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Wales 21 – 29 Australia

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AUSTRALIA defeated Wales on Saturday (Nov 11) at the Principality Stadium in the first game of the Under Armour Autumn International series to stretch their run to thirteen consecutive victories over their hosts dating back nearly a decade. Wales now haven’t won their opening match of an Autumn series since 2009 [40-3 v Romania] and this result also extends the Wallabies current unbeaten run to seven, their longest since reaching the 2015 World Cup Final at Twickenham.

Such is their current pedigree they took the scalp of arch rivals New Zealand 23-18 last month and this green and gold side are content to mobilise the ball in direct lines whenever possible, whilst expertly managing the game away from their own try line under pressure.  Their first half dominance laid the foundations for the success as they had 67% possession making the home side make 80 tackles to defend their line, whilst having to make just 30 themselves.

Statistics won’t lie to Head Coach Warren Gatland, who selected a side which included eight Scarlets players and scrum half Aled Davies carded as a substitute. Gatland had changed the game plan which served him so well over the decade he has overseen the national side, looking to develop a line up capable of challenging at the very top come the 2019 World Cup.

He gave a debut to Gloucester playmaker Owen Williams at inside centre and with injuries in the backrow of skipper Sam Warbarton, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric his hand was forced to play exuberance, vigour and players in form alongside Taulupe Faletau.   Stepping up to the plate in the heat of the battle were Josh Navidi and ‘son of Hendy’, flanker Aaron Shingler, both of whom were tenacious in their defence duties.

A nervous Welsh start settled after six minutes when outside half Dan Biggar put a searching kick into the Aussie 22 and winger Liam Williams followed up to charge down the clearance from full back Kurtley Beale.  A scrambled defensive clearance subsequently saw hooker Ken Owens find second row Jake Ball at the front of the line out before third phase ball found winger Steff Evans coming in on the opposite wing to draw a penalty for offside on the 10m line. Leigh Halfpenny, in his first international game under a Scarlets ‘flag’ duly slotted it over for a 3-0 lead, which lasted less than four minutes as the green and gold responded through hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau. He was driven over by his fellow forwards following their first real incision into Welsh territory allowing outside half Ben Foley to convert for 7-3 lead. 

Spurred into action prop Rob Evans, returning after a prolonged absence for a head injury suffered against Connaught in September combined with centre Jonathan Davies for the red machine to move the ball 45m, only to see former Scarlets winger Liam Williams held up with a last ditch tackle.

Wales were now confident and scrum half Gareth Davies made an incisive 30m break.  Quick second phase ball set centre Jonathan Davies clear once again to put Williams away on a 3 v 1 overlap; demonstrating quick hands through Halfpenny it allowed winger Steff Evans to crash over in the corner on his home debut and Halfpenny added the extras for a lead of 10-7. 

The game sea sawed again after 23 absorbing minutes when second row Adam Coleman waltzed over unopposed with Rob Evans guilty of ball watching, for a converted try to see Australia lead 14-10.  The experienced Foley and half back partner Will Gena were vibrant and positive with the ball in hand putting Wales firmly on the back foot. 

Composure was needed under pressure and the go to man in the line out was back row star Shingler, who was winning ball at the front or back of the line.  One such success resulted in a penalty permitting Biggar to kick to the edge of the visitors 22 but to no avail.  In such an open and fast game, where the collisions between players was high on intensity, the difference emerged between the two nations as Australia converted their opportunities into points. 

Wales conceded a penalty after Tom Francis in the front row was penalised for not scrummaging square and the Wallabies accepted another penalty decision from New Zealand referee Glenn Jackson allowing winger Reece Hodge to thump over a monster penalty and a 17-10 lead with five minutes of the half remaining.

Halfpenny responded with a 35m penalty from in front of the posts after Ken Owens had won the ball back for his team, but Australia completed the first half scoring when some sustained drives and slick hands drew the defence allowing flanker Michael Hooper to slew over the line for a superb try, converted by Foley on the cusp of half time for his side to lead 24-13.

Optimism for the second half was held where the Dragon could roar dependent on them making key decisions to clear their lines and play in the opposition territory.  That optimism amongst the crowd was raised when Halfpenny and Faletau put Liam Williams in space and his kick took play midway into the opposition half only to see the ball lost in a tackle on Jonathan Davies. Faletau and Williams again combined on the opposite wing as Foley was putting the ball into the rooftop testing Halfpenny and Evans who fielded the bombardment with aplomb.

