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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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Footballer’s ‘haymaker’ punch which fractured jaw leads to jail

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A LLANELLI footballer has been jailed for a ‘haymaker’ of a punch that fractured the jaw of a rival player in two places.

Ollie Noor, aged 28, has since been banned for life from playing in a six a side competition held at the Parc y Scarlets stadium.

Noor, of DanyBanc, Felinfoel, admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm to 17 year old Liam Jones and was jailed for eight months.

Helen Randall, prosecuting, said on December 4 last year there had been a bad tempered match during which Noor had been yellow carded and sin binned for a while for foul play.

He returned to the playing area and with just three minutes to go was the victim of a late tackle.

Noor, a paint sprayer, reacted by knocking out Mr Jones, who was taken to Swansea’s Morriston hospital for specialised treatment and had plates and screws inserted into his jaw.

The court heard that Mr Jones had not played since the attack and his college studies had suffered.

David Williams, representing Noor, said his side had been winning 10-0 and there had been no need for the late tackle as it would not have affected the result.

Judge Geraint Walters said the match had been ill tempered and at one point Noor had been sin binned.

The punch, he added, must have been a haymaker because it fractured Mr Jones’ jaw on both sides of his face.

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Wales 21 – 29 Australia

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AUSTRALIA defeated Wales on Saturday (Nov 11) at the Principality Stadium in the first game of the Under Armour Autumn International series to stretch their run to thirteen consecutive victories over their hosts dating back nearly a decade. Wales now haven’t won their opening match of an Autumn series since 2009 [40-3 v Romania] and this result also extends the Wallabies current unbeaten run to seven, their longest since reaching the 2015 World Cup Final at Twickenham.

Such is their current pedigree they took the scalp of arch rivals New Zealand 23-18 last month and this green and gold side are content to mobilise the ball in direct lines whenever possible, whilst expertly managing the game away from their own try line under pressure.  Their first half dominance laid the foundations for the success as they had 67% possession making the home side make 80 tackles to defend their line, whilst having to make just 30 themselves.

Statistics won’t lie to Head Coach Warren Gatland, who selected a side which included eight Scarlets players and scrum half Aled Davies carded as a substitute. Gatland had changed the game plan which served him so well over the decade he has overseen the national side, looking to develop a line up capable of challenging at the very top come the 2019 World Cup.

He gave a debut to Gloucester playmaker Owen Williams at inside centre and with injuries in the backrow of skipper Sam Warbarton, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric his hand was forced to play exuberance, vigour and players in form alongside Taulupe Faletau.   Stepping up to the plate in the heat of the battle were Josh Navidi and ‘son of Hendy’, flanker Aaron Shingler, both of whom were tenacious in their defence duties.

A nervous Welsh start settled after six minutes when outside half Dan Biggar put a searching kick into the Aussie 22 and winger Liam Williams followed up to charge down the clearance from full back Kurtley Beale.  A scrambled defensive clearance subsequently saw hooker Ken Owens find second row Jake Ball at the front of the line out before third phase ball found winger Steff Evans coming in on the opposite wing to draw a penalty for offside on the 10m line. Leigh Halfpenny, in his first international game under a Scarlets ‘flag’ duly slotted it over for a 3-0 lead, which lasted less than four minutes as the green and gold responded through hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau. He was driven over by his fellow forwards following their first real incision into Welsh territory allowing outside half Ben Foley to convert for 7-3 lead. 

Spurred into action prop Rob Evans, returning after a prolonged absence for a head injury suffered against Connaught in September combined with centre Jonathan Davies for the red machine to move the ball 45m, only to see former Scarlets winger Liam Williams held up with a last ditch tackle.

Wales were now confident and scrum half Gareth Davies made an incisive 30m break.  Quick second phase ball set centre Jonathan Davies clear once again to put Williams away on a 3 v 1 overlap; demonstrating quick hands through Halfpenny it allowed winger Steff Evans to crash over in the corner on his home debut and Halfpenny added the extras for a lead of 10-7. 

