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Wales hold on to beat Ireland

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Wales 21 – Ireland 16

AN UNEVEN display by Wales, who spent 65 minutes of the game with an extra man, was enough to see of an Irish side which never stopped pressing for an against-the-odds win.

And the win is what counts.

In a punishing and physical encounter, Wales lost players to injury and head assessments, which might explain the up and down nature of their performance.

When Peter O’Mahony was given red on fifteen minutes for a headshot on Tomos Francis, Wales might have fancied their chances; especially with the benefit of a six-point lead, courtesy of Leigh Halfpenny’s reliable boot. The brutal physical exchanges favoured Ireland, who spoiled Welsh possession, tackled like demons, and played a territorial kicking game to pin Wales back in their own half.

That was enough for Ireland to chisel their way to a 13-6 lead at the half.

With O’Mahony off the pitch, Ireland scored thirteen unanswered points. Six from Sexton’s boot and a try from a Welsh mistake.

Ireland’s try came when Wales made a hash of their own put in at the lineout. Scruffy ball got to Henshaw, who carved a gap through Wales’ defence. His pass found Josh van der Flier, who powered on before being hauled down. From the resulting ruck, Tadhg Beirne forced his way over the Welsh line and Sexton added the routine extras.

The lead was no more than Ireland deserved. After a promising first ten minutes, Wales faded out of the game for the last twenty minutes of a rugged first half in which the sides traded heavy tackles. Having got sucked into a physical encounter, Wales missed out on the chance to spread the ball wide to make the best use of their one-man advantage. Hallam Amos, out on the blindside wing, barely touched the ball or received a pass in an attacking position.

The third quarter of the game was Wales’ best period of sustained play as they, at last, managed to get on the front foot. Some brutal tackling blunted Wales’ efforts, with Taulupe Faletau losing the ball in contact when well-placed.

However, tries from George North – who was impressive at outside centre – and Gloucester flyer Louis Rees-Zammit, with an acrobatic effort, were a fair reward for the Welsh team’s efforts. Those scores were enough to give Wales and 18-13 lead, which Leigh Halfpenny increased to eight points with a 65th-minute penalty.

With that lead, Wales brought on fresh legs for the final fifteen minutes.

Callum Sheedy stepped in at fly-half with Dan Biggar moving to full-back and Halfpenny switching to the left-wing in place of Hallam Amos. Will Rowlands came on in at lock, and Leon Brown and Rhodri Jones came on in the front row.

Billy Burns, on as HIA replacement for Robbie Henshaw only minutes before came on at fly-half to replace Johnny Sexton, with Sexton’s half-back partner Conor Murray leaving the field shortly afterwards.

Burns kicked a penalty to make it 21-16 with eight minutes left.

The outstanding Justin Tipuric, who played from the first whistle to last made a vital tackle in injury time at the end of the game, as Wales clung on to their five-point lead.

Ospreys number six Dan Lydiate waited two years for a call-up to Wales’ starting fifteen. His return lasted all of twelve minutes before what is thought to be a serious ligament injury.

The blow means he will miss the rest of Six Nations. In his place, substitute Josh Navidi, himself working his way back from injury, had a decent game but was some way from his rampaging best.

Wales also lost centre, Johnny Williams, to a head injury assessment (HIA), while scrum-half Tomos Williams left the field with a hamstring injury at the half. Near the end of the game, Hallam Amos also left the field for an HIA.

In exchange, Ireland lost lock Johnny Ryan and the talismanic Johnny Sexton, while Robbie Henshaw left the field for an HIA, returning after Sexton left the pitch.

The Welsh tight five looked a lot better in the scrum than they did throughout the autumn internationals. The return of Ken Owens certainly added heft to the front row, but the lineout problems which plagued Wales throughout 2020 persisted. Wales also lost the ball in contact too many times for comfort and that is an area they will need to tighten up against Gregor Townsend’s in-form Scotland team this Saturday.

PIVAC COUNTS THE COST OF VICTORY

After the game, Wales’ coach Wayne Pivac reflected on Wales’ performance.

“We’ve picked up a few injuries, so we’re looking at those now. We’re sort of counting the walking wounded after that one,” said Pivac.

