the Ospreys.
The Ospreys, playing as the official ‘home’ team at Parc y Scarlets, had led for the majority of a tense contest.
But with 71 minutes on the clock, a superb off-load from replacement Blade Thomson paved the way for full-back O’Brien to slice through and dive over for the crucial score.
Man of the match Dan Jones added the conversion to put the Scarlets in front for the first time and the West Walians were able to finish the match on the front foot to claim the annual festive bragging rights and a crucial win to keep them in the hunt in the Conference B standings.
O’Brien hadn’t been named in the original match-day 23, but was brought in at the 11th hour as a replacement for Johnny McNicholl.
In blustery conditions, Scarlets enjoyed the early pressure, but despite hammering away at the Ospreys line were unable to come away with any points.
Instead, it was the Ospreys who were first on the board after 14 minutes through the boot of fly-half Stephen Myler.
The opening quarter was proving a cagey affair with both sides unable to get any momentum going.
A moment of individual brilliance from scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams, who dummied and sprinted clear from 40 metres, extended the Ospreys’ lead on 22 minutes, but the Scarlets’ response was swift with Jones landing a penalty straight from the kick-off.
Jones hit the upright with another attempt, then a pin-point cross-field kick from Steff Hughes just evaded the grasp of wing Steff Evans with the line at his mercy.
A powerful scrum on the stroke of half-time led to a long-range penalty chance, but O’Brien’s strike drifted wide with the Ospreys going in ahead 8-3 at the break.
Myler extended his side’s lead early in the second half, but Jones kept Scarlets in it with his kicking out of hand and off the floor.
Two more penalties from the Carmarthen fly-half to one from Myler made it 14-9 going into the final 10 minutes.
Then the Scarlets struck.
With Thomson having a big impact off the bench, the back-rower plucked a ball out of the sky as the Scarlets surged forward. He was involved again soon after, producing a sublime pass to O’Brien who cut a great angle to the posts.
With only two points in it, the Scarlets showed their composure to make their way downfield and set up camp in ‘home’ territory for the final minutes, denying the Ospreys any chance to snatch the win.

Glenn Delaney reflected on the absence of fans from the stadium.
“You go back 12 months and there were 15,000 people here and I don’t think I have experienced anything like it. This place was electric.
“I say it every week, we are very fortunate to be in the position we are and we are only here by virtue of the supporters of this great club. We want the fans back here as soon as possible.
“Hopefully, they found a chance to shout at the TV screens, get involved and share the experience. The derby season is passionate, the only thing we are missing is the people. We must get the people back into the game, they would have loved the occasion.”
On the performance, while Glenn Delaney was ‘delighted’ with the win, he added: “There is plenty for us to work on. We stayed in the game and that’s what you have to do in a derby.
“There were a lot of things we weren’t happy about in terms of our skillsets and penalty count, we were very ill-disciplined and we need to correct that. We were putting pressure on ourselves. We were trying to play and we were quite close on a couple of occasions, a couple of pass-kicks almost went to hand.
“Probably not having a game for a week or so showed, our timing was a bit off; we have had a couple of disjointed weeks, we looked a bit rusty. I thought the Ospreys were excellent, put us under pressure and took their points well.”
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Scarlets slay Dragons

