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Scarlets soar into European Cup Semis

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By Jonathan Twigg, photos by Darren Harries

SUCH a magnificent occasion on Friday (Mar 30), a Quarter Final of the Heinekein European Cup in the depth of West Wales at Parc Y Scarlets, French giants, metaphorically and physically La Rochelle in town; reminiscent of King William in 1066, to conquer, greeted by a capacity 16,000 natives.

A warm message of welcome from European Rugby’s Chairman Simon Halliday, a flying England winger from the last millennium his roots stretched with longevity to his birth place, Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire.

Like King William, having conquered the struggle for La Rochelle was to consolidate their assets, something they failed to do after securing an early 7-3 lead after six minutes, through a converted try by second row Romain Sazy.

Full back Leigh Halfpenny had struck with not five minutes played, a penalty for offside and reduced the lead a minute after the western based side on the Bay of Biscay’s touchdown, with an immaculate reproduction, this time from just inside his opponent’s half.

The Scarlets are a team of Samson Lees, the props uncompromising style making him a fans favourite, anchoring the choral Hymns and Arias at crescendo level. Prop Uini Atonio was stopped in his tracks likewise number 8 Afa Amosa, the Scarlets also winning the crucial first engagement at the scrum set piece, against a heavyweight eight, looking then to play their open game.

‘Try of the round in this seasons Champions Cup for the Scarlets’ Halliday had pronounced, not once but on two occasions. That is no mean feat looking at the quality on show in this seasons tournament, where Wayne Pivac’s charges have a skills set to crunch the shells of any snail in its way; able to up their game to push unseen boundaries making the Easter date of 2018 on par with 1066 for notability.

The fringes were rough and ready, robust tackling and yardage measured in centimetres on the gain line, drawing a mistake, Halfpenny obliging on 17 minutes for a 9-7 lead. Enter a new gladiator, Pontyberem junior Josh Mcloed to the amphitheatre for an injured Paul Asquith, feeding the crowd their ‘bread of heaven’ destructive if the truck and trailer before them, which would last all through the night.

Second row David Bullring dominated the front of the line out, scrum half Gareth Davies afforded time and space to punctuate holes and Ospreys bound centre Scott Williams darting arrow like after 25 minutes, Welsh international Halfpenny, a former adversary with Toulon, majestic going four from four.

‘Freestyle’ rugby witnessed in the cauldron a throwback to the ‘billy can’ victories over Bath at the Rec and Toulon acted as catalysts, the home side with a full complement internationals back in harness, awash with history from eleven years ago, Munster the fall guys, hooker Ken Owens the only player to have witnessed such an occasion before.

Kiwi centre Hadleigh Parkes couldn’t release a scoring pass as the outside cover closed in the twilight, the crowd aware that the breeze would favour the home side in the second half. Rhys Patchell at outside half was dictating direction as players lay strewn across the hallowed turf, the intensity of the conflict taking its toll, with scrum half Alexi Bales slotting a penalty on the half time whistle, his second successful kick for score of 12-10.

Man of the match Owens, an unbloodied hero took not one step back, leading his forwards into the mix in the second half, Aaron Shingler and Tadgh Beirne standing like beacons atop of Snowdon. Crammed to the rafters, the atmosphere electric the crowd played their part as the visiting juggernaut was stopped in its tracks as the Dragon roared fire. Puff the magic dragon, lived by the sea but in this case, unlike little boys, the Dragon would live long as the air from the Lougor estuary built mountains of men. Halfpenny stretched the lead, centre Arthur Retiere sensing his team needed some gusto cleverly built a pathway to the Scarlets line, as his side searched a first victory away from home in 2018.

The penalty count rose quickly, the Scarlets defence holding firm, as did English referee Luke Pearce issuing warnings as try scorer Sazy catch and drive was stopped, wave after wave of French delivery succumbing and the Scarlets, who released the tension as Davies quick tap and go took play over the halfway line.

‘Escargots’ are usually served as a starter in France and it was the dynamic home back row who broke this snails shell, as the definition suggests ‘eating them alive’ a slow and absorbing feast, garlic emanating from within the broken mollusc.

Expensive these French snails maybe, both as a delicacy where 500,000,000 are consumed annually and from their bank role, which saw centre Pierrre Aguillon and Steve Barry wear their black coloured jersey. Snails, 80% water and 15% protein are easily consumed from the tongue, but beware of a marine cone snail, able to paralyse a fish instantly; a new nickname perhaps for the newest Welsh cap James Davies, Cubby now anything but a young fox, developing a name in his own right.

The final quarter saw Carmarthen Quins former star Dan Jones replace Steff Evans, the back line were ‘mustard’ as the diminutive youngster plays with a Gaelic flamboyance. Beirne set a driving maul from the line out, Parkes made a 20 metre break and Patchell, now at full back strode over before Halfpenny, with no nerves and his side led by twelve points at 22-10.

Beirne was a culprit as the visitors tactics of five metre line outs were stopped illegally, referee Pearce lenient, before heroic defence saw the lines cleared, the crowd restored to full voice. Inexplicably Halfpenny blotted his copybook after Bullring and replacement Werner Kruger dug deep the game in its final throws of glory.

