Connect with us
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sport

The Six Nations: Come on Wales!

Published

on

WITH new coaches in charge of Wales, Ireland, France, and Italy, there’s an air of change about this year’s Six Nations competition.

Only Eddie Jones and – for now – Gregor Townsend remain at the helm of their countries’ sides from last year.
Wayne Pivac, the former Scarlets coach, takes charge of Wales following Warren Gatland’s retirement. He has very big shoes to fill and his task is not made any easier by the failure of the WRU to retain the services of key backroom staff member Shaun Edwards.

There are five uncapped players in Wales’ 34-member squad for the tournament: Louis Rees-Zammit, Johnny McNicholl, Nick Tompkins, WillGriff John and Will Rowlands.

Rhys Webb also gained a recall having signed a contract with Ospreys following two years with Toulon which ruled him out of the Test arena.

It’s also a welcome return for prop Rob Evans, from Spittal, who was left out of Wales World Cup squad to widespread astonishment. Evans is a strong scrummager and powerful in the loose. He has been in destructive form on the loose-head side for Scarlets this season alongside his Welsh teammate Ken Owens.

Absent are the long-term injured Gareth Anscombe, Jonathan Davies, and Tomos Francis.

The absence of Jonathan Davies is likely to be keenly felt in midfield. While Owen Watkins is making a faster than expected recovery from his injury, Wales will need to reshuffle their settled three-quarter line which shone in the Rugby World Cup.

Among the options Wales are considering to replace their midfield general is moving George North inside from the wing to provide a physical presence and a different threat than the injured Lions centre.

Louis Rees-Zammit, the Gloucester winger, is one to watch out for; if he gets on the pitch, he’ll be the large red blur charging at the Italian defence. The eighteen-year-old flyer has been compared to George North in terms of size, speed, and predatory scoring ability. Despite representing Wales at U18 level, the Cardiff-born winger attended Gloucester’s rugby academy to fit in with his education at Hartpury College. Rumours that Eddie Jones tried to tempt him over to the dark side were quickly squashed when Rees-Zammitt was selected in the Wales senior squad.

At full-back, with Liam Williams ruled out of this weekend’s Italy game, Leigh Halfpenny is almost nailed on to start. The Scarlets number 15 has been in stellar form this season, offering threat in attack, solidity in defence, and reliability with his metronomic boot. His recovery from a serious concussion injury, which left him out of the game for a long period and ruled him out of last year’s Six Nations, has resulted in renewed determination from the Scarlets man.
“It only feels like yesterday I was one of the younger boys,” Halfpenny says.

“I’m one of the older ones now and it’s great for us as a squad to have fantastically talented youngsters coming through. It’s strengthening us as a team and there is a lot of competition.

“It does make me realise I’m probably in the latter stages of my career. When I look back on it, it has all gone so quick. It’s gone in the blink of an eye. It’s incredible. It’s always a privilege to hear your name read out for the Welsh squad and even though I am in the latter stages of my career, I’m still ambitious. I’m still hungry to achieve things, but I also want to enjoy every moment I have as much as possible at the moment.”

Leigh Halfpenny continued: “Last season the boys were absolutely outstanding. To achieve a Grand Slam was incredible and it’s now hugely exciting looking ahead to this Six Nations,” Halfpenny said.

“Our goal is to go and win the title again. That’s the challenge for us as a squad. We’ve got new coaches and management and that’s really exciting as well.

“It is a new era for the squad. What was achieved with the previous management was just incredible and the feeling in the group has been brilliant these last two weeks. The boys have come in full of energy and we can’t wait to get started with this Six Nations. Italy will be an extremely tough challenge. Both teams will want to get off to a positive start to the campaign. Having played Italy you know they do pose threats and they’re a tough team to crack. We’re going to have to be at our best to do that both in attack and defence. We want to get our Six Nations campaign off to the start we want which is with a win.”

Former Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac is the man tasked with filling the boots of fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland, who steered Wales to three grand slams and two World Cup semi-final appearances during his 12-year reign.

“The guys have been made aware of the style of game we want and the positional and role specifics they will have to play,” says Pivac.

