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Multi-use facilities are the future

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Welsh Hero: Gareth Bale training at Dragon Park

Welsh Hero: Gareth Bale training at Dragon Park

CARMARTHENSHIRE is close to seeing football becoming extinct in the county. At least, that is the eye-catching claim being made by the Secretary of Carmarthenshire Unified Sports Committee, Michael Bassett.

Mr Bassett painted a bleak picture for football in the county, stating: “For the season 2017/18, they (CCC) will also be charging for changing rooms at a rough cost of £1,000 each. If these pitches are not asset transferred by March 2018, the threat from CCC is that they will not be maintained.

“Penygaer Fields, our main football hub, which was used by nine senior teams requiring five pitches, is now only used by three senior teams on two pitches. We need these pitches for junior and mini football but we can’t afford to pay the £2,500 a year maintenance without the senior clubs.”

Mr Bassett claims that Sports Development Officers wages cost £293,000 and says that the council claim that the return on the investment is in the work undertaken by these officers.

He also claims that none of the money and none of the manpower is used on football, cricket, rugby or bowls in Carmarthenshire.

Making reference to the potential building of a new school on one of the best pitches in Carmarthenshire, Mr Bassett continued: “Llanerch Pitch is having a school built on it, but only after we removed it from our pitch requirements because it needed essential maintenance on it after substandard work by Carmarthenshire County Council.

“If we lose any more teams on Penygaer, there is a strong possibility that CCC will build houses there. Nearly every club still playing is teetering on the edge of financial ruin, which will result in them folding.

“Our local college has just installed a 3G pitch and its price to hire per hour has risen from £45 to £75. If a club hired that once a week for winter training, it’s an added expense of £600 a year. Football in Carmarthenshire as we know it is close to extinction!”

Mr Bassett concluded by saying: “Welsh Government provides Sports Wales with a development budget. Sports Wales distributes £342,169 to Carmarthenshire County Council’s Sports and Leisure Section. To fund ‘Active Young people’s Programmes’, £152,700 is also provided to fund the free swim initiative for under 16 and over 60s.”

On Wednesday, August 10, the FAW posted a photo on Twitter showing their pitch at Dragon Park, stating: “Our new @DragonParkNFDC pitch is looking splendid now.” In a twist of irony, the CUSC Chairman sent his own photo of the butchered pitch at Penygaer stating: “Our pitches not looking so splendid.” The two photographs are a huge contradiction between what the FAW has and says it is doing for grass-roots football and the reality facing coaches and players in Carmarthenshire on a weekly basis.

On their JustGiving page, the Welsh Football Trust state: “We want every child in Wales to have the opportunity to play football.”

The FAW also say that they are: “Helping to build a better future for Welsh football and through its Level Playing Field Campaign is using the power of football to make a difference to young people’s lives by developing communities, increasing opportunities and realising potential. Football… more than a game.”

Mr Bassett told us that Neil Ward, CEO of the FAW Trust, had told Llanelli AM Lee Waters that the Trust favoured decommissioning grass-roots pitches to pay for 3G pitches.

The Herald contacted Lee Waters AM and he told us that the CEO had said: “The benefit of a 3G pitch is that it could allow each council to decommission around 12 grass pitches.

“I understand that the council is cash-strapped because of austerity. The answer is not in rushing to get rid of facilities to cut down on maintenance. They maintain that they want to encourage play, exercise and grass-roots sport, which is in line with what the Welsh Assembly Government wants. There is a slight disconnect when at the same time they are putting up fees for pitches and considering selling off land that clubs can’t afford to take over.

“All this, when taken together, runs the very real risk that those aims will be undermined.”

The Herald contacted the Chief Executive Officer of the FAW Trust, Neil Ward.

We began by asking Mr Ward what current position was on football pitches in Carmarthenshire.

He said: “The council are under pressure and it is manifesting in football through an increase in pitch hire fees and maintenance costs. We are trying to work with councils and stake holders on a long term plan. Councils have become reactive to events and budget using short term measures.

“We have started communications with Carmarthenshire County Council and there have been vocal challenges from groups who don’t understand the sensitive blended model of artificial and grass pitches. My view is that 3G pitches can be used to play on when sport can’t take place on grass pitches. They are not expensive to build or maintain. Together with stakeholders, we could find a sensible solution which is accessible to all.”

Mr Ward said that some grass pitches could be decommissioned or transferred to communities and that a mixed model approach was required for football and that there would be more opportunity for wider participation, including girls and disability groups.

He said: “We have to look at varying models which are durable, inspirational and usable during inclement weather. We have to insure a way of maintaining grass pitches better than we do now and we may have to let some go to invest in pitches elsewhere.”

Mr Ward went on to say that there has to be ambition to ensure people play more often – not having poor facilities no one can play on.

“Up until now, there has been a strong focus on programmes of activity. The model is consistent throughout, but one size doesn’t fit all. Sports Wales are listening and we are conscious that more resources are needed for front-line sport. Football is changing from a long tradition of joining clubs. The alternatives are that people turn up and play on their doorstep any day of the week rather than travelling around the country on a Saturday. The challenge for football is to respond with facilities at the heart of communities. Games on grass pitches are weather determined.”