The French side were unable to invade Scarlets territory, Owens and Parkes making headway before McLoed burnt a furrow on the touchline, Williams taking up the mantle, crossing from 25 metres unopposed, Halfpenny resumed normal service and the party in the park bellowed loud and clear.

The final score, at 29-17, a length of the field consolation try from replacement Pierre Boudehent secured the Scarlets place in the European Champions Cup semi-final, as Glynneath’s President Max Boyces signature tune danced the yellow brick road.

Following the other quarter finals, Scarlets will now play Leinster in Dublin’s Aviva stadium on Saturday (April 21), the heart and soul of Llanelli left many a head ‘felinfoel’ the following day. Rest assured, Llanelli and the whole region are ‘quite alright’ as they entertain Glasgow Warriors on Saturday (Apr 7), no thought yet of the semi-final date with destiny.

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St. Davids Rugby Club bids fond farewell to popular tenants

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ST DAVIDS Rugby Club has announced with great regret that Carol and Jeff Pick, beloved tenants of the club, are stepping down from their position. The couple, who moved to St. Davids primarily for this opportunity, expressed their heartfelt gratitude for the past year, which they described as an extraordinary experience.

Carol and Jeff took over the tenancy of St. Davids RFC in Pembrokeshire at the end of last summer, a significant period as the rugby season commenced. Unlike most rugby clubs that employ a steward or stewardess, Jeff and Carol owned the tenancy, meaning they managed the entire operation, making decisions that could make or break their venture. Despite the challenges posed by the seasonal influx of St. Davids’ population, which swells from 2,000 to 12,000 during the summer months, they thrived.

Their tenure has been marked by a series of successful initiatives. Jeff’s background as a former player and coach undoubtedly facilitated his integration with the club’s members. Carol’s personal touch was evident through her creative contributions, such as sewing cushions in the club’s colours for the lounge, which added a genuine club feel to the place. The club became a hub of activity with weekend entertainment, including bands, open mic nights, and Carol’s popular Sunday lunches.

In a heartfelt statement, Carol and Jeff shared their appreciation for the warm and welcoming community they have come to cherish. “We have met so many wonderful people and made countless friends; words cannot describe how fantastic this last year has been,” they said.

Although they are leaving their roles as tenants, the couple emphasised their ongoing commitment to the club. Jeff will continue his involvement with the rugby team, and Carol remains a dedicated supporter. They extended their thanks to the club’s committee for their unwavering support and for providing them with this unique opportunity.

Special acknowledgements were given to Jack, the coaches, and the players, who have contributed to the fun and camaraderie within the club. Carol and Jeff also highlighted the continuous support from the mini and juniors section, as well as the St. Davids Penknife Club, whose encouragement has been invaluable.

The couple expressed their gratitude to all the club members and patrons who have visited for a pint, noting the joy they found in these interactions. They also thanked their friends and family for visiting and sharing in the wonderful times at the club.

Concluding their message, Carol and Jeff expressed their sincere thanks to everyone who has supported them throughout the year. “It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know all the friends we’ve made,” they remarked.

The departure of Carol and Jeff marks the end of a cherished chapter at St. Davids Rugby Club, but their legacy of friendship and community spirit will undoubtedly endure. Visitors and club members alike will fondly remember their contributions and the vibrant atmosphere they helped create.

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United Airlines unveils limited-edition Wrexham AFC amenity kits and pyjamas

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UNITED AIRLINES has introduced new, limited-edition Wrexham AFC amenity kits and pyjamas to commemorate the Welsh football team’s recent promotion to League One. The launch coincides with the rising global popularity of the Emmy award-winning series “Welcome to Wrexham”, which is currently streaming on Hulu.

Starting from 1st June, passengers flying in United’s premium cabins on long-haul international routes will receive these exclusive Wrexham AFC-inspired kits. These kits will include essential travel items such as an eye mask, toothbrush, and toothpaste, along with exclusive Therabody skincare products. Additionally, United Polaris® customers on flights of 14 hours or longer will be provided with pyjamas designed to resemble the team’s uniforms, featuring a long-sleeve Wrexham red shirt and grey pants.

Co-chairmen of Wrexham AFC, Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, revealed these new onboard amenities in a recently released video. The kits and pyjamas, designed in collaboration with United Airlines, draw inspiration from Wrexham AFC’s crest, jerseys, and overall aesthetic.

Amenity Kit Details:

  • United x Wrexham AFC Amenity Case: For United Polaris business class travellers, this reusable toiletry case features the Wrexham crest and is available in red, black, or white. It includes a top handle, wrap-around zipper, and a loop for hanging.
  • United x Wrexham AFC Amenity Pouch: For United Premium Plus® travellers, this slim, zippered pouch also features the Wrexham crest and is available in the same colour options. It is designed to fit easily into a carry-on bag.
  • United x Wrexham AFC Pyjamas: Available to United Polaris business class passengers on flights of 14 hours or more, this lightweight pyjama set includes a red, long-sleeve shirt with the Wrexham AFC and United logos on the front and grey pants with the United logo on the hip.