“With a six-day turnaround before Scotland, it means any players with head knocks are gone. That means we’ll lose a couple of players straight away.

“Then we’ve got a hamstring for Tomos Williams, which we’re hoping is not serious. I wouldn’t have thought it will turn round in six days. We’ll see how the rest of the squad is tomorrow and look at what sort of side we can put together on Tuesday.”

If the injuries were the downside of the 21-16 victory, they couldn’t dent the pride Pivac and his coaching team felt at seeing their side upset one of the favourites for the title.

“It was game one, so to get off to a winning start was very important. It was a mixed performance, really. Our scrum went well, which was a big improvement on the last outing, but there are still things to tidy up on in our line-out on our ball.

“On their ball, we turned some over and put pressure on, so it was a mixed bag in that area of the game. It was our discipline which cost us last time when they kicked 18 points. That’s what got them back into this game and put pressure on us throughout.

“We really have to have a look at that area of the game and what’s causing those penalties. We must make sure we tidy that up.”

What did please the Wales boss, though, was the way Georg North and Louis Rees-Zammit took their tries in the second half to spearhead Wales’ second-half revival. It was try No 42 for Wales from North on his 99th appearance for his country.

“It was good to see them both cross and a really good finish from Louis. George just used his power and pace and took good advantage of that opportunity – you’d expect that from a player of his experience,” added Pivac.

“It was a fantastic finish from Louis. We’re just disappointed we put ourselves under so much pressure in the end. We could have won the game at the scrum put-in, looked at creating one phase, cleaning out that ruck and then kicking the ball out.

“But we put ourselves under a bit more pressure for another three to four minutes. We have discussed that in the changing room as well. In a game like that with the injuries, we did not really need that.

“The players had already called the play and knew what they needed to do to make one last ruck and get the ball out, but there was one player on the pitch who wasn’t on the same page and Ireland got the ball back. Unfortunately, it meant a lot more defending and a lot more out of the tank before a six-day turnaround.”

“We talked around our discipline and how important it was after the last time we played them, and I think after the sending off we conceded the next six penalties,” said Pivac.

“It was very difficult to get our hands on the ball and the possession and territory stats showed that right away. We talked about that at half-time and the third 20 minutes were a lot better and we managed to claw our way back into the game and get two scores ahead.

“To get a win in circumstances like today was important. Since taking over the role, it has really been about this competition. It was day one, round one and it was very important we got a win. Now we’ve got to re-focus before facing a very confident and very strong Scotland squad in their backyard after a very good win.”

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Red Bull Hardline Wales confirms rider list for 2024

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RED BULL Hardline, known as the most challenging downhill mountain bike race world wide, confirms the final rider list for this year’s Wales event. 

Following its first event overseas, with a stop Down Under, Red Bull Hardline returns to its home in Wales’ Dyfi valley to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The brainchild of Dan Atherton a decade ago, 34 of the brightest and best talents in downhill mountain biking are set to descend on the north Wales course. With the 2023 event sadly curtailed by the Welsh weather, there’s old scores to settle and it’s all to play for in 2024.

Confirmed Rider List:

NameNationality
Ronan DunneIRL
Bernard KerrUK
Brook MacDonaldNZL
Charlie HattonUK
Adam BraytonUK
Craig EvansUK
Theo ErlangsenSA
Matteo IniguezFRA
Juanfer VelezCOL
Gaetan VigeFRA
Jim MonroUK
Matt JonesUK
Edgar BrioleFRA
George BranniganNZ
Sam GaleNZ
Jono JonesUK
Sam BlenkinsopNZ
Brendan FaircloughUK
Josh BrycelandUK
Dennis LuffmanUK
Sam HockenhullUK
Josh LoweUK
Taylor VernonUK
Thibault LalyFRA
Thomas GenonBEL
Szymon GodziekPOL
Sebastian HolguinCOL
Alex StorrUK
Vincent TupinFRA
Harry MolloyUK
Matteo IniguezFRA

