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Rally Sweden joy for Evans

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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.

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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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