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Scarlets into European Quarter Finals

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FOR the first time in 11 years the Scarlets have reached the European Cup quarter finals having secured a 30-27 victory on Saturday (Jan 20), over Toulon and in doing so replace them at the top of the group 5, which included Benetton Treviso and Bath.

It was not only the belief achieved from the victory the previous at the Recreation Ground Bath which set the barometer for Wayne Pivac’s men but the way it was won.

The game against Toulon was one which envigored all the sleeping giants from their slumber and Parc Y Scarlets became a cauldron of emotion as the weeks build up reached a crescendo.

The French visitor didn’t arrive just to enjoy the party and for long periods held the upper hand requiring the home side to search for some much need water for life. It came majestically from the Hydro North Stand, with a choral rendition worthy of any ‘Twmpath’ where the rousing beat echoed around a near full house capacity of 14,476.

The first half began where the Bath encounter had ended against Toulon, the three times winners who are also through to the knockout stages as one of the best runners up.

Free flowing rugby, utilising the space created from the impact runners led by skipper Ken Owens resulted in New Zealand winger Tom Prydie racing over in the third minute for try created by full back Rhys Patchell’s long pass, converted by outside half Dan Jones, who also converted a charged down effort from centre Hadleigh Parks before crossing himself under the posts to establish a 27-16 lead.

Toulon displayed the form which made them European kings as they responded immediately to Pyrdies opening try when a throw to the back of the line out by hooker Guilhem Guirado led to a disciplined drive from his fellow forwards, for Springbok number 8 Duane Vermeulan to touch down.

Jones extended the lead to 10-5 as English referee Wayne Barnes whistle became centre of attention as he was consistently punishing indiscretions at the gain line, with outside half Anthony Belleau responding in kind and atoning for his earlier missed conversion.

The lead switched away from the Scarlets when England winger Chris Ashton intercepted Patchell’s loose pass in midfield to race 65 metres for a converted try. Bellau was at fault when the adopted ‘Kiwi’ centre Parkes scored, as his clearance kick was charged down by flanker Aaron Shingler who showed ‘Giggs’ like footballing skills for Jones to also add a penalty, before Bellau did the same.

The action was non stop, end to end and at times close to the knuckle with neither side wilting under the enormity of the prize for victory. The Scarlets game didn’t change with prop Rob Evans and a subdued Irish second row Thaig Beirne appearing in midfield to create chances.

Parkes was also instrumental in the third try as he cleared his lines, with Wales newest squad member James ‘Cubby’ Davies harrying to set up a prime front foot attacking position. The line out was secured, and quick hands allowed Jones to ghost in unopposed with Bellau ending the first half action with a penalty and 27-21 scoreboard in favour of the Scarlets.

The standard set in the first half was so high the following forty minutes would have done well to live up to it and such was the case, as it became like the day after the Lord Mayor’s Show. A positive for the home throng’s voices was the reappearance after injury for former Toulon full back Leigh Halfpenny, the Gorseinon born international content to ease himself back in with an accomplished final fifteen minute.

Absorbing the black tide was important; Davies with 23 and Owens with 21 led the troops into battle as the ‘billy cans brewed’ in the background, the side making a thumping 134 tackles.

Substitutions as is the norm in rugby at present played their part in a grinding second half. The Scarlets showed they could ‘dog it out’ to muster the required win, with the only points coming from the boot of replacement play maker Francois Trinh-Duc with the difference being a strike from 45 metres from Patchell on fifty minutes, although Trinh-Duc’s overtime drop kick from 30 metres came within a whisker of spoiling an ‘epic’ occassion.

Pivac would look at the replays for the game, noting with some concern the ease in which the French flair broke tackles and made good yardage. Toulon will be a tough opponent in the later stages of the competition as they arrived with out suspended international centre Mathieu Bastareaud but it will be the defence display which Pivac can take pride.

In the space of eight days the West Walians have shown their steel and panache, making the Easter weekend quarter final showdown with La Rochelle, travelling from the South West of France a potential blockbuster at Parc Y Scarlets.