Female riders will begin training on Monday, giving them ample time to familiarise themselves with the new course, with Tahnée Seagrave, Cami Nogueira and Hannah Bergmann all set to continue to push the boundaries of their sport once again. Louise-Anna Ferguson will be returning to Wales fresh from her success at Red Bull Hardline Tasmania, putting on a gutsy performance to finish a full finals race run despite an early crash. New to Red Bull Hardline, Vaea Verbeeck will make her first appearance, bringing fresh fire power to the women’s lineup 

Following his stand-out success at Red Bull Hardline Tasmania, Ronan Dunne will be taking to the start line with aims of achieving the double. Nipping at his heels will be three-time winner Bernard Kerr, who placed second in Tasmania back in February. 2017 champion Craig Evans is back once again and eager to replicate his success of 7 years previous.

The breathtaking race will be broadcasted live globally on Red Bull TV on Sunday 2nd June at 2.30pm GMT. Ahead of the event, fans can enjoy the week’s best action from course walk and practice on the Red Bull Bike YouTube ahead of the main event. 

For further Red Bull Hardline rider updates and for more information visit www.redbull.com/hardline and make sure to save the link to Red Bull Bike YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@RedBullBike/featured to not miss out on the week’s best action.

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Scarlets sign Welsh-qualified full-back Ellis Mee from Nottingham

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THE SCARLETS have added to their squad for the 2024-25 season with the signing of Welsh-qualified Nottingham full-back Ellis Mee.

The 20-year-old, who can play full-back or wing, will link up with the squad in the summer and becomes the third addition to Dwayne Peel’s squad for the new campaign.

Standing at 6ft 4in and 92kg, Mee enjoyed an outstanding first season in the English Championship, culminating in him winning Nottingham’s players’, fans’ and overall player-of-the-season awards.

He has been combining his rugby career with studies at Nottingham Trent University.

Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel said: “Ellis has impressed us with his form for Nottingham this season, he is a powerful runner, strong in the air and knows his way to the try line. We are looking forward to him joining us for pre-season in the summer.

“He will be part of a group of young Welsh backs who we are excited about for the coming years. The likes of Tomi Lewis, Eddie James, Joe Roberts and Tom Rogers have had a lot of rugby for us this season, Jac Davies has been outstanding for Llandovery before his injury and it was great to see Macs Page make his debut in Parma last weekend.

“There is a crop of talented young Welsh backs coming through who have a huge amount of potential and we are looking forward to seeing Ellis challenge for a place in the side next season.”

Ellis Mee said: “Scarlets are an amazing club with great history and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

“Signing for Scarlets is an excellent opportunity for me to better myself in a higher league and against different opposition.

“I am really looking forward to starting this next chapter of my career.”

Ellis is the third new signing to be announced by the Scarlets ahead of next season, joining Toyota Cheetahs hooker Marnus van der Merwe and Exeter Chiefs prop Alec Hepburn with more arrivals set to be announced in the coming weeks.

Sam Lousi, Tom Rogers, Harri O’Connor, Dan Davis and Ben Williams have also signed new deals with the club.

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Swansea Council hopes sports ground will be new Ospreys home

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SWANSEA CITY COUNCIL says it would like the city’s St Helen’s sports ground to become the new home of top-flight rugby region The Ospreys.

The Ospreys are looking for a new home, having stated that they no longer plan to play at the Swansea.com Stadium after the 2024-25 season.  

A proposal for a new operating model at St Helen’s – currently run by the council – would see it redeveloped as a location for regional and community sport.

The council would want any approved plan to accommodate the successful relocation of Swansea Cricket Club in a manner agreed by them and others.

Council leader Rob Stewart said: “St Helen’s needs to be upgraded to offer a modern sports experience, and the Ospreys need a new home and a plan for long-term sustainability.

“We’re prepared to work on the current Ospreys proposal for St Helen’s to become a modern rugby stadium, helping the region to make their home there and remain in Swansea.

“We’re doing all we can to support the Ospreys to stay in Swansea, while also working with all of our sporting stakeholders to provide top-class facilities for them.

“We’ve discussed the option with the Ospreys. We’re already discussing key matters in a positive manner with current St Helen’s residents Swansea CC and Swansea RFC.

“Ongoing discussions to enable these potential changes include implications, timescales and funding to develop improved cricket facilities nearby.”

