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Multi-use facilities are the future

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Welsh Hero: Gareth Bale training at Dragon Park

Welsh Hero: Gareth Bale training at Dragon Park

CARMARTHENSHIRE is close to seeing football becoming extinct in the county. At least, that is the eye-catching claim being made by the Secretary of Carmarthenshire Unified Sports Committee, Michael Bassett.

Mr Bassett painted a bleak picture for football in the county, stating: “For the season 2017/18, they (CCC) will also be charging for changing rooms at a rough cost of £1,000 each. If these pitches are not asset transferred by March 2018, the threat from CCC is that they will not be maintained.

“Penygaer Fields, our main football hub, which was used by nine senior teams requiring five pitches, is now only used by three senior teams on two pitches. We need these pitches for junior and mini football but we can’t afford to pay the £2,500 a year maintenance without the senior clubs.”

Mr Bassett claims that Sports Development Officers wages cost £293,000 and says that the council claim that the return on the investment is in the work undertaken by these officers.

He also claims that none of the money and none of the manpower is used on football, cricket, rugby or bowls in Carmarthenshire.

Making reference to the potential building of a new school on one of the best pitches in Carmarthenshire, Mr Bassett continued: “Llanerch Pitch is having a school built on it, but only after we removed it from our pitch requirements because it needed essential maintenance on it after substandard work by Carmarthenshire County Council.

“If we lose any more teams on Penygaer, there is a strong possibility that CCC will build houses there. Nearly every club still playing is teetering on the edge of financial ruin, which will result in them folding.

“Our local college has just installed a 3G pitch and its price to hire per hour has risen from £45 to £75. If a club hired that once a week for winter training, it’s an added expense of £600 a year. Football in Carmarthenshire as we know it is close to extinction!”

Mr Bassett concluded by saying: “Welsh Government provides Sports Wales with a development budget. Sports Wales distributes £342,169 to Carmarthenshire County Council’s Sports and Leisure Section. To fund ‘Active Young people’s Programmes’, £152,700 is also provided to fund the free swim initiative for under 16 and over 60s.”

On Wednesday, August 10, the FAW posted a photo on Twitter showing their pitch at Dragon Park, stating: “Our new @DragonParkNFDC pitch is looking splendid now.” In a twist of irony, the CUSC Chairman sent his own photo of the butchered pitch at Penygaer stating: “Our pitches not looking so splendid.” The two photographs are a huge contradiction between what the FAW has and says it is doing for grass-roots football and the reality facing coaches and players in Carmarthenshire on a weekly basis.

On their JustGiving page, the Welsh Football Trust state: “We want every child in Wales to have the opportunity to play football.”

The FAW also say that they are: “Helping to build a better future for Welsh football and through its Level Playing Field Campaign is using the power of football to make a difference to young people’s lives by developing communities, increasing opportunities and realising potential. Football… more than a game.”

Mr Bassett told us that Neil Ward, CEO of the FAW Trust, had told Llanelli AM Lee Waters that the Trust favoured decommissioning grass-roots pitches to pay for 3G pitches.

The Herald contacted Lee Waters AM and he told us that the CEO had said: “The benefit of a 3G pitch is that it could allow each council to decommission around 12 grass pitches.

“I understand that the council is cash-strapped because of austerity. The answer is not in rushing to get rid of facilities to cut down on maintenance. They maintain that they want to encourage play, exercise and grass-roots sport, which is in line with what the Welsh Assembly Government wants. There is a slight disconnect when at the same time they are putting up fees for pitches and considering selling off land that clubs can’t afford to take over.

“All this, when taken together, runs the very real risk that those aims will be undermined.”

The Herald contacted the Chief Executive Officer of the FAW Trust, Neil Ward.

We began by asking Mr Ward what current position was on football pitches in Carmarthenshire.

He said: “The council are under pressure and it is manifesting in football through an increase in pitch hire fees and maintenance costs. We are trying to work with councils and stake holders on a long term plan. Councils have become reactive to events and budget using short term measures.

“We have started communications with Carmarthenshire County Council and there have been vocal challenges from groups who don’t understand the sensitive blended model of artificial and grass pitches. My view is that 3G pitches can be used to play on when sport can’t take place on grass pitches. They are not expensive to build or maintain. Together with stakeholders, we could find a sensible solution which is accessible to all.”

Mr Ward said that some grass pitches could be decommissioned or transferred to communities and that a mixed model approach was required for football and that there would be more opportunity for wider participation, including girls and disability groups.

He said: “We have to look at varying models which are durable, inspirational and usable during inclement weather. We have to insure a way of maintaining grass pitches better than we do now and we may have to let some go to invest in pitches elsewhere.”

Mr Ward went on to say that there has to be ambition to ensure people play more often – not having poor facilities no one can play on.

“Up until now, there has been a strong focus on programmes of activity. The model is consistent throughout, but one size doesn’t fit all. Sports Wales are listening and we are conscious that more resources are needed for front-line sport. Football is changing from a long tradition of joining clubs. The alternatives are that people turn up and play on their doorstep any day of the week rather than travelling around the country on a Saturday. The challenge for football is to respond with facilities at the heart of communities. Games on grass pitches are weather determined.”