Could this be the highest profile game witnessed in the modern rugby era? Rest assured it is the most important in over a decade.

Entertainment

New Radio series on remarkable rise of women’s football

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FROM hand-me-downs to heroes, a new three-part show celebrates the incredible growth of women’s football in Wales

BBC Radio Wales has today announced a new series Iconic: The Rise of the Women in Red, documenting the rise of women’s football in Wales. 

Presented by Jess Fishlock, Wales’ most capped footballer, the series offers an unprecedented look into the evolution of women’s football from its humble beginnings to its current status as a sporting phenomenon. With exclusive access to the Football Association of Wales (FAW), the series features in-depth interviews with prominent figures in the sport, including Welsh captain Sophie Ingle and midfield star Angharad James.

The series delves into the early days of women’s football when players wore hand-me-down kits from the men’s teams and played in front of modest crowds. It tells of the struggles of those who paved the way for the current generation of female footballers, to the present day where thousands of fans flock to stadiums to watch women’s football, and even more tune in to the television and radio coverage.

Jess Fishlock says, “I’m really excited that our story’s finally getting told and people can see how far this game has gone but also what has been sacrificed to get us to where we are right now in the women’s game.”

Carolyn Hitt, Head of BBC Radio Wales says “The series highlights how more women and girls than ever before are taking up the sport – as fans and as players.  It really showcases the FAW’s efforts to foster this growth and support the women’s game at all levels.  Jess Fishlock’s unique perspective and engaging storytelling brings to life the triumphs, challenges, and aspirations of the team whilst also providing a candid look at the professional journeys of these women.”

Sue Butler, Managing Editor, BBC Wales Sport, says “In the run-up to these crucial play-offs for UEFA Women’s Euro 2025, the series is a timely celebration of the progress and potential of Welsh women’s football. It will inspire and energize fans and players alike as the national team prepares for one of its most significant challenges yet.”

This three-part series will premiere on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Sounds this October.

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News

A new era for sport and health tech innovation in Wales

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SWANSEA UNIVERSITY has launched the National Network for Innovation In Sport and Health (NNIISH), a new initiative aimed at transforming the landscape of health and sport technology in Wales.

Led by the University and supported by Swansea Bay City Deal and local health boards, NNIISH aims to accelerate the growth of sport tech, med tech and healthcare innovation in the Swansea Bay City Region by bringing together local, national and multinational expertise.

NNIISH is set to be a constantly evolving, collaborative partnership between academia, industry and the NHS.  Its aim is to strengthen existing partnerships and forge new alliances, attracting talent and encouraging investment in order to boost the local economy and make Swansea a global leader in medical and sports technology innovation.   

Professor Keith Lloyd, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Science told Herald.Wales: “We are excited to introduce NNIISH, a groundbreaking initiative dedicated to enhancing sport and wellbeing across Wales and beyond. By fostering a community across sport, health and technology, we aim to drive forward innovative solutions that will revolutionise the sector.”

Anyone working in sports-tech, med-tech or healthcare who would like to be part of the NNIISH vision –to transform the landscape of health and sport technology in Wales – can sign up to the NNIISH mailing list now.  

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News

Pembrokeshire teenager to represent Wales in Golf – again!

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JEMMA NAND-LALN, a talented 16-year-old golfer from Tenby, has once again been selected to represent Wales in the Wales Schools squad. This marks the second consecutive year Jemma will don the Welsh colors, a testament to her skill and determination on the golf course.

Jemma will compete against the England Schools team at Stoke Rochford Golf Club in Lincolnshire in early September. This opportunity comes as a significant boost for Jemma, who has recently recovered from major surgery over the winter. Her selection also follows her recognition as the top girl player in Dyfed for 2023.

Her journey reflects not only her personal resilience but also her unwavering commitment to the sport she loves. Jemma’s family, friends, and local supporters are all thrilled with her accomplishment and will be cheering her on as she competes at the national level.

Jemma Nand-Lal’s story is an inspiration to many young athletes, demonstrating that with hard work and dedication, overcoming obstacles and achieving great success is possible.

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