“The expectation is we are going to move a bit more ball and what I’m seeing at the moment is a great reaction. We’ve got a good vibe in the group and if the training sessions are anything to go by, we’ve got guys putting their hands up to take to the field.”

Pivac continued: “The boys had a fantastic competition to win the Grand Slam last year. History says this year is going to be tough with England and Ireland away, but that’s the challenge.

“That’s what motivates the best players and coaches. We think we have a draw that lends itself to us building into the competition. With no disrespect to any opponent, I think it’s nice we’ve got a home game to kick it off and you can certainly sense there is a bit of excitement.

“We are going to evolve our attack and that will take a bit of time. It took a bit of time with the Scarlets and I’m sure it will be no different at an international level, except we have got a higher calibre of player to work with across the board.”

Wales haven’t lost to Italy since 2007 and the Azzurri have never won in Cardiff since joining the Six Nations. The 2020 tournament will be their 21st season in the Championship.

Italy are now coached by Franco Smith and captained by hooker Luca Bigi with Sergio Parisse – who has skippered the team for so long – absent for the Cardiff clash.

“I think there will be a lot of continuity. I think Wayne is very smart in the way he goes about things,” said Smith.
“He spent five years in Wales – there’s a reason why they’ve appointed him after Warren. It’s going to be again a big physical challenge, but I do think they will bring a bit of an attacking edge. The style Wayne played at the Scarlets will be noticeable in the new approach.

Sport

Walking rugby is a game for all ages and abilities

Published

on

WALKING RUGBY has taken off throughout Wales in the last 12 months and is benefitting participants in more ways than one.

The participants – male and female of all ages and abilities including one man who lost his sight 13 years ago – talk of clear benefits to their physical health and crucially, their mental health through being involved in the groups.

The number of Walking Rugby groups in Wales grew organically from two in December 2018 to 16 just twelve months later and new groups are starting up all the time.

A range of organisations from rugby clubs to charities, Health Boards and third sector bodies are seeing the benefit of the inclusive rugby format and engaging more than 300 participants on a weekly basis.
The Aneurin Bevan Mental Health unit has worked with the Dragons Community team to set up a team of their own, training weekly at Rodney Parade.

Kevin Hale, Community Support Worker for the Aneurin Bevan Health Board Forensic Psychiatry Service, who set up the Dragons NHS Walking Rugby team said, “From a mental health point of view it’s been priceless, the social benefits, in particular, are tremendous. Many of the players were very shy at the start and quite withdrawn but confidence levels and communication skills have grown massively and they have told us Walking Rugby has helped them in other areas of their lives.

“It started off as a means to get some of our service users active and also to have some social time afterwards to discuss any issues they’re having. It’s gone from strength to strength and we’ve opened up the opportunity so that anyone can join us at Rodney Parade on a Tuesday afternoon.

Christian Hyde now plays for the Dragons NHS team despite having lost his sight through diabetes.
“I played rugby from the age of 8 to 26. After losing my sight, I had to stop playing – and refereeing. You really miss being part of a rugby environment so being back involved in the game is huge for me and something I never thought I’d do.

“I’m already involved with the visually impaired rugby at Cardiff Blues but being a Dragons supporter, I’m thrilled to be able to train at Rodney Parade and to be involved in matches again like the recent festival. To have ten teams turn up shows the enjoyment we’re all having.”

Anne Jackson plays for Pontyclun Walking Rugby. She said “I’m the only woman at the club at the moment and we could do with more. It really is for everyone. It’s wonderful. It keeps you active – I’ve got fitter since playing Walking Rugby. We train twice a week on a Monday evening and Wednesday morning. We laugh most of the time, we all get on very well.”

Former Wales full-back and Cross Keys coach Morgan Stoddart coaches the Cambrian Walking Rugby group in the Rhondda. He said, “We regularly get 15 or 16 players at our twice-weekly training sessions, we had 12 teams at recent Walking Rugby festivals in Treorchy and Cambrian so it’s gaining popularity all the time.

“Quite a few of the players played rugby in their youth and others haven’t played much sport at all throughout their lives. One lady, Frances Jones, is a regular player and still going strong at 84!

