SCARLETS head coach Wayne Pivac, as an ex-policeman, orchestrated a crime of immense proportions at the Recreation Ground in Bath on Friday (Jan 12), when his Scarlet side won their must win European encounter 35-17.
Greeted onto the pitch by Greenhill School’s year 10 students as flag bearers, the game got off to an electric opening when Wales international centre Scott Williams caught the kick off and immediately referee Jerome Garcos awarded a penalty.
Outside half Dan Jones line kicks missed touch in the initial stages and his nervousness in such a titanic game was obvious.
Second row, Irish international Tadgh Beirne, rescued the situation by taking the line out ball against the throw, with the tackling strong from the visitors who were unable to recycle the ball as the game settled.
A blooded nose for skipper Ken Owen as ‘Bread of Heaven’ rang loudly from the Thatcher’s terrace, alongside sympathy for former outside half Rhys Priestland, whose birthday celebration were ruined when he limped off with a pulled hamstring to be replaced by Freddie Burns.
The Scarlets, now set and stable and got a nudge on at the scrum to establish the mantra for the evening with scrum half Gareth Davies darting clear on the blindside; England international full back Anthony Watson showed a clean pair of heels himself in response when running 40 metres from deep in his danger zone with flanker Sam Underhill in support.
A score was inevitable with such a frantic opening and it was the Scarlets who got the scoreboard rolling in a scintillating manner after nine minutes, starting from Beirne’s clawed line out ball.
Williams made the initial break, finding the support of second row David Bullring; centre Hadleigh Parkes took up the mantle finding Australian winger Paul Asquith, to flanker Aaron Shingler as they moved the ball with silky hands hitting gaps before it fell once again to the marauding Beirne.
From 15 metres out, he produced a Phil Bennett sidestep to screech in for a try converted by outside half Dan Jones.
Hymns and Arias was resounding into the cold air but the try was sweet, Neil Diamond’s appreciation of Caroline perhaps a better analogy for possibly the try of the season from the Land of my Fathers.
Freddie Burns pinged the Bath opening score after No. 8 John Barclay stopped their forward impetus and left the field for ten minutes on the French referee’s direction.
It was the Scarlets however who then dug deep, making ground and managing the game time superbly.
Shingler, running straight and with purpose made the gain line.
Full back Rhys Patchell and Parkes endeavour had the 13,822 crowd on the edge of their seats, which put Asquith in corner for a score despite being down to 14 men.
There was no stopping the red tide as five minutes later scrum half Davies rumbled 25 metres and found Welsh international Parkes on his shoulder and the centre crossed for his ninth try in 71 appearances, under duress, for a converted score and a 19-3 lead.
Williams was on fire, making another break to set up a scrum when the Scarlets were living in the moment; if he timed the pass his side were clear again for a score and perhaps on reflection needed just to consolidate their exuberance and make half time with their tail feathers unruffled may have suited.
A war of attrition with short passes and yardage in the tight areas wore down the clock and with it the Bath players and supporter’s hearts. The dominant scrum was verbalised loudly from prop Rob Evans and Jones slipped over the penalty for a half time lead of 22-3.
Bath as a city welcomes an array of nationalities but the atmosphere that trounced around the English fortress in January was full of ‘Heart and Soul’.
The Welsh contingent were delirious with their melody for a team of ‘Samson Lees’ eloquently reverberating around a city’s proclaimed architecture. Having been missing from the front row for many weeks before Christmas the prop was quite superb alongside fellow international Evans and his skipper, Ken Owens anchored between them.
Pivac has been coaching for 22 years since his first footstep on the rung in Northland, New Zealand but the victory in the back yard of the Aviva Premiership rugby giants was surely up with his best moments. Pro 12 champions last season having beaten Munster in Dublin to return a week later and rumble Leinster in the same venue included.
The ‘Rec’ was a cultural phenomenon, when Scarlets rugby once more came of age as they sat on the brink of a place in the European quarter final for the first time in 11 years. Bath rugby had lifted this trophy 20 years ago under the leadership of Scottish scrum half Andy Nicol’s but through their parade at half time, would have been in awe of the first half performance.
Music and Wales go hand in hand. Greenhill School, on tour at Backwell with the year ten students playing football, rugby and netball had the experience of a lifetime arranged through PE teacher Phil ‘Taffy’ Williams.
A school whose equally renowned musical talent under Samantha Hughes would have taken the Irish love ballad ‘Fields of Athenry’ to new heights given the opportunity.
Innate to the Irish famine of 1845 this anthem of the ‘underdog’ often resonating at Landsdowne Road or even Anfield a mercurial throw back to the task that sat before the visitors.
Top of Conference B the Scarlets took control early in the second half as they went in search of their bonus point try. The home eight were not match at the scrum set piece as Owens didn’t hesitate in choosing a rumble instead of taking a pot at goal.
Three times they drained the time and the Bath spirit, perilously close to crossing the try line through forward drives. Six minutes into the second half Patchell received the ball to deftly put a grubber kick through, allowing Williams to dab down wide out and Jones add the extras for 29-3.
