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England and Wales set for epic Six Nations showdown at Twickenham

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IN A TITANIC showdown set to unfold at Twickenham on Saturday (Feb 10), England will vie for consecutive triumphs in the Six Nations, squaring off against their age-old adversaries, Wales. Fresh from a morale-boosting victory over Italy, England returns to their fortress for the first time since their unexpected defeat in a World Cup warm-up match against Fiji, an event that left them facing disapproval from their own supporters. Yet, the squad is eager to turn the page with a robust display in this pivotal encounter.

Wales, under the stewardship of coach Warren Gatland, is in a quest for redemption following a first-half performance against Scotland that Gatland lamented as “one of the worst 40-minute performances in my whole rugby career.” Despite staging a remarkable comeback from a 27-0 deficit, the Welsh side fell short, emphasizing the need for a significant turnaround as they aspire for their inaugural Six Nations win at Twickenham since 2012.

The England camp, buoyed by their recent success, encountered some growing pains as they sought to integrate an expansive attacking strategy and a blitz-style defence. Captain Jamie George remains undeterred, expressing unequivocal confidence in his team’s championship aspirations. For the first time since the 2019 World Cup final, England has announced an unchanged starting XV, signifying head coach Steve Borthwick’s confidence in his selections. The reintroduction of vice-captain Ellis Genge, following recovery from injury, as a substitution is the sole adjustment, hinting at a strategic depth on the bench.

Conversely, Wales has instigated a sweeping overhaul with seven alterations to their starting lineup, heralded by George North’s return to make his 50th Six Nations appearance after overcoming a shoulder injury. This significant milestone is complemented by strategic changes, including the introduction of Ioan Lloyd and Tomos Williams at half-back following commendable performances off the bench in the previous game. The forward pack sees Alex Mann elevated from the replacements in a bid to fortify the team’s dynamics, reflecting the urgency to rejuvenate their campaign with a landmark victory on English soil.

The historical rivalry between England and Wales adds an extra dimension to this clash, rendering it more than just a game. It’s a fierce battle for supremacy, laden with pride and passion. As both teams gear up, England’s line-up boasts the likes of Steward, Freeman, and Slade, among others, with Genge, Dan, and Smith providing reinforcement from the bench. Wales counters with a formidable selection, featuring Winnett, Adams, North, and a rejuvenated forward line aiming to challenge England’s dominance.

This match is not merely a contest of physical prowess but a test of strategic acumen and mental fortitude. With both sides possessing the talent and determination to prevail, this encounter promises to be a captivating spectacle for rugby aficionados worldwide. As the rugby community braces for this epic confrontation, the narrative of the England-Wales rivalry is poised for another exhilarating chapter, underscoring the essence of the Six Nations tournament’s competitive spirit. Fans are encouraged to stay tuned across all platforms to witness what is anticipated to be an unforgettable duel in the heart of London.

Team line-ups

England:

15-Steward, 14-Freeman, 13-Slade, 12-Dingwall, 11-Daly, 10-Ford, 9-Mitchell; 1-Stuart, 2-Marler, 3-George (capt), 4-Itoje, 5-Chessum, 6-Roots, 7-Underhill, 8-Earl Replacements: 16-Dan, 17-Genge, 18-Cole, 19-Coles, 20-Cunningham-South, 21-Care, 22-Smith, 23-Feyi-Waboso

Wales:

15-Winnett; 14-Adams, 13-North, 12-Tompkins, 11-Dyer; 10-Lloyd, 9-Williams; 1-Thomas, 2-Dee, 3-Assiratti, 4-Jenkins (capt), 5-Beard, 6-Mann, 7-Reffell, 8-Wainwright Replacements: 16-Elias, 17-Domachowski, 18-Griffin, 19-Rowlands, 20-Basham, 21-Hardy, 22-Evans, 23-Grady

TRAVEL WARNING FOR FANS

Rail maintenance work will affect journeys for rugby fans heading to Twickenham from Wales and the south-west on Saturday.

The line between Reading and Bracknell will be closed from Saturday 10 to Sunday 18 February, meaning supporters will need to amend journeys for the England-Wales Six Nations fixture (1645 kick-off).