He went on to highlight some of the issues he would like to address and discuss with schools and sporting organisations and asked: “Why are schools closed at night? They are public assets. Older people are coming back to football.

Llanwern in Newport is a 21st century school, where Newport County play and have an academy. What you have in Carmarthenshire is a hard lobby group in CUSC and the council afraid to make decisions and us receiving public funding on an annual basis. It is difficult to make long term plans on that basis.”

The Herald asked Mr Ward if he was aware of the situation at Stebonheath Football ground, which was also closed for most of the week and which has the potential to offer sport seven days a week.

He he did not wish to comment on Stebonheath but said that the vision The Herald had suggested was something the FAW would like to see.

“Children are forced to early into deciding what sport they want to play. Knowing Stebonheath as I do, that fits into our vision. It may not fit for rural parts of the country but where there are significant numbers of chimney pots, yes. Going forwards, that is the kind of vision that we have and the conversations we would like to have.”

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Wales Women building cohesion at start of big year

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Cohesion was the focus for new Wales Women head coach Warren Abrahams during his first training camp of 2021.

Having been in post just over a month, Abrahams has spent time watching the Welsh performances in the Allianz Premier 15s and getting to know players and staff but the two-day camp was a welcome opportunity for quality face to face time with an enlarged training squad.

“We achieved our key aims on the weekend. The main thing was to learn more about the players. The more we understand them as individuals and as a team, that’s where we can make them better as players.

“The ultimate goal at the moment is to develop cohesion. We have to have the right people and make sure we work incredibly hard on those relationships between players and with management. Everything is tailored to making the team better and we also had some meaningful conversations around the legacy this team wants to leave for the next generation of Welsh women’s rugby and this team has to be the role model for that. That is a long-term goal.”

Abrahams is buoyed by what he’s seen so far. The vast majority of this training squad play in the Allianz Premiership and our players aren’t just making up the numbers. They’re putting down some big markers – just look at Kayleigh Powell and Hannah Jones who both earned a Player of the Match recently and Jaz Joyce who was Player of the Month for December. We’re really proud of how well our players are doing, it’s great for the programme and those experiences are just going to make them better.”

Siwan Lillicrap added, “It’s been nice to get together so soon in the New Year – the first step in a huge year ahead. The focus this weekend was on building a foundation and exploring what we’ve got as a squad.

“I think we absolutely achieved that, the relationships are developing along with a confidence in the squad . It’s been a tough, challenging camp but that’s what you want as we build towards the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup.”

Lillicrap welcomed the input of the new-look coaching team, former Wales captain and Colwyn Bay head coach Rachel Taylor coming in as national skills coach and former Ireland international and Penclawdd forwards coach Sophie Spence joining the set-up as Wales’ World Rugby coaching intern.

“Warren has been very inspirational for us already. It feels like he’s been in post much longer as we’ve done a lot of work on zoom already. It’s great to have Rachel on board. She’s a role model for many of us with what’s she’s done on the field as Wales captain and off it as a coach and Sophie too with her international experience and coaching knowledge.”

Training squad:
Forwards: Abbie Fleming, Alisha Butchers, Gwen Crabb, Georgia Evans, Cerys Hale, Cara Hope, Molly Kelly, Natalia John, Manon Johnes, Kelsey Jones, Beth Lewis, Siwan Lillicrap, Robyn Lock, Shona Powell-Hughes, Donna Rose, Caryl Thomas, Meg Webb, Teleri Wyn Davies
Backs: Alecs Donovan, Beth Huntley, Bryonie King, Courtney Keight, Jade Knight, Caitlin Lewis, Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones, Jasmine Joyce, Kayleigh Powell, Paige Randall, Jess Roberts, Gemma Rowland, Lauren Smyth, Elinor Snowsill, Robyn Wilkins, Flo Williams

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Scarlets slay Dragons

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Pro-14 Conference BScarlets 20 – Dragons 3

