ELFYN EVANS’ bid to add further success to his history-making win on last year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB blasts off with next week’s Rallye Monte-Carlo (25-28 January).
As tradition dictates, the FIA World Rally Championship commences with the notoriously challenging Alpine classic – a wintry event that always throws up an ultra-testing cocktail of ice, snow and slush making the already demanding mountain roads among the trickiest on the 13-round WRC calendar, which reaches Wales in early October.
Evans has contested Rallye Monte-Carlo four times previously and has never finished outside the top eight. His best result to date is sixth place on his debut in 2014 and again last year.
“It’s never an easy event,” admits the 29-year-old from Dolgellau. “There are so many factors that come into play that you don’t generally get on a more normal round of the championship but it’s an iconic way to start the year. The stages themselves – if you take away all the snow and ice – are absolutely fantastic.”
Since taking his maiden WRC win in Wales – the first for a Welsh driver, and the first for a British driver on home soil since the late Richard Burns in 2000 – Evans has been promoted by his title-winning M-Sport team. For 2018, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt line up alongside five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier in one of the Cumbrian outfit’s pair of front-line Red Bull-liveried Ford Fiesta WRCs.
“It’s a good place to be alongside Seb again this year,” he enthused. “We worked together well last year – albeit on different tyres – so to continue that on now with identical equipment is a fantastic opportunity.”
While clearly keen to make the most of his coveted seat alongside the French maestro, Evans is by no means overawed by his illustrious team-team. “He’s a fantastic benchmark to have in the team, has a lot of experience and is the best in the world at the moment, so you’d be a fool not to capitalise on that and learn from him. My aim, though, is always to try to beat him if we can.”
And the Welshman is certainly brimming with confidence after his break-through season in 2017 when he not only posted his first WRC victory but also two impressive second place finishes en route to fifth place in the final WRC championship standings.
“We made some good steps forward and found a happy place with the car – hopefully we can continue improving from there,” he disclosed.
Evans, though, will need to be at his brilliant best not just to beat Ogier but also to fend off some world class opposition in what promises to be another thrilling world championship series. Last year’s introduction of new technical rules not only introduced faster, more exciting cars but also created renewed rivalry between the top teams.
M-Sport might have won both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ crowns in 2017 but the opposition from Citroën, Hyundai and Toyota will be even stronger in 2018. Evans, however, believes the M-Sport technicians – now benefiting from increased support from Ford – will keep the Fiesta in front.
“There are small improvements but ultimately, with the regulations as they are, it doesn’t give anyone the scope to make massive changes. More a case of tweaking here and there,” he explained.
“We already had a strong platform, we just need to keep nibbling away to find gains in performance. Hopefully, the guys have been doing that over the winter and we all will continue pushing hard with the support of Ford this year. There’s always been a Ford connection with some engineering support but that’s now stepped up a level – that should help us to improve and stay at the top.”
While next week’s famous Rallye Monte-Carlo will provide a stern opening test, the WRC calendar throws up numerous challenges before the intrepid teams encounter the legendary Welsh forests in early October. As ever, the calendar is an epic adventure ranging from the snow packed tracks of Sweden to the rock-strewn mountain passes of Mexico and Argentina.
“To be honest, there are no rounds that I’m not looking forward to,” continued Evans. “I now have fond memories of just about all of the events. My focus this year will be to enjoy them all and to get the most out of each one, rather just targeting a handful.
“It will, of course, be special to be back in Wales,” he grinned. “The DMACK tyres obviously helped to put us in good position last year, now we’re equal Michelins to everyone else. Let’s wait and see. It’s a few months away but, obviously, we will be looking for another great result.”
In the meantime, all those wanting to follow Evans’ fortunes on television are spoilt for choice with both live and highlights coverage of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship on Channel 5, BT Sport, S4C and Red Bull TV.
Tickets for the 2018 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (4-7 October) will go on sale when the competitive route is revealed in April.
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-
Former Wales international Anthony Walker appointed Wales U19 head coach
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 (
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
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.
Scarlets name unchanged XV for final pool clash
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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