Fans who would normally change at Reading for South Western Railway services to Twickenham can travel:

  • Reading – London Paddington on GWR or Elizabeth line, then Bakerloo line Paddington – Waterloo for SWR services to Twickenham.
  • Reading – Basingstoke on GWR or CrossCountry for SWR services via any reasonable route to Twickenham.
  • There is no additional cost if you travel via London Paddington or Basingstoke, however tickets loaded to a Smartcard will not be accepted on London Underground and you will need to pay for this journey. This ticket acceptance applies in both directions on Saturday 10 February 2024, only.

GWR Operations Director, Richard Rowland, said: “We know many fans travelling on GWR services would normally change at Reading for SWR services to Twickenham. On Saturday you’ll need to head on into Paddington or travel via Basingstoke before making your way to Twickenham.

“Please do allow sufficient time to make your journey and remember that trains will be extremely busy leading up to kick-off and immediately following the match.”

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Pop up museum opens in Haverfordwest whilst Castle works continue

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WITH Haverfordwest Castle closed for the next couple years due to building works for the Heart of Pembrokeshire project the Haverfordwest Town Museum has had to relocate to the town centre.

Last September, plans to move temporarily Haverfordwest’s museum to the town’s Riverside Quay while levelling-up works in the town are ongoing were given the thumbs-up.

An application for a change of use of the former GAME electronic games store at 24-25 Riverside Quay to the temporary home for the ‘pop-up’ museum was submitted to county planners by historian and council presiding member Dr Simon Hancock.

The museum itself is moving from its current site at the Governor’s Office next to Haverfordwest Castle due to ongoing works connected with the £24m Heart of Pembrokeshire levelling-up redevelopment of that part of the county town, which is expected to last until Spring 2026.

Work is ongoing to set up displays and create a museum shop and the new Riverside home is hoped to open to the public on March 25.

Museum Curator Dr Hancock said: “We want to make the pop-up museum an informative and entertaining space. We will have models of the castle and Tudor Merchant’s house, displays on the Llewellin churnworks, the Port of Haverfordwest, items made in the town during the Victorian period, David Lindley paintings and the People of Haverfordwest panels.

“We will be open all year round in our new premises and so we will ensure there will be regular changes of content. We would like to hear from anyone who would be interested in volunteering for us.

“The pop-up museum would only be possible thanks to the stalwart support of the county council with funding from the Shared Prosperity Fund for which we are extremely grateful.”

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Vandal-blighted house cannot be demolished without application

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AN OFFICIAL application needs to be made before a deteriorated vandal-blighted house in Haverfordwest may be demolished by a social housing provider, county planners have said.

Social housing provider Ateb Group Limited recently gave county planners prior notification of its plans to demolish The Grove, St Thomas Green.

In its application, it stated: “The building has been unoccupied for several years and its physical condition has deteriorated significantly over that time. It has become prone to vandalism and trespass and is becoming difficult to manage and secure.

“Its demolition will allow the structure and resultant debris to be removed, improving the visual amenities of the locality. It will also enable the site to become readily available for a sensitive redevelopment in association with the adjacent Meyler House.”

It added: “The cleared site will become part of the adjoining Meyler House site, with proposals being prepared to redevelop and construct affordable elderly persons apartments and associated parking facilities.”

Ateb has said it expected the demolition works to take several weeks, starting this April.

Agent Evans Banks Planning Limited, in a supporting statement said The Grove, adjoining Ateb’s head offices at Meyler House, received permission back in 2009 for the “Demolition of existing dwelling and replacement with apartments, houses and landscaped grounds.”

Conservation Area Consent was also granted at that time.

“Those permissions were not implemented and have long since lapsed, but nevertheless indicate that the principle of demolishing The Grove was deemed acceptable at that time to the local planning authority,” said Evans Banks Planning Limited.

“A pre-application enquiry has recently been presented before the local planning authority which seeks to reignite such redevelopment proposals but on a much larger site, incorporating Meyler House and its grounds into a comprehensive redevelopment scheme to create elderly persons apartments.”

It added: “This current submission seeks to renew that 2009 Conservation Area Consent given that the existing former dwellinghouse has now reached a physical state where its deterioration is causing concern.”