The game sea sawed again after 23 absorbing minutes when second row Adam Coleman waltzed over unopposed with Rob Evans guilty of ball watching, for a converted try to see Australia lead 14-10.  The experienced Foley and half back partner Will Gena were vibrant and positive with the ball in hand putting Wales firmly on the back foot. 

Composure was needed under pressure and the go to man in the line out was back row star Shingler, who was winning ball at the front or back of the line.  One such success resulted in a penalty permitting Biggar to kick to the edge of the visitors 22 but to no avail.  In such an open and fast game, where the collisions between players was high on intensity, the difference emerged between the two nations as Australia converted their opportunities into points. 

Wales conceded a penalty after Tom Francis in the front row was penalised for not scrummaging square and the Wallabies accepted another penalty decision from New Zealand referee Glenn Jackson allowing winger Reece Hodge to thump over a monster penalty and a 17-10 lead with five minutes of the half remaining.

Halfpenny responded with a 35m penalty from in front of the posts after Ken Owens had won the ball back for his team, but Australia completed the first half scoring when some sustained drives and slick hands drew the defence allowing flanker Michael Hooper to slew over the line for a superb try, converted by Foley on the cusp of half time for his side to lead 24-13.

Optimism for the second half was held where the Dragon could roar dependent on them making key decisions to clear their lines and play in the opposition territory.  That optimism amongst the crowd was raised when Halfpenny and Faletau put Liam Williams in space and his kick took play midway into the opposition half only to see the ball lost in a tackle on Jonathan Davies. Faletau and Williams again combined on the opposite wing as Foley was putting the ball into the rooftop testing Halfpenny and Evans who fielded the bombardment with aplomb.

Biggar set up a line out from 15m after a penalty was awarded for holding the ball and after several phases of driving play Halfpenny nailed a straight forward penalty from 20m out, leaving Wales eight adrift at 24-16 with half an hour to play.

Turnover ball on halfway saw some enterprise around the hands of Rob Evans as he again sounded the battle cry for his team mates to grow in stature and play the situation which panned out before them.  A scrum free kick moved skipper Alun Wyn Jones to call for a second set piece where Faletau and Williams combined on the blindside making 30m as pressure was imposed on the visitors 22 line.  Wales were now like a pack of hounds who had found a scent and were firmly hunting for the jugular of a Wallaby side who were pinned inside their own half.

Evans grubber kick was collected by Jonathan Davies as the red tide built momentum to a chorus of hymns ‘n arias.  A penalty conceded for not rolling away saw discussion between Jones, Biggar and Halfpenny before the full back pushed his kick wide of the right hand post from just inside his own half. 

Bancyfelin born Davies was on fire, bringing his ‘Lions’ form from the summer to the banquet and he collected the restart as play returned deep into Australian terrain.

An expansive Welsh back line moved the ball at will as the halfway point of the half passed, with winger Evans, his namesake Rob and Shingler to the fore in rugby more akin to a Barbarian’s style.  On small margins games at the highest level are won and lost; full back Beale performed a sublime tackle to not only stop a flying Evans in his prime but emerge with the ball and race from his own half to score under the posts before anyone in the 70,275 could draw breath.  Foley converted for a 29-16 lead as the crowds astonishment at what they had witnessed in a match changing split second slowly dawned and their appreciation followed.

The high tempo of the game saw substitutes enter the amphitheatre and Hodge land short with a penalty from inside his own half as the time wound down to the final 15 minutes. Back came the Men of Harlech and Hooper was yellow carded with Jackson’s patience was eliminated with the build up of infringements.  From the dominant scrum Wales applied pressure through Biggar’s touch finder with eight minutes to play.  His forwards secured good line out ball to draw another penalty in front of the posts as scrum after scrum ensued in the anticipation of tasting the ‘Bread of Heaven’ from the top table.  Scrum half Davies emerged into space to make good ground only for his skipper Jones to spill the ball with the line agonisingly close.