“They enjoy the exercise and also the friendship and camaraderie they gain from it. I enjoy it too, it’s a real change from competitive league rugby as it’s so open to male and female players of all ages and abilities.”
While the format is fully inclusive to all ages, genders and abilities, its main appeal is to Wales’ older and socially isolated population. With more than 877 000 people over 60 in Wales (just under 30% of the population), and that figure set to rise to over one million by 2030*, social isolation and mental health issues are a real issue.

The Welsh Government Strategy for Older People in Wales (2013-2023): Living Longer, Ageing Well, states that loneliness is a real health risk – ‘the same as smoking and twice that of obesity.. that staying physically active protects mental and physical health and that older people say that if they are able to participate in social and leisure activities, they are more likely to say they feel well.’

Based on this evidence, it is no surprise that some GPs are now referring patients to Walking Rugby for the physical and social benefits it brings.

Greg Woods, WRU Enterprise Manager said: “Anyone can play Walking Rugby, whether you’re a lapsed rugby player or new to the game. It’s a social, enjoyable activity with obvious physical and mental health benefits. There is clearly a growing demand for more Walking Rugby opportunities around Wales and we are working with the current groups and a wide range of other partners to not only cater for that demand but provide support to the volunteers running the clubs and work with others to set up new outlets.”

WRU Community Director Geraint John added: “It’s exciting to see the growth of Walking Rugby and to think of its future benefits to the health and well-being of the people of Wales – both the current or recent rugby-playing population and those who could join the rugby family through the Walking Rugby format”.

If you want to start a walking rugby club, get in touch for advice and support participation@wru.wales

Continue Reading

Sport

Rally Sweden joy for Evans

Published

on

Elfyn Evans leads the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship after rewriting the sporting history books with an outstanding victory on this weekend’s Rally Sweden (13-16 February).

The Welshman not only becomes the first-ever British driver to win the wintry Scandinavian classic but also is the first Briton to top the WRC points table since the heady days of Colin McRae and Richard Burns nearly 20 years ago at the start of the century.

On only his second outing for the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team, Evans overcame the odds to lead the notorious tricky winter fixture from start to finish, winning five of the nine stages to beat Hyundai’s defending champion Ott Tänak by 12.7 seconds.

The victory elevates Evans to jointly lead the championship, tied on 42 points with last month’s Monte Carlo winner Thierry Neuville, but ahead of the Belgian on countback.

“It was a great weekend and I feel really good to have my first win with Toyota in just our second event together,” enthused a delighted Evans. “Big effort trying to settle into a new team but the guys have made the job very, very easy and given us everything we could have wanted. They’ve given me great support and a great car that is ging me great confidence. In the changeable conditions we had in Sweden, that’s really worth a lot. Hopefully, we can carry this form onto the gravel in the events to come.”

Adding to the celebrations, it was a first WRC win (on his 132nd start) for Scott Martin, Evans’ experienced co-driver who joined forces with the Welshman at the start of last season.

The pair’s dominant performance was all the more impressive as it came in ultra-challenging conditions with the unseasonal weather serving up a treacherous mix of snow, slush, ice and gravel in the usually frozen forests. Moreover, several stages had to be cancelled to protect the roads, thus turning the event into a shortened, high-speed sprint format and heaping extra pressures onto all the competing crews.

Though eclipsed by the masterful Evans, Tänak bounced back after his terrifying crash on the Monte Carlo Rally to ignite his title defence with a strong second place, while teenage sensation Kalle Rovanperrä took third in the second of the Toyota Yaris WRCs. The 19-year-old Finn outgunned team-mate, and six-time world champion, Sébastien Ogier in a final test shootout to claim his first WRC podium on just his second appearance at the top level.
From the European winter, the 13-round FIA World Rally Championship now heads for the heat and dust of Mexico. Thereafter showdowns in Argentina, Kenya, New Zealand and throughout Europe follow before the teams head to the UK in late October for this season’s penultimate encounter. Thereafter the season finale is staged in Japan.