Biggar set up a line out from 15m after a penalty was awarded for holding the ball and after several phases of driving play Halfpenny nailed a straight forward penalty from 20m out, leaving Wales eight adrift at 24-16 with half an hour to play.

Turnover ball on halfway saw some enterprise around the hands of Rob Evans as he again sounded the battle cry for his team mates to grow in stature and play the situation which panned out before them.  A scrum free kick moved skipper Alun Wyn Jones to call for a second set piece where Faletau and Williams combined on the blindside making 30m as pressure was imposed on the visitors 22 line.  Wales were now like a pack of hounds who had found a scent and were firmly hunting for the jugular of a Wallaby side who were pinned inside their own half.

Evans grubber kick was collected by Jonathan Davies as the red tide built momentum to a chorus of hymns ‘n arias.  A penalty conceded for not rolling away saw discussion between Jones, Biggar and Halfpenny before the full back pushed his kick wide of the right hand post from just inside his own half. 

Bancyfelin born Davies was on fire, bringing his ‘Lions’ form from the summer to the banquet and he collected the restart as play returned deep into Australian terrain.

An expansive Welsh back line moved the ball at will as the halfway point of the half passed, with winger Evans, his namesake Rob and Shingler to the fore in rugby more akin to a Barbarian’s style.  On small margins games at the highest level are won and lost; full back Beale performed a sublime tackle to not only stop a flying Evans in his prime but emerge with the ball and race from his own half to score under the posts before anyone in the 70,275 could draw breath.  Foley converted for a 29-16 lead as the crowds astonishment at what they had witnessed in a match changing split second slowly dawned and their appreciation followed.

The high tempo of the game saw substitutes enter the amphitheatre and Hodge land short with a penalty from inside his own half as the time wound down to the final 15 minutes. Back came the Men of Harlech and Hooper was yellow carded with Jackson’s patience was eliminated with the build up of infringements.  From the dominant scrum Wales applied pressure through Biggar’s touch finder with eight minutes to play.  His forwards secured good line out ball to draw another penalty in front of the posts as scrum after scrum ensued in the anticipation of tasting the ‘Bread of Heaven’ from the top table.  Scrum half Davies emerged into space to make good ground only for his skipper Jones to spill the ball with the line agonisingly close.

Aled Davies came on at scrum half and fellow replacement Hallem Amos was held up just short of the line as Wales went through a plethora of moves to test the wilting golden wattle to the brink.  Biggars hopes of a quick play were called back by Jackson and from the resultant penalty ball was again secured at the line out which allowed for some enterprising handling before Amos harvested his first international since the 2015 World Cup.  Halfpenny missed the touchline conversion which would have put Wales within a score of victory and the game ended 29-21 and parity in terms of possession and territory, a startling turn around on the first half statistics.

Gatland will be pleased, if he can be in defeat where the set piece was dominant, the defence successfully making 98% of their 264 tackles but most importantly seeing his attacking options bear fruit.  In an offensive display his runners beat their man on 20 occasions and off loaded 18 times as they had a 100% success from mauls and 95% success rate at rucks, conceding just three penalties, ten less than their opponents.

The error count ultimately proved the difference for Wales between success and failure as Australia outscored them four tries to two.  To a man those Scarlets players who drew on their countries colours did themselves, their Region and nation proud, where the tourists clinical execution of turn over possession to points was key. Youngster Evans will reflect on a positive try scoring attacking display with some concern over his defensive decision making.  He will do well to remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Scarlets style of play is certainly a blueprint Gatland and his staff are embracing for the future.

Injuries to Evans plus more concerningly Lions star centre Davies may cause some player rotation before Wales take on Georgia tomorrow [2:30pm] with an eye on New Zealand the week after, coached by former Wales head honcho Steve Hanson who bring an unbeaten record stretching back 64 years.

One Scarlets player who will not be playing in these games will be New Zealand born centre Hadleigh Parkes, who is earmarked for a debut in December against South Africa.  Parks was reunited with Scarlets Head Coach Wayne Pivac when he came to Parc Y Scarlets in 2014 and he will be a beneficiary of the three year residency rule, allowing him to make his debut three years to the day from his signing for the Scarlets.

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Behind the Scenes with West Wales Raiders & Llanelli Town AFC CEO Peter Tiffin

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EACH week we will take a look at what’s going on at both clubs with an insight from the CEO.

As most in sport know January is a busy time for clubs with the transfer window back open, last week saw both the Raiders and Reds welcome in new players and will be straight in to action for both sides before the end of the month.