The red tide were feeding the baying supporters cries for evangelical bread, where the ‘manna’ and intensity was unyielding. The team of Samson Lee lost their talisman on 55 minutes as his replacement Werner Kruger was rock sold as the choristers ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ resonated loudly and proudly.
Bath coaching guru Todd Blackadder needed his side to develop a pattern of play as they refused a kick at goal in search of a try, which came when winger Matt Banahan caught Burns kick in the corner allowing the outside half to convert with an hour played.
‘Long John’ Welsh second row Luke Charteris, a man with a biochemist degree and a fluent French speaker to boot took the hand-me-down inspirational singing to his hear. Not one for ‘losing my religion’ the boiler house man’s efforts allowed him a well earned rest at the same time as opposite number Bullring.
Over 150 years of rugby history in North Somerset has placed foundations from which the home side ran with their head of steam. Pivac manipulated his cast list with the game and full points in the bag, with Aled Davies arriving at inside half. Tried and trusted combinations saw Owens and Beirne orchastrting the line forcing Watson to desperately run from deep as the ‘big shift’ put in from down West was recognised.
Owens, Hong Kong born Barclay, and Evans were done but still the tide wouldn’t subside, drawn to their supporters in the Dyson stand as Pivac’s decision to play a six to two forward split off the bench drew a scrum penalty.
Jones added the points for a 32-10 and a fourscore lead with 12 minutes to play. The defensive patterns were as impressive as any offensive effort, Patchell making a last ditch cover tackle on Zach Mercer with five minutes to play typifying the ‘hywl’.
Top of the ball line out and replacement Josh Macloed madeground and play was outside the danger zone with Jones clearance. Back came Bath and No. 8 Zach Mercer couldn’t be denied in the opposite corner for a converted try after a cutting run from winger Aled Brew, skipper Matt Garvey and second row Paul Grant.
Williams and Prydie responded to gain a penalty for offside with ‘Sospan Fach’ finishing proceedings fittingly, with Jones boot, edging the score to 35-17.
The Bath faithful, forlorn and remorseful took an early bath wondering what had happened.
LTC Mobility sponsored Furnace rugby club members summed it up amidst their exuberant acclaims.
Centre and club vice captain Scott Davies hoarsely crooned: “It’s the best away trip I’ve experienced. Our 1800 strong choir left nothing in the changing room and it was certainly a factor in lifting the squad.”
On Saturday (Jan 20) another blockbuster awaits, when Toulon visit Parc Y Scarlets and the home side need a minimum of a bonus point to progress into the knockout stages.
Davies smiling face finished the evening with: “Let this be the springboard to the next level. This could be the year we lift the Heineken trophy and the whole of Europe will stand up for the champions.”
Wanderers too strong for Crymych
LLANELLI Wanderers earned their seventh win of the season on Saturday (Apr 6) as they comfortably beat Crymych 34-7.
Rhydian Morgan put the home side ahead with an unconverted try early on and he then scored a penalty to give the home side an 8-0 lead.
Crymych were then guilty of a number of offences and the referee awarded the Wanderers a penalty try. The visitors also had a player sent off which meant they would be a man light for the rest of the game.
That gave Llanelli a 15-0 lead at the break and it didn’t take long for the home side to increased their lead in the second half.
Lewis Jones crossed for the try but the conversion was missed.
Crymych did bring themselves back into the game as Laurence Headlam went over and Gareth Davies added the extra two points.
Rhydian Morgan then crossed for his second try of the game to give his side a bonus point and he then added the extras to take the score to 27-7.
Lloyd Thomas went over for the final try of the game and Morgan again added the extras for a personal haul of 17 points from the game.
That made it 34-7 to the Wanderers and they saw the game out to close the gap on their opponents.
On Saturday (Apr 13), the Wanderers are away as they travel to Whitland while Crymych host Gowerton.
Bont hold on for win
PONTYBEREM kept up their push for promotion as they edged to a 15-13 win away at Carmarthen Athletic on Saturday (Apr 6).
The Bont knew they could not afford to slip up in this game as they continue to chase second placed Pembroke.
The Athletic fielded a different XV to the side they played at the Park earlier in the season and they put on an impressive display.
They were able to keep the Bont at bay as Bradley Roderick scored two penalties to give them a 6-0 lead.
The visitors though began to claw their way back into the game and Rhodri Lewis crossed in the corner for an unconverted try, leaving the score a 6-5 at half time.
Pontyberem upped their game in the second half and a tremendous burst by prop James Prosser saw him go over under the posts having begun his run on the 22-metre line. Mike Sauro then added the extras for a 6-12 lead.
The visitors still had to be alert though as the Athletic threatened to get back into it but Sauro then added a penalty to make it 6-15 to the Bont.
Roderick then intercepted the ball on his own 10-yard line before going on to score and adding the conversion to make it 13-15.
That set up a nervy final six minutes but the Bont held on to keep their promotion hopes alive.
The win means that the Bont are now three points behind second placed Pembroke who they play this weekend (Apr 13).
It is one of the biggest games for both sides and a big crowd is expected at the Park.
Dressage rider is Festivals Champion
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-
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