Continue Reading

Sport

WALES TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT

Published

on

Wales have made one change to their starting XV to face Ireland this weekend with Nick Tompkins, who made a try scoring debut in round one, coming into the side.
Tompkins will line-up at outside centre with George North moving to the wing for the clash in Dublin.
North will line-up in an experienced back-three alongside Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny whilst Tompkins will partner Hadleigh Parkes in the midfield. Tomos Williams and Dan Biggar continue their partnership at half-back.
Wales have named an unchanged pack with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Dillon Lewis in the front-row and Jake Ball lining up alongside captain Alun Wyn Jones.
Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau feature in the back-row.
“We’ve made just one change after a winning start last weekend,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.
“Nick comes into the side, I thought he played exceptionally well when he came on last week so he deserves the start. George, who played really well last weekend at centre, moves back out to the wing.
“On the bench we have a few players back available, Rhys Carre impressed at the RWC and he comes back in. Adam Beard comes in for Cory Hill who picked up a leg injury earlier this week, Gareth (Davies) is fully fit and Owen Williams comes onto the bench and gives us a bit more cover.
“Momentum is important in the Championship, it was nice to get a good winning start under our belts and hopefully we can build on that through the tournament.”
On the bench Rhys Carre joins Ryan Elias and Leon Brown as the front-row replacements with Adam Beard and Ross Moriarty completing the forward contingent. Gareth Davies, Owen Williams and Johnny McNicholl provide the back-line cover.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY IRELAND (Saturday February 8 KO14.15 ITV & S4C)
15. Leigh Halfpenny (86 Caps)
14. George North (92 Caps)
13. Nick Tompkins (1 Cap)
12. Hadleigh Parkes (26 Caps)
11. Josh Adams (22 Caps)
10. Dan Biggar (80 Caps)
9. Tomos Williams (17 Caps)
1. Wyn Jones (23 Caps)
2. Ken Owens (74 Caps)
3. Dillon Lewis (23 Caps)
4. Jake Ball (43 Caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (C) (135 Caps)
6. Aaron Wainwright (19 Caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (73 Caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (73 Caps)

Replacements:
16. Ryan Elias (10 Caps)
17. Rhys Carre (6 Caps)
18. Leon Brown (7 Caps)
19. Adam Beard (20 Caps)
20. Ross Moriarty (42 Caps)
21. Gareth Davies (51 Caps)
22. Owen Williams (3 Caps)
23. Johnny McNicholl (1 Cap)

Continue Reading
News6 hours ago

First coronavirus (COVID-19) case confirmed in Wales

THE FIRST coronavirus case confirmed in Wales, in a patient who had returned from Italy – taking total UK cases...

News1 day ago

Monkton: Large fine for trader found illegally carrying scrap metal

A PEMBROKESHIRE man pleaded guilty to illegally carrying scrap metal. Edmund Thomas Paul Boswell, of Castle Quarry Road, Monkton, has...

News2 days ago

Haverfordwest High School ski trip updated statement

Haverfordwest High VC School is closed for a pre-arranged Inset day today (Wednesday, 26th February) for staff training. The school...

Community2 days ago

Elizabeth Anne Salon and Prendergast Kids Club team up to raise vital funds for Local Charity

Elizabeth Anne Beauty Salon and Prendergast Kids Club recently join forces to raise vital funds for local Charity. Stephanie Tee...

News2 days ago

Pembroke child was kept in almost ‘unimaginable filth and deprivation’

WHEN Police entered a Pembroke house to investigate an allegation a child was being kept in unsanitary, they found a...

News2 days ago

Last Pembroke bank to close HSBC confirms

THE LAST bank branch in Pembroke is due to close in the summer, HSBC has confirmed this week. Pembroke is...

Community3 days ago

Lottery win for local neighbours

Five people in Manorbier are celebrating today after winning £1,000 each thanks to their lucky postcode. The Wheelers Way neighbours...

News3 days ago

Haverfordwest: Pupils collected by parents after feeling unwell in school following Italy ski trip

THREE PUPILS from Haverfordwest High School have been collected by parents after feeling unwell today (Feb 25). It is understood...

News3 days ago

Police step up patrols at historic sites following damage

POLICE patrols will be carried out at two historically important sites following reports of graffiti and criminal damage. Soil has...

Business4 days ago

Young Tenby-based currency trader making £8k a day

BBC ONE Wales show ‘Young, Welsh and Pretty Minted’ will feature Pembrokeshire-based currency trader Ashley Richards this week. The successful...

Popular This Week