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Old Gold fall to Bala defeat

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Carmarthen Town 0

Bala 1

CARMARTHEN’S outstanding start to their Welsh Premier League second-phase programme, along with their six-match unbeaten run, were brought to an abrupt halt on Saturday, February 18, with this narrow defeat against a strong Bala side who lie in second place in the league and are themselves enjoying a sequence of just one defeat in 17 games.

The Old Gold were far from disgraced and the outcome of this match could have been so different if they had not made such an awful start, conceding a poor goal in the opening stages – after that shock they soon recovered and for the remaining 75-80 minutes the play was far more evenly balanced, with both sides enjoying spells of pressure.

From the outset the visitors swarmed forward, putting immediate and sustained pressure on the Town defence which looked uncharacteristically hesitant and disorganised.

After only two minutes Bala took the lead when David Thompson’s huge throw-in caused confusion in the crowded penalty area where Kieran Smith took advantage to fire the ball crisply past ‘keeper Lee Idzi and into the net.

The Lakesiders again went close on 4 minutes – Anthony Stephens’ corner was met by Stuart Jones who saw his firm header deflected just wide of the post. But from thereon Town gradually began to find their customary rhythm, spirit and discipline.

The defence, and in particular the formidable central pairing of Lee Surman and Dave Vincent, increasingly showed greater composure and resilience, while in midfield key players Kieran Lewis, Ceri Morgan and Declan Carroll were using their energy and vision both to disrupt the visitors’ attacking momentum and create opportunities for lively strikers Liam Thomas and Liam Griffiths to exploit with their pace and movement.

Throughout the rest of the first-half the game was more open and evenly balanced with the play shifting briskly from end to end – but with both defences performing soundly there were very few clear scoring chances.

However on 25 minutes the hosts narrowly avoided conceding again when a low cross from Ryan Wade took a huge deflection off a defender that sent the ball dangerously high towards the goal, only for Idzi to produce a stunning reflex save, clawing the ball onto the top of the bar and safely behind.

The Old Gold’s first notable effort arose in the 31st minute when Carroll slid a fine pass through to Griffiths who raced forward to the edge of the penalty area and turned smartly past his marker before hitting a fierce drive that flew marginally wide of the post.

Then on 35 minutes Carroll’s corner-kick into a packed goalmouth reached Thomas who, from 8 yards, cleverly chipped the ball over several defenders but ‘keeper Ashley Morris stretched high to claim it just under the bar.

After the interval the same pattern of play quickly emerged but for a long period the game was fairly uneventful and rather scrappy.

Then midway through the second-half manager Mark Aizlewood made his intentions clear when, in a 10 minute spell, he brought on three attack-minded substitutes Luke Cummings, Kyle Bassett and Matthew Thomas to inject more pace and flair into Town’s search for an equaliser.

In the 79th minute that was almost achieved – Cummings launched a long throw into the penalty area to find Morgan who from 10 yards drilled the ball through a crowd of players only for Morris to react instinctively and kick it off the goal-line to safety.

With the Old Gold pressing forward so enthusiastically, Bala were now looking more of a threat on the counter-attack and on 85 minutes they went close to extending their fragile lead – Wade cut inside from the right flank and drove the ball across the face of the goal but saw Bassett, alert to the danger, race back into the goalmouth and make a timely clearance.

Then after 91 minutes Town’s flying winger demonstrated his searing pace at the other end of the pitch when he burst through the Bala defence and into the penalty area only for Morris to rescue his side once more by quickly coming out of his goal and diving down to block Bassett’s 15 yard angled drive.

But deep into added time the visitors again threatened when, with the Old Gold defence stretched, Wade raced clear to the edge of the penalty area and as Idzi, who had clearly been hampered by a leg injury for some time, struggled to come out to challenge him the striker fired towards the unguarded goal only for the ball to drift just wide of the far post.

While this result was disappointing, Town’s performance (after the initial disastrous lapse) was certainly not – and to have secured six points in their opening second-phase fixtures against unquestionably the three strongest teams in the WPL was both highly commendable and unexpected.