County planners determined that prior approval is needed before any demolition works take place, with details of tree protection while the works take place needed, along with a suitable method statement to minimise noise, dust and a strategy for dealing with hazardous materials should they arise during the demolition.

A similar application by Ateb, for demolition works at the town’s former learning centre, near to the former county library, was recently made subject to broadly similar conditions.

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Pembrokeshire council tax rise ‘highest in Wales in 20 years’

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A UK campaign group is to target Pembrokeshire ahead of the county facing what the group says would be the largest council tax increase in England and Wales in more than a decade.

At the February meeting of the county council’s Cabinet, members backed a council tax increase in Pembrokeshire of 16.3 per cent.

The proposed increase, which will be decided by full council at its March 7 meeting, would see the basic council tax level – before town/community precepts and the police precept are included – rise by £219.02 for the average Band D property, taking it to £1,561.98.

It is expected to be the highest percentage rate in Wales, on top of previous Pembrokeshire increases of 12.5 per cent, 9.92 per cent, five per cent, 3.75 per cent, five per cent and 7.5 per cent.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has launched a campaign against the proposed increase, and will be in Milford Haven on Thursday, February 29, and Friday, March 1, delivering leaflets and speaking to residents about the proposed increase.

TPA research says that if the tax rise is agreed, it will be the largest in England and Wales since 2012-13, when referendum principles were agreed.

England differs from Wales in having a cap, needing a referendum for any rate above five per cent for the 2024-25 financial year.

Taxpayers Alliance says Pembrokeshire’s proposal would be the largest percentage increase in Wales since 2000-01 and the third largest since 1997-98.

The only larger rises were in 2000-01 and 1998-99, when Monmouthshire and Powys county councils increased their council tax by 23.15 per cent and 17.5 per cent respectively, the group says.

At the February meeting of Pembrokeshire’s Cabinet, potential rises of 18.94 per cent, and an eye-watering 20.98 were mooted, which would have placed the county in second place.

The TPA is calling on residents in Pembrokeshire to write to the leader of the council, Cllr David Simpson, expressing their opposition to the proposals.

Benjamin Elks, grassroots development manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This record-busting rate rise would deal a devastating blow to household finances in Pembrokeshire.

“Local taxpayers face being punished for the council’s failure to find efficiencies, cut down on waste and balance the books.

“Councillors should show some backbone, stand up for their residents and say no to this ruinous tax hike.”

Pembrokeshire, currently facing a projected funding gap of £31.9m, has historically had the lowest council tax in Wales.

For comparison, the current 2023-’24 average Band D base council tax – before police and town/community council parts of the overall bill are included – for Pembrokeshire is £1,342.86, compared to Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire at £1,553.60 and £1,490.97 respectively.

If the council had Ceredigion’s level of council tax for 2023-24, it would have had an additional £11.758m income and if it had Carmarthenshire’s it would have had an additional £8.264m.

Pembrokeshire Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack said: “For 2024-25, Pembrokeshire County Council is facing additional demand pressures in statutory services (adult and children’s social care, homelessness and education).

“This means we need an extra £17m to provide these services next year – this alone is equivalent to an increase of over 26 per cent on council tax. Additionally, we face inflationary pressures of £22.8m.

“Our funding gap, after the AEF money we’ll receive from Welsh Government, is £31.9m.

“We are legally required to balance our budget – to match the amount of money coming in against what we spend to provide services. We are planning to make savings on our spending of £12.2m, as well as utilising some council tax premiums to enhance the sustainability of our communities.

“This has allowed us to limit the council tax rise to 16.31 per cent. This weighs up the need to limit council tax rises on residents against the need to preserve services used by many of the most vulnerable people in the county.

“The demand pressures, particularly in social care, are affecting all councils in Wales, but particularly Pembrokeshire, since we have had the lowest council tax in Wales for decades.

“Based on current information, we expect Pembrokeshire to still have one of the lowest council tax levels – probably 18th out of the 22 Welsh local authorities.”

Neighbouring Ceredigion is recommended to back an 11.1 per cent increase at its full council meeting of February 29.

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