Each amenity kit contains a United-exclusive Therabody hand cream, lip balm, cleansing towelette, bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste, eye mask, ear plugs, and socks. The Polaris kit also includes Therabody eye serum, face spray, tissues, and a United pen.

Peter Wolkowski, Director of Onboard Product Design at United, commented, “With our amenity kits, we always aim to provide customers with products that make their travel journey more comfortable as well as create one-of-a-kind keepsakes for them to enjoy well beyond their flight. Wrexham’s story is one that has been documented and celebrated these last few years, so we’re thrilled to now give United customers team-branded gear they won’t be able to find anywhere else.”

United Airlines, a prominent sponsor of Wrexham AFC, will continue to support the club throughout the 2024-2025 season. The airline is the front-of-jersey sponsor for both the men’s and women’s teams, and it will also sponsor the club’s North American summer tour, providing exclusive offerings to MileagePlus members.

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Former Wales rugby international Tonia Antoniazzi MP joins Scarlets Board

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THE Scarlets have said this week that they are delighted to announce that Gower MP and former Wales international Tonia Antoniazzi will join the Scarlets Board of Directors with immediate effect.

Tonia, who is Gower’s first female MP, has served at Westminster since June 2017. She was born and raised along with two brothers in Llanelli by her Welsh Mum and Welsh-Italian father who supported her love of sport from an early age.

With Welsh-Italian sporting heritage, she won nine caps for Wales as a prop playing internationally for three years as well as playing for Benetton Treviso’s women’s team in 1993-94 while studying in Venice. Her last cap as tighthead prop came in 1999. She participated in the first Women’s World Cup in 1998. From a rugby family, her brother Julian Antoniazzi played for Welsh Schools seven times in 1985.

Tonia is a passionate, lifelong Scarlets supporter after spending many years growing up supporting rugby on the terraces at Stradey Park. Alongside her international rugby career, Tonia is a graduate in French and Italian from Exeter University with a PGCE from Cardiff University, teaching in Wigan before returning home to West Wales as Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Ysgol Bryngwyn in Llanelli.

Since retiring from international rugby and forging a successful political career, she is now a leading light and voice championing the growth and development of women’s and girls’ rugby across Wales, campaigning for greater equality, engagement, participation and inclusion at all levels in the game.

Scarlets are building for the future which includes a fresh focus on the girls’ and women’s game, with four players in the U18s Women’s Six Nations squad, a number of girls from the region selected for the West Wales Professional Development Centre (PDC) plus 70 girls are registered with the Scarlets’ first U17s Development Squad.

Scarlets’ Academy coaches support training and development of Celtic Challenge Cup side Brython Thunder who are based at Parc y Scarlets. Two of the region’s age-grade teams Teifi Timberwolves and Taf Valley Tigers were U16s and U18s WRU National plate winners this season. Increased demand from girls to play rugby is now being supported with 32 WRU clusters supporting players from U7s to U18s across communities in Wales.

Scarlets’ Community Foundation rugby programme also continues to go from strength-to-strength delivering wide-ranging rugby inclusion events to support social benefit across its region and engaging with more than 20,000 young people this season.

Tonia Antoniazzi MP said: “It truly is an honour and privilege for me and I am very excited to be joining the Scarlets Board. Scarlets rugby has been at the heart of my family and my upbringing and it was that love and passion for this club that led me to play for Wales. Now I am continuing to support the sport that means so much to me off the pitch.

“Rugby is ours. It’s everybody’s sport and everybody matters in our game.”

“We need a plurality of voices in Welsh rugby to take the game forward. There is a new era of rugby dawning in Wales and Scarlets rugby has a bright future within it, I want to be part of that and ensure everyone connected with our game has a voice and is well-represented.”

“I am passionate about bringing more women into the game. I feel very strongly that when I was a young girl, I had to look up to my brother – and think if he can do it I can do it. Now we can see a future in the sport for young girls to aspire to – with the likes of Alex Callender (from Llanelli), who I used to teach, coming through and winning multiple caps.

“What we need now is to engage more through the women’s and girls’ programmes into clubs to ensure we have more teams and more international players playing their rugby in Wales. When you can see it as a player, you believe you can be it. We need to show our young girls that there is a future for them in rugby in Wales.”

Scarlets Executive Chairman Simon Muderack said: “Tonia will bring valued rugby expertise, a strong voice for the women’s game and great governance leadership from her experience and knowledge across international rugby, the educational sector and her parliamentary career.

“Her energy, ambition and passion for Scarlets rugby and the women’s and girl’s game in this region is undeniable. She is a positive driving force who wants to see Scarlets and Welsh rugby thrive now and in the future and is helping spearhead a culture change throughout our game. We are delighted she is joining us at a time when we are restructuring and strengthening our business operations to meet the challenges of the future and we look forward to Tonia’s input and support.”

Tonia lives in Pontarddulais and has a son Jac who is currently studying at Cardiff University.

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