Aled Davies came on at scrum half and fellow replacement Hallem Amos was held up just short of the line as Wales went through a plethora of moves to test the wilting golden wattle to the brink.  Biggars hopes of a quick play were called back by Jackson and from the resultant penalty ball was again secured at the line out which allowed for some enterprising handling before Amos harvested his first international since the 2015 World Cup.  Halfpenny missed the touchline conversion which would have put Wales within a score of victory and the game ended 29-21 and parity in terms of possession and territory, a startling turn around on the first half statistics.

Gatland will be pleased, if he can be in defeat where the set piece was dominant, the defence successfully making 98% of their 264 tackles but most importantly seeing his attacking options bear fruit.  In an offensive display his runners beat their man on 20 occasions and off loaded 18 times as they had a 100% success from mauls and 95% success rate at rucks, conceding just three penalties, ten less than their opponents.

The error count ultimately proved the difference for Wales between success and failure as Australia outscored them four tries to two.  To a man those Scarlets players who drew on their countries colours did themselves, their Region and nation proud, where the tourists clinical execution of turn over possession to points was key. Youngster Evans will reflect on a positive try scoring attacking display with some concern over his defensive decision making.  He will do well to remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Scarlets style of play is certainly a blueprint Gatland and his staff are embracing for the future.

Injuries to Evans plus more concerningly Lions star centre Davies may cause some player rotation before Wales take on Georgia tomorrow [2:30pm] with an eye on New Zealand the week after, coached by former Wales head honcho Steve Hanson who bring an unbeaten record stretching back 64 years.

One Scarlets player who will not be playing in these games will be New Zealand born centre Hadleigh Parkes, who is earmarked for a debut in December against South Africa.  Parks was reunited with Scarlets Head Coach Wayne Pivac when he came to Parc Y Scarlets in 2014 and he will be a beneficiary of the three year residency rule, allowing him to make his debut three years to the day from his signing for the Scarlets.

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Warriors end losing streak with thrilling win

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Thriller: Warriors and Betws players after their match on Sunday

Betws • 53
Llanelli Warriors • 54

THE LLANELLI WARRIORS finally managed to end their losing streak but only just with a one point victory over Betws on Sunday (Oct 15).

It was the type of encounter that even leaves even spectators out of breath as neither side made a safety conscious decision all game.

The fixture is an established part of both club’s calendars and so whilst there were plenty of scores to settle the game was played in a good spirit.

The tries came thick and fast throughout the match with the Warriors just ahead at the final whistle. Anthony O’Neil continued his good form by opening the home teams account whilst Jamie Evans cut through for the visitors.

So it went on, the Warriors edging the lineouts but Betws having more pace in the open. Whilst it would be unfair to characterise the game as Betws backs against Warriors forwards that is certainly were the respective strengths lay.

For the Warriors the hard yards brought tries for Will Brown, Andrew Davies and Darren Pollitt whilst Dai Haines and Mark Lewis also carried well. The Llanelli wings also looked sharp, Day and Ashour collecting 3 tries between them. It could all have been for nothing though if not also for some stout defence where flanker Yanis Whiteley led the way, covering the field effectively.

For Betws Dan Madge and Gareth Lewis were the main threats helping Adam Fussell to score two tries but a spell of erratic kicking let them down and only served to demonstrate the Warriors counter attacking abilities.

This allowed the Warriors to edge ahead somewhat but Betws came back and when Anthony Smith scored a late try the wide conversion would have denied the Warriors so there was relief as well as joy at the final whistle when it slipped under the posts.

Both clubs would have been encouraged by the display with plenty of positives to be taken from a very positive match. Betws 2nds host Lampeter on Saturday whilst the Warriors hope to travel to Ferryside for their next match.

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