He went on to highlight some of the issues he would like to address and discuss with schools and sporting organisations and asked: “Why are schools closed at night? They are public assets. Older people are coming back to football.

Llanwern in Newport is a 21st century school, where Newport County play and have an academy. What you have in Carmarthenshire is a hard lobby group in CUSC and the council afraid to make decisions and us receiving public funding on an annual basis. It is difficult to make long term plans on that basis.”

The Herald asked Mr Ward if he was aware of the situation at Stebonheath Football ground, which was also closed for most of the week and which has the potential to offer sport seven days a week.

He he did not wish to comment on Stebonheath but said that the vision The Herald had suggested was something the FAW would like to see.

“Children are forced to early into deciding what sport they want to play. Knowing Stebonheath as I do, that fits into our vision. It may not fit for rural parts of the country but where there are significant numbers of chimney pots, yes. Going forwards, that is the kind of vision that we have and the conversations we would like to have.”

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Scarlets slide to PR014 loss

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SCARLETS went down to a second defeat of the Guinness PRO14 campaign after ill-discipline cost them dear in a 20-7 loss at Scotstoun.


Trailing 10-0 at half-time, they had second row Sam Lousi red carded for a dangerous tackle two minutes into the second period and despite a spirited late resurgence left Glasgow empty handed.


On his 150th appearance, prop Samson Lee crossed for his side’s lone try to spark a comeback in the final quarter, but Scarlets were unable to take the chances they created to claw their way back into the game.


It was Lee who was handed the honour of leading out the Scarlets as the visitors looked to continue their excellent record at Scotstoun.


Both sides have built a reputation for running rugby, but the opening half proved a real arm wrestle, particularly at the breakdown.


There were threatening bursts from scrum-half Gareth Davies and centre Johnny Williams, but every time the Scarlets entered Warriors territory, they conceded a penalty.


It took 28 minutes for the scoreboard operator to be called upon with Glasgow fly-half Adam Hastings landing a long-range penalty, sandwiched between two misses from similar range.


Prop Oli Kebble then barged over from close-range with Hastings’s conversion making it 10-0 to the home side.


To compound matters Scarlets lost back-rower Josh Macleod to a leg injury, replaced by international openside James Davies.


Halfpenny was wide with his first penalty attempt as Scarlets attempted to claw back the deficit, but in the final move of the half a Williams break came to nothing as Glasgow pilfered another turnover penalty.


Needing a strong response after the restart, the second half started in disastrous fashion when Lousi was red carded for a dangerous tackle on Glasgow wing Ratu Tagive.


It wasn’t long before the Warriors took advantage of the extra man with experienced No. 8 Ryan Wilson diving over for his side’s second try.
Scotland international Adam Hastings converted and added another penalty to push the score out to 20-0, but that sparked the Scarlets into a spirited response.


With the bench making a big impact, Scarlets brought a real energy to their performance and were rewarded when Lee found a way to the line after a lovely ‘show and go’ from a couple of metres out. Halfpenny converted and suddenly the Scarlets sensed a way back.


It needed an outstanding cover tackle from Steff Evans to deny Scotland international Tommy Seymour shortly afterwards, but back came the Scarlets forcing the home side to concede a string of penalties.


It led to lock Richie Gray being shown yellow, but the visitors couldn’t make the most of it as Ken Owens had the ball dislodged as he charged towards the whitewash.


In the dying moments, the dangerous Evans almost produced a stunning solo score but wasn’t able to ground the ball in the corner, then Tom Rogers went close on the other flank.


Reduced to 13 men following the sin-binning of Nick Grigg for an illegal high shot, Glasgow were able to hold out late on, leaving the Scarlets to reflect on a second defeat of the campaign.


Speaking after the match, Scarlets head coach Glenn Delaney said: “It was a game of two halves, we weren’t accurate early in the first half. We were quite rueful we did not take the opportunities when they presented themselves. We had some territory and possession without really getting momentum with the collisions. At the breakdown area we were struggling a little bit to keep the ball and continuity going and that told.


“It was a nip and tuck first-half and they capitalised, took a chance and fair play to them for that.


“In the second period we had a red card and then we really put some momentum into the game and we looked pretty good and I felt we probably had another score in us at that point and it was all on.


“We finished with plenty of energy. That is the footie we are trying to play, we just didn’t get to do that in the first half.


“I was really proud of the effort, that is never in question with our lads. We just need to be more accurate so we can put more of a mark on our game.”
As for the injuries to Josh Macleod, Ken Owens and Blade Thomson, Delaney added: “Josh has a hamstring injury so we will have a look at that and see how he gets on. The medics are looking after him and it’s pretty early to make an assessment, we will know more in the next 24-48 hours.
“He has worked so hard to get in that Wales squad and I thought he was outstanding again today, making big plays and doing what he has been doing for us for the last 12 months.


“The form that he has shown to get us into that position he was showing that tonight so it was a shame for him. When James (Davies) came on he looked great so we have two good guys in that seven shirt.


“Ken has a shoulder injury, he has some bruising, and Blade has an elbow problem. It’s about managing it. It’s pretty early when you get those joint related things, they tend to take a day or so to really know what the severity is.”