SCARLETS started 2021 as they ended 2020 with a Welsh derby victory at Parc y Scarlets.
Tries from man-of-the-match Sione Kalamafoni and replacement Sam Costelow, combined with the boot of Dan Jones ensured Glenn Delaney’s side made it a festive double to move them up to second in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 standings.
The Scarlets weren’t at their free-flowing best and will be frustrated by the amount of handling errors and ill-discipline in their performance, but the winning run continues ahead of next week’s clash with Cardiff Blues in the Welsh capital.
Despite a rare dry night in Llanelli, the opening 40 minutes was littered with errors from both sides and it meant the game had little flow.
The Scarlets enjoyed plenty of possession and territory, but too often passes failed to go to hand.
It was the Dragons who were first on the scoreboard thanks to a penalty from the boot of ex-Scarlet Josh Lewis.
Wales lock Jake Ball limped off moments later with a knee injury to be replaced by Tevita Ratuva, while Wyn Jones, on his 100th appearance, also left the field for a head assessment.
The outstanding Kalamafoni made a powerful surge up the middle of the field to put the Scarlets on the offensive, but again a promising move broke down.
Dan Jones levelled matters on 29 minutes, then added another penalty on the stroke of half-time after a quick tap from Kieran Hardy.
The Scarlets continued to enjoy the better of play in the second period, but had to wait until 57 minutes for the game’s first try.
More pressure led to Gareth Davies being taken out off the ball and Dragons lock Matthew Screech being shown yellow by referee Nigel Owens.
Scarlets went for the corner instead of the shot at goal and a well-worked training move saw Kalamafoni charge across the whitewash for his first try in Scarlets colours, a score converted by Jones.
With former Scarlet Rhodri Williams adding a spark, Dragons looked for an immediate response, but a brilliant turnover from Ratuva snuffed out the threat.
Then in the final play, replacement Sam Costelow picked up a loose ball, sped through the gap and around the final defender for a superb solo score, with the Wales U20s fly-half adding the conversion for good measure.
After the hard-fought win, Scarlets coach Glenn Delaney said: “I suppose it was a compelling contest of a different nature. You saw a lot of kicking battles going on, neither team wanted to give the other counter-attacking opportunities.
“I thought defensively we were very resolute, I never felt we were in danger on our goal-line, it was a bit stop-start with a couple of drop balls, but I am delighted to get the win and we did create a bit more in the second half.
“With these derby games, I am learning every time we play one, they all seem to be pretty much like this and perhaps bring out the best and worst in us because of the individual competition and contest.
“We would have liked to have done a bit more with the ball and the attacking breakdown with us was poor, the Dragons turned over a bit of ball there so we need to be better in that area and make sure when we make the breaks we are able to capitalise.”Attachments area

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Scarlets’ late surge sees off Ospreys

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Pro-14 Conference B – Ospreys 14 – Scarlets 16 

A LATE try from Angus O’Brien secured the derby day spoils in a nail-biting Guinness PRO14 Boxing Day clash against the Ospreys.
The Ospreys, playing as the official ‘home’ team at Parc y Scarlets, had led for the majority of a tense contest.
But with 71 minutes on the clock, a superb off-load from replacement Blade Thomson paved the way for full-back O’Brien to slice through and dive over for the crucial score.
Man of the match Dan Jones added the conversion to put the Scarlets in front for the first time and the West Walians were able to finish the match on the front foot to claim the annual festive bragging rights and a crucial win to keep them in the hunt in the Conference B standings.
O’Brien hadn’t been named in the original match-day 23, but was brought in at the 11th hour as a replacement for Johnny McNicholl.
In blustery conditions, Scarlets enjoyed the early pressure, but despite hammering away at the Ospreys line were unable to come away with any points.
Instead, it was the Ospreys who were first on the board after 14 minutes through the boot of fly-half Stephen Myler.
The opening quarter was proving a cagey affair with both sides unable to get any momentum going.
A moment of individual brilliance from scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams, who dummied and sprinted clear from 40 metres, extended the Ospreys’ lead on 22 minutes, but the Scarlets’ response was swift with Jones landing a penalty straight from the kick-off.
Jones hit the upright with another attempt, then a pin-point cross-field kick from Steff Hughes just evaded the grasp of wing Steff Evans with the line at his mercy.
A powerful scrum on the stroke of half-time led to a long-range penalty chance, but O’Brien’s strike drifted wide with the Ospreys going in ahead 8-3 at the break.
Myler extended his side’s lead early in the second half, but Jones kept Scarlets in it with his kicking out of hand and off the floor.
Two more penalties from the Carmarthen fly-half to one from Myler made it 14-9 going into the final 10 minutes.
Then the Scarlets struck.
With Thomson having a big impact off the bench, the back-rower plucked a ball out of the sky as the Scarlets surged forward. He was involved again soon after, producing a sublime pass to O’Brien who cut a great angle to the posts.
With only two points in it, the Scarlets showed their composure to make their way downfield and set up camp in ‘home’ territory for the final minutes, denying the Ospreys any chance to snatch the win.Glenn Delaney reflected on the absence of fans from the stadium.“You go back 12 months and there were 15,000 people here and I don’t think I have experienced anything like it. This place was electric.“I say it every week, we are very fortunate to be in the position we are and we are only here by virtue of the supporters of this great club. We want the fans back here as soon as possible.“Hopefully, they found a chance to shout at the TV screens, get involved and share the experience. The derby season is passionate, the only thing we are missing is the people. We must get the people back into the game, they would have loved the occasion.”On the performance, while Glenn Delaney was ‘delighted’ with the win, he added: “There is plenty for us to work on. We stayed in the game and that’s what you have to do in a derby.“There were a lot of things we weren’t happy about in terms of our skillsets and penalty count, we were very ill-disciplined and we need to correct that. We were putting pressure on ourselves. We were trying to play and we were quite close on a couple of occasions, a couple of pass-kicks almost went to hand.“Probably not having a game for a week or so showed, our timing was a bit off; we have had a couple of disjointed weeks, we looked a bit rusty. I thought the Ospreys were excellent, put us under pressure and took their points well.”

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