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Two goals in two minutes earn win for Old Gold

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Haverfordwest County 1 

Carmarthen Town 2 

Goal: Matthew Thomas scored the equaliser for Carmarthen Town

Goal: Matthew Thomas scored the equaliser for Carmarthen Town

CARMARTHEN completed their pre-season programme with a narrow victory over old rivals Haverfordwest after a competitive and often feisty encounter, which presented a suitably stern test for the Old Gold ahead of their opening match of the Welsh Premier League season. 

From the outset, Town took the initiative with a series of brisk raids that put the home defence under early pressure. However, it was not until the eighth minute that they fashioned a serious scoring opportunity when Kyle Bassett made ground down the right flank and played the ball across the edge of the penalty area, where Lewis Harling slipped neatly past his marker and struck a crisp drive that was denied by keeper Wyn Walters with a smart full-length save.

During this spell, County were limited to only occasional counter-attacks, none of which made any real impression on the visitors’ defence, in which the towering central pairing of Dwaine Bailey and Lee Surman were, throughout the match, a particularly commanding presence.

In fact, the hosts had to wait 22 minutes before they managed to get into the Carmarthen penalty area and create a scoring chance; a long cross-field pass from Luke Harris reached Kristian Speake near the far post but he directed his header wide of the goal.

The Old Gold continued to enjoy the greater share of possession and territorial advantage, yet, all too often, they spoilt promising approach play with an indecisive ‘final pass’.

However, they went close to taking the lead on 29 minutes when Bassett sent a well-flighted corner into the packed goalmouth to find Liam Thomas, whose deft glancing header from 10 yards flew past Walters but also, sadly, went narrowly wide of the post.

By now, Haverfordwest were looking much more of a threat on the counter-attack and after 31 minutes, rather against the run of play, they opened the score. Following Chris O’Sullivan’s corner, Ashley Bevan emerged from a crowd of players to send his close-range header beyond the reach of keeper Lee Idzi and into the back of the net.

Stung by that setback, Town again pressed forward, now with even greater urgency, driven by the midfield industry and invention of Harling, Ceri Morgan, Kieran Lewis and Declan Carroll.

Faced by a resilient County defence and with Walters demonstrating assured and safe handling under pressure, the visitors were unable to create any notable goal threat until the 47th minute when Lewis fired a diagonal free-kick deep into the penalty area where Matthew Thomas, from a sharp angle, struck a fierce volley fractionally wide of the post.

After the interval, the Old Gold renewed their assault on the home defence and on 50 minutes, they went close to equalising when Harling’s astute pass put Carroll in clear space and from 20 yards he dispatched a rasping drive that Walters was well placed to claim.

Just moments later, Town produced a sparkling 90 second spell which turned the game around. In the 53rd minute, Lewis played an excellent through balla to Matthew Thomas who quickly moved forward to the corner of the penalty area and released a stunning angled shot that flew past Walters and into the back of the net.

Shortly after the re-start, Carroll, clearly relishing this opportunity to compete against his former County teammates, showed keen anticipation to race into the penalty area and dart between two less alert defenders to reach a long cross from the right flank then plant his firm close-range header beyond the keeper’s reach.

While the visitors continued to hold the initiative, Haverfordwest remained a threat on the counter-attack and after 62 minutes, Tom Wellington sent a searching free-kick into the packed goalmouth only to see Bevan fire the ball just wide from close range.

On 65 minutes, Liam Thomas collected a long clearance from Dave Vincent then raced forward down the right flank before driving a dangerous cross into the goalmouth where Mark Jones, under pressure from a defender, stabbed the ball narrowly wide.

During the second-half, the Carmarthen defence was so relatively secure that Idzi was rarely tested. However, in the 68th minute, Rhys Dalling took advantage of some hesitancy in the back-line to break through to the edge of the penalty area and drill a low shot that drew an impressive reflex save from Town’s experienced keeper.

Then Carroll again went close after 72 minutes when, having won a free-kick some 25 yards from goal, he stepped up to power the ball just fractionally over the bar.

In the 83rd minute, a slick exchange of passes between Carroll and Jones on the edge of the penalty area opened up the County defence and allowed the lively midfielder to hit a smart close-range effort that was blocked on the line by substitute keeper Sam Franklin.

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Six Nations: North set for 100th cap against England

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GEORGE North is set to become the youngest player in the world to reach the 100-cap milestone for his country on Saturday, February 27, when Wales take on England at Principality Stadium (KO 16.45 BBC & S4C).

North, 28, made his international bow in November 2010 and has amassed 42 tries in his 99 appearances.

North will line-up in the centre alongside Jonathan Davies on Saturday, outside of half-back pairing of Kieran Hardy and Dan Biggar. Josh Adams, Louis Rees-Zammit and Liam Williams comprise the back-three.

Wales name an unchanged front-five with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis packing down in the front-row and Adam Beard partnering captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row.

Josh Navidi returns to the side to line-up alongside Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.

“We’ve had a great two weeks leading into this game and we are looking forward to Saturday,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.

“We continue to build and we know there is plenty left in us in terms of improvements from the opening two rounds. We are 2/2 but we want to continue to improve performance wise.

“Saturday is a great milestone for George, it is a huge achievement at his age and we are looking forward to seeing him in action.”

Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones and Leon Brown provide the front-row cover for Wales with Cory Hill and James Botham completing the forward contingent. Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy and Uilisi Halaholo provide the back-line cover.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY ENGLAND (SATURDAY FEBRUARY 24, KO 16.45)

1. Wyn Jones (32 Caps)

2. Ken Owens (79 Caps)

3. Tomas Francis (54 Caps)

4. Adam Beard (23 Caps)

5. Alun Wyn Jones (CAPT) (145 Caps)

6. Josh Navidi (25 Caps)

7. Justin Tipuric (82 Caps)

8. Taulupe Faletau (83 Caps)

9. Kieran Hardy (3 Caps)

10. Dan Biggar (89 Caps)

11. Josh Adams (29 Caps)

12. Jonathan Davies (85 Caps)

13. George North (99 Caps)

14. Louis Rees-Zammit (6 Caps)

15. Liam Williams (68 Caps)

Replacements:

16. Elliot Dee (34 Caps)

17. Rhodri Jones (19 Caps)

18. Leon Brown (14 Caps)

19. Cory Hill (29 Caps)

20. James Botham (4 Caps)

21. Gareth Davies (59 Caps)

22. Callum Sheedy (6 Caps)

23. Uilisi Halaholo (1 Cap)

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Wales looking for third win in a row against England

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WALES have won their first two games in the Six Nations Championship and on Saturday, February 27, they put that record on the line against great rivals England.

Having already beaten Ireland and Scotland, the Triple Crown will be on the line for Wales, a feat they last achieved in 2019 when they won the Grand Slam.

That will be incentive enough for Wayne Pivac’s men but to do it against England will make it that little bit sweeter.

With France’s game against Scotland on Sunday in doubt, it will also give the home side a great chance to extend their lead at the top of the table.

Wales do not have any fresh injury concerns going into the England game and it will likely provide a selection headache for Pivac.

George North could be set to make his 100th appearance for Wales if he plays against England, and is currently second in the list of all-time try scorers for his home country.

England lost their opening game of the tournament against Scotland but got back to winning ways with a resounding 41-18 win over Italy.

The 2020 Six Nations and Autumn Cup Champions will be eager to rediscover their winning form which brought them that success but they will not find it easy against Wales.

What happened the last time England visited the Principality Stadium?
Wales last welcomed England to the Principality on February 23, 2019, and it was a game which saw Wales earn a 21-13 victory.

Cory Hill and Josh Adams scored Wales’ tries in that match while Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe added the rest of the points from the boot.

Tom Curry scored England’s only try in that match while Farrell had a 100% success rate with his kicks.

What happened when the sides met in 2020?

It was an absolute classic last year with England triumphing by 33 points to 30 at Twickenham.

Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Manu Tuilagi got the tries for England on that day while Owen Farrell had again had a 100% record with the boot.

Justin Tipuric bagged two tries for Wales while Dan Biggar scored their other as the men in red came up short on this occasion.

Of course, the last two meetings between the two sides were played in front of capacity crowds but that will not be a factor this time around, owing to the current coronavirus pandemic.

Could that be a factor in the game or will both sides treat us to an excellent display of rugby?

After the England game, Wales travel to Italy on Saturday, March 13, while England will host France on the same day.

A win for either side this weekend will be crucial; a win for Wales and it sets them up for the Grand Slam while a win for England will reignite their hopes of retaining the Six Nations Championship.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 16:45 and can be seen on S4C as well as the BBC.

ENGLAND
Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, George Martin, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins.

WALES
Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Kieran Hardy; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Uilisi Halaholo.

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New format agreed for Champions Cup and Challenge Cup

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THE four Welsh rugby regions have learned their fate after the finals rounds of the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup were suspended.

Group stage matches were postponed in January after the French Rugby Union raised concerns about travelling across Europe amidst a rise in coronavirus cases.

The remaining fixtures have not been rearranged and European Rugby has announced a new format.

Both tournaments will resume with Rounds of 16 matches on the weekend of 2/3/4 April and the knockout stages will continue with quarter-finals, semi-finals and the scheduled Marseille finals on EPCR’s allocated weekends in April and May.

As approved by the EPCR Board, the Rounds of 16 and quarter-final matches in both tournaments will now be decided by draws which will take place on Tuesday, March 9.

For the Challenge Cup, the eight highest-ranked clubs from the preliminary stage at the time of the suspension of the tournament and the eight clubs which have not qualified for the knockout stage of Heineken Champions Cup will compete in the Round of 16.

Scarlet will take their place in the last 16 of the Champions Cup alongside the likes of Racing 92, Munster, Lyon and La Rochelle.

Dragons, Ospreys and Cardiff Blues will all compete in the Challenge Cup and could come up against the likes of Leicester Tigers, Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints.

For the purposes of the draw, clubs from the same league cannot be drawn against one another, however, Challenge Cup clubs and Heineken Champions Cup clubs can be drawn against one another.

It has also been agreed that open draws will take place to determine the quarter-finals in both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, allowing for the possibility of matches between clubs in the same league. The draws for the quarter-finals will take place immediately after the rounds of 16 draws on Tuesday, March 9.

Heineken Champions Cup knockout stage qualifiers: Racing 92, Leinster, Wasps, Bordeaux-Begles, Munster, Lyon, Toulouse, La Rochelle, Scarlets, Clermont Auvergne, Bristol Bears, Exeter Chiefs, Edinburgh, Gloucester, RC Toulon, Sale Sharks.

Challenge Cup last 16: London Irish, Ospreys, Leicester Tigers, Cardiff Blues, Zebre Rugby Club, Agen, Benetton Rugby, Newcastle Falcons, Ulster Rugby, Connacht Rugby, Northampton Saints, Bath Rugby, Montpellier, Dragons, Harlequins, Glasgow Warriors

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