Carmarthen, currently occupying fifth place in the league, next have an important away fixture against sixth-placed Cardiff Met on Saturday, March 4, (k/o 2.30pm).

A repeat of their stunning victory there on New Year’s Eve would be both very welcome and a big step towards securing that League position at the end of the season.

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Dressage rider is Festivals Champion

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GEMMA SOMERS from Nantgaredig has won the Petplan Equine Novice Silver Championship at the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships on Hallucination. The combination have spent the winter preparing for the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships held at Hartpury College, Gloucestershire from April 11-15.

Hallucination is a British bred 17.3hh, six-year-old mare owned by William Shufflebottom and ridden by Gemma.

The talented partnership clearly impressed the judges holding the lead throughout the 32-strong class despite being the first combination to trot down the centre line achieving an impressive score of 73.06%.

Nantgaredig-based rider Gemma Somers was delighted with Hallucination’s performance in an exciting atmosphere with some outstanding dressage tests and exceptional combinations competing for the Petplan Equine Novice Silver title. “It’s amazing to win,” said Gemma, “It’s her first time here so it’s been quite daunting for her! She’s been perfect all day, for the prize giving this evening she was a bit overwhelmed. I broke her in, so I’ve been her only rider, we started at unaffiliated competitions, joined BD and progressed from there.”

“She was really calm and relaxed – she can get quite tense and shoot off when she doesn’t like the look of something – but today she didn’t, she was just with me the whole time. It was a lovely test and I’m so pleased with her.”

The Petplan Equine Area Festivals, now in their 19th year, provide riders across the levels from Preliminary to Intermediate II with the chance to experience the thrill of competing in top competition style conditions. 27 Area Festivals took place all around the country in 2017 with over 4,200 horse and rider combinations taking part.

A further eight Area Festival Finals were then contested to gain qualification for the Championships at Hartpury.

Kate Hopkins, Marketing Consultant at Petplan Equine, commented; “We have been bowled over by the continued success of the Petplan Equine Area Festivals, participation has increased again, and the standard continues to rise at every Championships. We are proud and delighted to sponsor a series that has become so important to amateur and aspiring dressage riders around the country. It is an opportunity for grassroots riders to showcase the immense talent out there. We would especially like to congratulate Gemma and Hallucination on their fantastic win and wish her the very best of luck for the future.”
British Dressage’s Chief Executive Jason Brautigam said: “I am always very impressed with the dedication and commitment shown by competitors participating in the Petplan Equine Area Festivals series. The growth in the number of combinations going down the centre line continues to surpass all our expectations.

“The new format introduced last year, with the addition of the eight Area Festival Finals, has allowed even more people to experience the atmosphere of a top dressage competition – with the Championships being the icing on the cake. Petplan Equine’s support of the Area Festivals will soon be entering its 20th year, which is testament to how much they have been a loyal, committed and trusted supporter of our sport. BD really values the contribution that they make, and long may this partnership continue.”

Further information about the Petplan Equine Area Festivals and how to qualify for next year’s finals is available from the Petplan Equine website at: www.petplanequine.co.uk/area-festivals/

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Former Wales international Anthony Walker appointed Wales U19 head coach

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FORMER Wakefield Trinity, St Helens and Wales International Anthony Walker has been appointed as the new head coach of the Wales under 19 rugby league side.

He will lead the under 19s in the forthcoming European Championships and will remain as head coach of the side until at least December 2020.

The 26-year old retired from playing in October last year on medical grounds but is no stranger to coaching having juggled the latter days of his playing career with coaching Blackbrook in the north of England based National Conference League, guiding them to promotion in 2016 and picking up a local coach of the year award in the process.

Since his retirement from playing he has progressed to coaching in the professional game, working as a first team assistant coach at another of his former clubs, Rochdale Hornets, in the RFL Championship.

Walker, who also played for Whitehaven and Dewsbury Rams in his professional rugby league career, is Wales RL heritage #489 after winning eight caps and scoring three tries. He was in the side when Wales won the European Championship in 2015 after beating France, Scotland (where he scored a try) and Ireland.

