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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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Wales 10 – Ireland 34: Clinical Ireland outfox wasteful Wales

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RUGBY is often described as a game of inches, where the tiniest errors significantly affect games’ outcomes. That was the case on Saturday, where Ireland won convincingly by making fewer unforced errors than Wales.

As a contest, the game was all but over in the first 25 minutes. Ireland did nothing flash, nothing extraordinary. They were just better at the basics. It’s what you’d expect when the first-ranked team in the world play the ninth.

Conceding a try after two minutes was a bad start, but again and again thereafter, Wales either coughed the ball up or conceded penalties in clutch positions.

Ireland’s game management showed the confidence of being a settled group under a single coach with a defined game plan. Ireland’s players constantly worked off the ball to close gaps and shut off running lines. The Irish slowed down the Welsh ball and applied pressure with clinical precision. The Irish scrum and lineout gave the visitors’ backline time to play.

Whatever the Welsh game plan was before Wayne Pivac left as the coach (answers on a postcard for that one), on Saturday, Wales showed signs of trying to create a pattern of play based on phase play creating the space to allow Wales’s backs to punch through stretched defensive formations. However, a plan is only as good as its execution. And Wales repeatedly created good positions only to make sometimes desperately disappointing mistakes.

Twice Wales had the throw near the Irish line, and twice Irish forwards picked off the ball. On another occasion, Wales went long at the lineout in their half, only for the ball to land on the Irish side. Add that to a crooked throw in a promising position, and Wales lost momentum at crucial stages.
Ireland stormed into an early lead with their first attack ending with Number Eight Doris smashing his way over from close range. It got worse six minutes later when James Ryan scored with almost a carbon copy play.

Wales’s best chance of the opening quarter came when Irish full-back Hugo Keenan got to a loose ball over the Irish line before Welsh winger Rio Dyer.

Although Biggar got the home side off the mark with a penalty, within minutes, a telegraphed pass ended in the hands of Lowe, who streaked over unopposed for Ireland’s third try.

24-3 down soon became 27-3 following another Sexton penalty following Welsh indiscipline at the breakdown. Realistically, that score ended the game. However, in the half’s dying moments, Wales again applied pressure. Jac Morgan, who had a good game in a losing cause, crossed the Irish line only to be held up by a strong Irish defence.

It looked grim at half-time. Wales had been disorganised and disjointed, while every time the Irish got the ball in the Welsh half, they looked like they would come away with points.

Whatever Warren Gatland said at half-time got the Welsh players’ attention.

Wales came steaming out of the blocks in the second half, looking better organised and less frantic. Good phase play opened a gap in the Irish midfield, and Liam Williams sped through the gap to touch down near the posts, making Biggar’s conversion a formality. Wales continued to work through the phases, and only an uncharacteristically poor pass from Justin Tipuric spoiled a good chance for Rio Dyer to get a clear run at the Irish line.

Wales still tried to keep up the pressure but lacked accuracy at key moments when cooler heads might have produced more. As if that wasn’t bad enough, with fifteen minutes of normal time to go, Liam Williams was – maybe a little unluckily – yellow-carded for making contact with the ducking, bobbing and weaving Jonny Sexton’s head.

The man advantage was all Ireland needed to break Wales’s stranglehold on the match. They kept kicking for space behind the Welsh midfield and used Bundi Aki as a midfield battering ram to keep the Welsh players tied in at the breakdown. With Wales stretched and gaps appearing in the defensive live, Van der Flier had the simplest of tasks to add a fourth try for Ireland.

As the clock ticked down – and with Wales 34-10 down – the Irish pressed for the score that would give them a record win in Cardiff. Wales tried again to break out for a consolation score, more in hope than expectation, and it was all Ireland when the final whistle blew.

Warren Gatland said he was “strangely not that disappointed” after the game.

The Wales coach said: “The things I’m disappointed with are things we can put right: the slow start and giving away needless penalties. When you look at the game we put ourselves in positions we could’ve taken advantage of. We can take away the positives, look at our second half performance and improve on that.”

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Welsh Government Rural Affairs Minister congratulates this year’s award winners

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EVERY nominee for this year’s Lantra Cymru Awards scheme has demonstrated their commitment to lifelong learning and maintaining the highest standards across all areas of working, Welsh Government Minister Lesley Griffiths has said.
The Minister has thanked and congratulated all this year’s award winners as well as the training providers who had nominated them.
The Minister said: “The Lantra Cymru Awards are a great opportunity to celebrate the commitment and passion of individuals across Wales. A huge well done to all the nominees, winners and training providers for all of their hard work including to increase efficiency and introduce further innovative ideas into their ways of working.”
Leading Welsh agriculturalist Mr Peter Rees, chair of Lantra Wales, presided over this year’s selection panel, which included Kevin Thomas, Director of Lantra Wales, Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones, founder and Managing Partner of Agri Advisor solicitors and agricultural Health and Safety expert Brian Rees, a former chair of the Wales Farm Safety Partnership and a Farming Connect farm safety mentor.
Mr Rees said that the Lantra Cymru Awards was always one of the highlights of the annual Welsh farming calendar, adding that it was testament to all the industry’s rural stakeholders, including colleges and training providers, that despite the current economic challenges within the industry, they had again identified and nominated many outstanding individuals.
“The Lantra Cymru Awards scheme, now in its 28th year, rewards the lifelong learning achievements of the many workers who, through their significant skills and abilities, contribute not only to farming but to the wider rural agenda in Wales, our rural economy and to the communities where they live and work.
“Each nominee’s clear commitment to continuous professional development and achievements within the environmental and land-based sectors, is doing so much to maintain professional, up to date standards within our industry.
“Each one of them is making a significant contribution, not only within their own particular area of working, but to the sustainability and modernisation of Welsh agriculture long term,” said Mr Rees.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

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Funding boost on offer for local sports groups

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INVESTING in grassroots and community sport has led to more than £300,000 being accessed by local clubs in 2022 and this year it could be your chance for a share.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s Sport Pembrokeshire helped 55 sports clubs receive a share of £335,388 from Sport Wales via the Be Active Wales Fund grants system last year.

In 2023 there are grants available for a variety of schemes or activities including coach education courses, essential items of equipment, new team start-ups and developing ‘on field’ activities.

Examples from last year include a Sea Cadet unit receiving £16,522 to buy a new safety boat as well as powerboat and safety boat courses, a table tennis club that got £700 for two new tables and a local football club accessed a grant of nearly £8,000 for training courses, balls, bibs, cones and goalposts.

Graham Willcocks at Trefloyne Junior Golf Academy, said: “The grant we received from the Be Active Wales Fund got us off to a flying start. We didn’t have much in the bank so it was a massive leap for us when they provided all the equipment we needed to get youngsters starting to play golf.
“With the support of Alan Jones at Sport Pembrokeshire, it was easy, with a straightforward application process and a really fast turnaround. Without that grant we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today.”

Sports Development Link Officer at Sport Pembrokeshire, Alan Jones added: “We would love to hear from any clubs and sports groups, large or small, to see if we can help access some grant funding to support community sport, and encourage people to get in touch.”  

Any sports clubs interested can find out more about the grants from Sport Pembrokeshire and the Sport Wales websites.

Email sport@pembrokeshire.gov.uk for more information and to tell the team about what your club needs and what you would like to do.

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