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Pro-14 Conference B
Scarlets 20 – Dragons 3
SCARLETS started 2021 as they ended 2020 with a Welsh derby victory at Parc y Scarlets.
Tries from man-of-the-match Sione Kalamafoni and replacement Sam Costelow, combined with the boot of Dan Jones ensured Glenn Delaney’s side made it a festive double to move them up to second in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 standings.
The Scarlets weren’t at their free-flowing best and will be frustrated by the amount of handling errors and ill-discipline in their performance, but the winning run continues ahead of next week’s clash with Cardiff Blues in the Welsh capital.
Despite a rare dry night in Llanelli, the opening 40 minutes was littered with errors from both sides and it meant the game had little flow.
The Scarlets enjoyed plenty of possession and territory, but too often passes failed to go to hand.
It was the Dragons who were first on the scoreboard thanks to a penalty from the boot of ex-Scarlet Josh Lewis.
Wales lock Jake Ball limped off moments later with a knee injury to be replaced by Tevita Ratuva, while Wyn Jones, on his 100th appearance, also left the field for a head assessment.
The outstanding Kalamafoni made a powerful surge up the middle of the field to put the Scarlets on the offensive, but again a promising move broke down.
Dan Jones levelled matters on 29 minutes, then added another penalty on the stroke of half-time after a quick tap from Kieran Hardy.
The Scarlets continued to enjoy the better of play in the second period, but had to wait until 57 minutes for the game’s first try.
More pressure led to Gareth Davies being taken out off the ball and Dragons lock Matthew Screech being shown yellow by referee Nigel Owens.
Scarlets went for the corner instead of the shot at goal and a well-worked training move saw Kalamafoni charge across the whitewash for his first try in Scarlets colours, a score converted by Jones.
With former Scarlet Rhodri Williams adding a spark, Dragons looked for an immediate response, but a brilliant turnover from Ratuva snuffed out the threat.
Then in the final play, replacement Sam Costelow picked up a loose ball, sped through the gap and around the final defender for a superb solo score, with the Wales U20s fly-half adding the conversion for good measure.
After the hard-fought win, Scarlets coach Glenn Delaney said: “I suppose it was a compelling contest of a different nature. You saw a lot of kicking battles going on, neither team wanted to give the other counter-attacking opportunities.
“I thought defensively we were very resolute, I never felt we were in danger on our goal-line, it was a bit stop-start with a couple of drop balls, but I am delighted to get the win and we did create a bit more in the second half.
“With these derby games, I am learning every time we play one, they all seem to be pretty much like this and perhaps bring out the best and worst in us because of the individual competition and contest.
“We would have liked to have done a bit more with the ball and the attacking breakdown with us was poor, the Dragons turned over a bit of ball there so we need to be better in that area and make sure when we make the breaks we are able to capitalise.”

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Wales Women building cohesion at start of big year

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Cohesion was the focus for new Wales Women head coach Warren Abrahams during his first training camp of 2021.

Having been in post just over a month, Abrahams has spent time watching the Welsh performances in the Allianz Premier 15s and getting to know players and staff but the two-day camp was a welcome opportunity for quality face to face time with an enlarged training squad.

“We achieved our key aims on the weekend. The main thing was to learn more about the players. The more we understand them as individuals and as a team, that’s where we can make them better as players.

“The ultimate goal at the moment is to develop cohesion. We have to have the right people and make sure we work incredibly hard on those relationships between players and with management. Everything is tailored to making the team better and we also had some meaningful conversations around the legacy this team wants to leave for the next generation of Welsh women’s rugby and this team has to be the role model for that. That is a long-term goal.”

Abrahams is buoyed by what he’s seen so far. The vast majority of this training squad play in the Allianz Premiership and our players aren’t just making up the numbers. They’re putting down some big markers – just look at Kayleigh Powell and Hannah Jones who both earned a Player of the Match recently and Jaz Joyce who was Player of the Month for December. We’re really proud of how well our players are doing, it’s great for the programme and those experiences are just going to make them better.”

Siwan Lillicrap added, “It’s been nice to get together so soon in the New Year – the first step in a huge year ahead. The focus this weekend was on building a foundation and exploring what we’ve got as a squad.

“I think we absolutely achieved that, the relationships are developing along with a confidence in the squad . It’s been a tough, challenging camp but that’s what you want as we build towards the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup.”

Lillicrap welcomed the input of the new-look coaching team, former Wales captain and Colwyn Bay head coach Rachel Taylor coming in as national skills coach and former Ireland international and Penclawdd forwards coach Sophie Spence joining the set-up as Wales’ World Rugby coaching intern.

“Warren has been very inspirational for us already. It feels like he’s been in post much longer as we’ve done a lot of work on zoom already. It’s great to have Rachel on board. She’s a role model for many of us with what’s she’s done on the field as Wales captain and off it as a coach and Sophie too with her international experience and coaching knowledge.”

Training squad:
Forwards: Abbie Fleming, Alisha Butchers, Gwen Crabb, Georgia Evans, Cerys Hale, Cara Hope, Molly Kelly, Natalia John, Manon Johnes, Kelsey Jones, Beth Lewis, Siwan Lillicrap, Robyn Lock, Shona Powell-Hughes, Donna Rose, Caryl Thomas, Meg Webb, Teleri Wyn Davies
Backs: Alecs Donovan, Beth Huntley, Bryonie King, Courtney Keight, Jade Knight, Caitlin Lewis, Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones, Jasmine Joyce, Kayleigh Powell, Paige Randall, Jess Roberts, Gemma Rowland, Lauren Smyth, Elinor Snowsill, Robyn Wilkins, Flo Williams

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