The St Helen’s proposal would involve agreements with the Ospreys to accommodate other uses. The neighbouring recreation ground does not feature in the current proposal.

St Helen’s would become a rugby stadium for a range of users, including a home for regional rugby, and facilities for community sport. It would be developed in a phased manner over a number of years, increasing capacity, developing facilities and improving the experience of users and visitors.

The proposal would allow rugby use, including – as now – by Swansea RFC and Swansea University. The sports ground would be made available for use by local community groups and schools.

Cricket teams would be offered upgraded facilities nearby, with details and timings to be agreed by key stakeholders. 

A report outlining the proposal was presented to the council’s cabinet by cabinet member for investment, regeneration, events and tourism Robert Francis Davies on May 16.

He said: “We want to work with the Ospreys to improve St Helen’s as a key sporting facility to the benefit of first-class regional rugby and as community sports venue for the city.

“Swansea is a sporting city and we want an active and healthy Swansea with a thriving local economy and infrastructure. This plan would help that.

“The proposal is to develop and enhance St Helen’s as a sports facility over the coming years through a long-term partnership with The Ospreys.

“We’re committed to working in partnership with others to ensure the development and delivery of sport in Swansea at community, student and elite levels.”

St Helen’s has a rich history and has played host to high level sport over the decades.

Current activity there includes home games of Swansea RFC in rugby union’s Welsh Premiership and Swansea Cricket Club home games in the top fight of South Wales cricket.

However, without increased future investment, the council would need to consider other arrangements.

Cllr Francis-Davies said: “The St Helen’s proposal – which would see us work within council budgets at this time of great financial challenge – is to secure investment and revitalise the venue, retaining first class regional rugby close to the city centre.

“We’re talking with Swansea CC about helping them relocate to an alternative facility suitable for their games in the top division of the South Wales Premier Cricket League.

“We’re eager to work to a timeframe agreed by stakeholders and in line with the proposals.” 

Meanwhile Bridgend County Borough Council said it can confirm that talks are ongoing with the Ospreys about the team potentially relocating to the Dunraven Brewery Field from the 2025/26 season onwards.

Earlier this year, the Ospreys announced plans to relocate to a new stadium and their search has now been narrowed down to the Dunraven Brewery Field in Bridgend and St Helens in Swansea.

The move would represent a boost to the local economy by offering many mutual benefits to both the Ospreys and the county borough as a whole.

Bridgend County Borough has been part of the Ospreys region since 2004 and has played host to the team on a number of occasions, including this season’s derby clash against Cardiff Rugby and the memorable European Challenge Cup win over Sale Sharks.

Cllr Neelo Farr, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Economic Development and Housing, said: “We are fully supportive of the Ospreys’ plans to potentially relocate to Bridgend County Borough and we are looking forward to further talks as we continue to discuss the many mutual benefits of any such move, including the massive economic boost that it would bring to the entire area.

“The Dunraven Brewery Field would offer the Ospreys a unique opportunity to base themselves in the heart of a town centre, with Bridgend being perfectly placed on the M4 corridor and having lots of public transport options with nearby train and bus stations.

“The Ospreys already have lots of strong community links throughout the county borough and it’s fantastic that many of their current players are from Bridgend and started their rugby journeys by playing for our local teams.”

Ospreys CEO, Lance Bradley said: “I am happy to share that we have narrowed down our decision to two fantastic grounds, each offering unique opportunities, and we are confident that either choice would be more than suitable as the Ospreys new home.

“It’s been a pleasure working with both the City and County of Swansea Council and Bridgend County Borough Council to get to this point. Both councils have really come to the party and been more than accommodating in our requests, and open to working together to ensure our new stadium is not just a suitable top-flight rugby stadium but offers further opportunities to enrich the local community.

“I look forward to being able to share our preferred option in the coming weeks and working in partnership with the relevant Council to ensure our new home becomes the hub of the community.”

The Ospreys will remain at the Swansea.com Stadium for the 24/25 season, using this time for initial redevelopments to ensure the selected stadium is fit for purpose for the following 25/26 season.

Further updates regarding stadium selection will be shared by the Ospreys in due course.

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