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Warriors take on tough schedule

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Warriors: About to embark on a journey

WHILST many have commented on the intensity of the Lions schedule an integrated rugby team from Llanelli have put together an arguably tougher itinerary for their tour of New Zealand and Samoa.

The Llanelli Warriors are an integrated side who actively look to include players with learning disabilities and are touring to the Pacific as part of their 21st Anniversary celebrations. In just 15 days the team will play 3 matches in New Zealand and 1 in Samoa.

They will also watch both the Wales tests, the Chiefs match with the Lions and the All Blacks vs Samoa. If that wasn’t enough there is a full social schedule around the rugby as well.

The Warriors were formed in 1995 to give men with a learning disability an opportunity to play rugby. The club has come a long way in 20 years and we wanted to put something special. Through this trip these players will join a very exclusive club of players who have played in Samoa where even the likes of England, South Africa and Australia have never played.

Chairman/player Gwilym Lewis explained the importance of the trip: “Research shows that people with learning difficulties often find it harder to make friends, they tend to have smaller social circles and opportunities for further education and employment can be very limited. Rugby gives the players a chance to participate and contribute to the community.

“They play alongside and against non-disabled players, gaining confidence, respect and new friends. There are three main elements to rugby that make it a great vehicle for social inclusion; the physicality fosters respect, the team work element encourages friendship and the social aspect gives everyone a chance to mingle afterwards as equals. That awkwardness that people can feel disappears over a beer.

“The bottom line though is that rugby is a great sport, hard as it is, and as in New Zealand and Samoa its part of the culture. This tour though is about going beyond joining in with friends and family in the sport, this is going to make our players who without the club might be stuck on the sidelines, into the envy of those family and friends.

“We also want to show that a disability doesn’t have to be the barrier that some think. We are taking this to the hardest rugby environments in the world, we couldn’t travel any further and we will be playing mainstream sides. We think it’s the most ambitious sporting project ever undertaken in learning disability sport.”

Richard Evans, a veteran prop of over 150 matches who will lead the trip, said: “I’m very proud to be chosen and I’m really looking forward. I’m sure we can do really well and win our matches, but win or lose we’ll have a great time.”

Jamie Evans has organised the trip, saying: “To be out there while the Lions are touring is going to be something special in itself, that Wales are playing there and us having our own series, I don’t think there are many sides that would look to take this on.”

A tour party of 32 will be embarking on the tour with about half the players registered as disabled.

The trip has caught the imagination and fund raising has been well supported. Brecon RFC and Llansawel RFC have made significant contributions, Peter Rees, Wales oldest international took part in a Q&A session at Burry Port while Former Lion Tom David spoke at their dinner.

“The fund raising has shown us just how much the community value the Warriors and what we do” said Jamie.

“The Just Giving page raised £1,500 and we’ve had support from all our regular opponents like Cefneithin and Gwlad in Cardiff as well. We can’t thank people enough but we promise that we will make the very most of this opportunity.”

The history of the Lions has former players to a man talking about important a tour like this was to them, for some of the Warriors players this is the sort of trip that could be life changing.

Warriors Tour to New Zealand and Samoa itinerary:

Wed 14/6/17: Travel to London, Flight from London 21:25

Thu 15/6/17: Travel (via Bangkok)

Fri 16/6/17: Arrive Auckland 10:45, attend Tonga v Wales, NZ v Samoa

Sat 17/6/17: Travel to Hamilton, FairField United Yellowbellies v Llanelli Warriors (Maori v Lions 19:35 (Rotarua) on tv)

Sun 18/6/17: South Auckland Kiwis v Llanelli Warriors (Hamilton Marist RFC)

Mon 19/6/17: Travel to Te Kuiti for unveiling of Sir Colin Meads statue

Tue 20/6/17: Cycle ride and Hot Baths, Attend Chiefs v Lions (19:35)

Wed 21/6/17: Travel to Auckland, depart 16:25, Arrive Apia 21:15

Thu 22/6/17: Vaiala Ulalei Sports Club v Llanelli Warriors

Fri 23/6/17: Attend Samoa v Wales

Sat 24/6/17: Pualele Paddle Club – paddling in bay at Apia (NZ v Lions 21:35)

Sun 25/6/17: Depart Apia 21:55, Arrive Auckland 1:10

Mon 26/6/17: Tour of brewery

Tue 27/6/17: College Rifles RFC v Llanelli Warriors (Hurricanes v Lions on tv)

Wed 28/6/17: Depart Auckland 13:10

Thu 28/6/17: Arrive London

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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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