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New Welsh rugby kit launched

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THE NEW Macron Wales kit, to be worn for the first time against France in Paris on October 24, has been unveiled simultaneously in the private changing rooms of the national team headquarters in Hensol and the Wales Women squad’s current base in Swansea University.


Jonathan Davies and Ross Moriarty were joined ‘virtually’ by Wales Women captain Siwan Lillicrap and Gwen Crabb to reveal the kit against a backdrop of jerseys from the community game in Wales which have also been produced by the WRU’s new official technical partner.


The launch of the new kit has taken on a post-Covid feel with both squads currently training in respective ‘bubbles’ and so the community aspect of the partnership – £1m of free kit to be supplied yearly to Welsh rugby clubs over six years – has been reflected by a display of existing Macron community rugby shirts.


A set of unique features sees the red dragon of the Welsh flag embossed across lower back of the shirt, an embossed pattern covering the sleeves – cleverly transforming the hexagonal shape of the WRU three-feathers logo into ‘dragon scales’ – and the Welsh word ANRHYDEDD (honour), also embossed, on the back of the collar.


The ‘away‘ version is a black jersey with a white v-neck collar, this time tipped with red trim that is also found on the sleeves and cuffs.


Both sleeves again feature an all over embossed pattern, but this time a geometric graphic brings a new age look to the garment.


The Welsh dragon is once again embossed on the lower back and another Welsh word, ANGERDD (passion) is embossed on the back of the collar.


“The new kit is striking representation of Welsh rugby tradition and we are delighted to be able to launch our new seven-year partnership with Macron in such a spectacular way,” said WRU CEO Steve Phillips.


“We are delighted with the bespoke kit, training and leisurewear Macron has provided so far, where Italian design meets Welsh passion with impressive results.


“And we are sure that the Welsh rugby watching public will be equally impressed when they get their hands on their favourite pieces in the expansive product range available.”


Wales Women will wear the kit in action for the first time against Scotland in their own postponed Six Nations clash on November 1 and, from next season, Macron’s affinity with Welsh rugby will increase even further when the first instalment of £6m worth of kit over six years, is supplied to the clubs in the community game throughout Wales.


“The Welsh Rugby Union represents one of the pillar stones of world rugby and for Macron to stand side by side with this sporting giant, means that we as a brand, have reached yet another great milestone,” said Macron‘s CEO Gianluca Pavanello.


“Our goal is for the new kits to be instantly recognisable and something that clearly express the Welsh identity and spirit. We hope that our hard work has paid off and that the new collection will be loved by players and fans alike and that the kits evoke the emotion that such a great nation deserves.”

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Scarlets make five changes for European quarter-final

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Johnny Williams and Sione Kalamafoni have been handed their Scarlets’ European debuts for Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Toulon at the Stade Felix Mayol (8.15pm UK time).

Both summer signings are included in a side showing five changes to the line-up that took the field against the Dragons in the Scarlets last match of the Guinness PRO14 season.

Wales and British & Irish Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny returns to face his former side, linking up with Johnny McNicholl and Steff Evans in an all-international back three.

Williams and Steff Hughes continue their midfield combination, while Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies has recovered from injury to partner Dan Jones at half-back.

Skipper Ken Owens, Wyn Jones and Samson Lee pack down in the front row and behind them Tongan international Sam Lousi starts at lock alongside Jake Ball.

In a reshuffled back-row, the PRO14’s turnover king Josh Macleod gets the nod at openside;  Kalamafoni, who featured for Leicester Tigers in the pool stages of the tournament, wears the No. 8 jersey and Scotland international Blade Thomson has recovered from an Achilles issue to start at blindside.

On the bench, Ryan Elias, Phil Price and Javan Sebastian provide front-row cover with Lewis Rawlins and James Davies the other forward replacements. Kieran Hardy, Angus O’Brien and Tyler Morgan cover the backs. Morgan is set to make his first Scarlets appearance since joining from the Dragons.

The Scarlets and Toulon faced each other twice during the pool stages. A last-gasp converted try grabbed a 17-16 victory for the French side in November. The three-times European champions then claimed a crucial 27-15 win at Parc y Scarlets in January to ensure they topped the group. 

Head coach Glenn Delaney said: “It is a final for us. If you win three finals in a row you win a trophy. We are that far away from achieving the objective we all set out upon 12 to 13 months ago. It would be lovely to finish it off the right way. Whenever you get the opportunity to play for a trophy you have got to be very respectful and take it deadly serious, which is exactly what our boys have been doing.”

Scarlets team v RC Toulon (Saturday, September 19, 2020; kick-off 8.15pm UK)

15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Steff Evans; 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ken Owens (capt), 3 Samson Lee, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Sam Lousi, 6 Blade Thomson, 7 Josh Macleod, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.

Reps: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 James Davies, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tyler Morgan.

Unavailable because of injury

Rob Evans (neck), Rhys Patchell (calf), Liam Williams (foot), Daf Hughes (knee), Steff Thomas (knee), Alex Jeffries (elbow), Tomi Lewis (knee), Aaron Shingler.

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