It’s been a very difficult period with the spectator’s restrictions and the pausing in season for the Reds especially with the new managers coming in and beginning their time with the club with a win at Stebonheath Park.

Thankfully the restrictions are easing and next weekend both the Raiders and the Reds will be able to welcome back fans to our home of Stebonheath Park with home fixtures on Friday evening (Llanelli Town v Undy) & Sunday afternoon (West Wales Raiders v Swinton Lions).

This week has also seen a few new partnerships and one in particular was a launch to support a community project for lonely people to attend various events, both the Raiders & the Reds have offered tickets to all home games and our home bar will be working with the project on a fortnightly luncheon club.

To continue with new partnerships the Raiders decided this week that we would swap our sponsors logos with charities for a one off jersey which the players will play in against Swinton next week, I will be looking to work a lot closer with all 7 charities throughout the year and including both clubs in any events.

To finish off this week I wanted to add that Ethan George an up and coming local professional boxer who has plenty of talent will now be working a lot closer with myself, as a few of you may be aware that another professional boxer Angelo Dragone has worked very closely with both clubs and myself and we both will be working with Ethan to help him on his development within boxing.

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Leaders Trostre held to draw by Killay

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CARMARTHENSHIRE Premier Division leaders Trostre were held to an exciting 3-3 draw by Killay on Saturday (Jan 15).

Ben Lynch had put Killay ahead in the tenth minute but two goals in seven minutes from Ashton Jones turned the game around for the league leaders.

However, just four minutes later Liam Bennett equalised for the visitors.

The first half scoring wasnt done as Trostre regained the lead thanks to Rhys Griffiths.

That gave them a 3-2 lead at half time but they were dealt a blow early in the second half when Christopher Price-Williams was sent off for a second bookable offence.

It looked as if they were going to hold to their lead but five minutes from the end Brandon Davies scored to level the game.

The point for Killay moves them to within four points of second placed Pontlliw who were beaten 2-0 by Gorseinon Athletic on Saturday.

Matthew Hurford scored twice in the first half for Gorseinon to all but seal the win for his side.

Elsewhere in the Premier Division, Loughor Rovers scored two late goals to seal victory against Burry Port.

Josh Element put Burry Port ahead midway through the first half but two minutes later Andrew Burt missed a penalty for Loughor.

The score remained 1-0 to the visitors until eight minutes from time when Michael Grimwade scored.

Burt then made amends for his penalty miss as he scored the winner in the 89th minute.

Seaside earned their third win in a row on Saturday as they beat Pengelli United 7-2 away from home.

Callum Thomas put Seaside ahead on seven minutes but three minutes later Reily Lewis levelled for Pengelli.

Tray Jenkins then put Seaside back in the lead but the home side hit back again as Luke Rees levelled the game at 2-2.

Ben Honeybun then put Seaside back in front and they held on to their 3-2 lead until half time.

Twenty minutes into the second half Ross Jones scored to make it 4-2 before they scored three late goals.

Leon Bonifacio scored twice in three minutes and Jones added his second in injury time to complete the scoring.

On Saturday, January 22, Trostre visit Loughor Rovers and Gorseinon Athletic host Burry Port.

Killay are at home as they take on Bwlch Rangers.

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Felinfoel reserves edge seven-goal thriller

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FELINFOEL Reserves moved up to sixth place in Carmarthenshire Reserve Division 2 on Saturday (Jan 15) as they beat Dafen Reserves 4-3.

Felinfoel were forced into a change early on but just a minute after coming Morgan Smith had put the home side ahead.

Nicky Morgan then put Felinfoel in a strong position as he double his side’s lead.

However, Dafen hit back with Rhys Winnett scoring ten minutes before half time and then a minute before the interval to level the game at 2-2.

Just four minutes into the second half Morgan grabbed his second goal of the game to put the home side back in the lead.

With just under 20 minutes to go, Dafen levelled once more as Matthew Davies found the back of the net.

It looked as if the game might finish all square but four minutes from time Morgan Harries scored what would prove to be the winner for Felinfoel.

Elsewhere in the Division, Tumble reserves beat Pontarddulais reserves 3-2 to leapfrog Dafen into second place.

Saturday’s only other game in the division saw Johnstown reserves run out 10-3 winners over Kidwelly reserves, with Jack Kluge scoring five times while Jack Starkey also scored a hat trick.

On Saturday, January 22, Dafen reserves host Johnstown reserves while Felinfoel hosts Loughor Rovers thirds.

Llangennech reserves are also in action as they face Pontarddulais Town reserves.

Photo by Darren Harries

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