He is delighted to be bringing through the next crop of potential Wales World Cup players.

He said: “I’m made up to have been appointed. When I saw the post, I contacted Wales CEO Chris Thair immediately. I’ve been coaching a lot since retiring and I want to give something back to WRL after they were so good to me whilst going through the retirement.

“We’ll be going into this summer’s Under 19 European Championship with the aim of winning the trophy.”

Wales won this trophy when it was last contested as under 18 competition in 2008, beating Czech Republic, England and France and a number of those Wales players went on to win full Wales caps.

Walker continues: “My aim is to make Wales under 19s as successful as possible and help create some future full Wales international players. However I want to make coming into camp as much of an honour as it was for me and for the lads to have some fun along the way.

“I won the senior European Championship as a player and I want to make memories for life for these group of lads, just like playing for Wales has done for me.”

Walker will be assisted by Wayne Ponting, who last year served as assistant coach to the Wales under 16s, under 18s and Student sides. He was previously involved with the Welsh regional academies, the South Wales Scorpions and Celtic Crusaders academy and scholarship sides after cutting his coaching teeth with Blackwood Bulldogs juniors.

The final appointment sees Steve Jenkins from Llanelli appointed as team manager.

Jenkins is a newcomer to Rugby League but boasts an impressive CV having been involved in a variety of managerial roles in rugby union with Llanelli RFC, Carmarthen Quins, the Scarlets and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Jenkins said: “From working in Rugby Union I have gained experience both with Scarlets and the WRU which I feel will assist me in the team manager role.

“During my time with the Scarlets I gained experience under coaches Gareth Jenkins and for Phil Davies where I was his team manager when he took the Scarlets to their last Semi Final of the European Cup in 2007. Additionally, working for the WRU was challenging and I understand the high standards that are set to help to run an international side.

“I am really looking forward to joining up with WRL under 19’s coaches Anthony and Wayne, and experiencing the challenges that lay ahead in preparing the squad for the European Under 19 Championship in August this year.”

The 2018 Under 19s European Championship will be contested in Belgrade, Serbia between the 5th and 11th of August with Wales taking on Russia in the first round of the eight-team knockout tournament.

Trial and training dates for the Wales under 19 side will be announced shortly.

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Scarlets name unchanged XV for final pool clash

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THE SCARLETS will welcome RC Toulon to Parc y Scarlets on Saturday afternoon in the final pool game of the 2017-18 European Rugby Champions Cup campaign.

A victory for the Scarlets would see the region make it through to the knockout stages of the coveted competition for the first time in over a decade and head coach Wayne Pivac has rewarded the side that secured such an emphatic victory over Bath last weekend by naming an unchanged XV.

With over 13,500 tickets sold already Saturday’s game will be the region’s biggest in European history at Parc y Scarlets, the record currently stands at 12,392 against Leicester Tigers back in January 2011.

In the only change to the replacements bench the region’s supporters will be delighted to see British & Irish Lion Leigh Halfpenny return to fitness.

Looking ahead to the game head coach Wayne Pivac said; “We know what to expect from Toulon, we’ve come up against each other on numerous occasions in the last few years. We need to make sure that we’re defensively on our game.

“There was only one point separating the teams in the first round of the competition this year and we gifted them some points early on from our errors. To fight back and get ourselves into a position to possibly win the game out there was very pleasing.

“I think it’s going to be another one of those games. It’s the same for both teams. Whoever gets the win is through. It’s a chance for both of us. We’re not through yet but you don’t want to be the team looking at the mathematical equation. It’s all set up for a great evening.”

Scarlets side to take on RC Toulon at Parc y Scarlets, Saturday 20th January, kick-off 5.30pm;

15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Paul Asquith, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Rob Evans, 2 Ken Owens ©, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 David Bulbring, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 James Davies, 8 John Barclay

Replacements; Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Werner Kruger, Lewis Rawlins, Will Boyde, Aled Davies, Steff Hughes, Leigh Halfpenny

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