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Scarlets set up Toulon showdown

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S​CARLETS head coach Wayne Pivac, as an ex-policeman, orchestrated a crime of immense proportions at the Recreation Ground in Bath on Friday (Jan 12), when his Scarlet side won their must win European encounter 35-17.

Greeted onto the pitch by Greenhill School’s year 10 students as flag bearers, the game got off to an electric opening when Wales international centre Scott Williams caught the kick off and immediately referee Jerome Garcos awarded a penalty.

Outside half Dan Jones line kicks missed touch in the initial stages and his nervousness in such a titanic game was obvious.

Second row, Irish international Tadgh Beirne, rescued the situation by taking the line out ball against the throw, with the tackling strong from the visitors who were unable to recycle the ball as the game settled.

A blooded nose for skipper Ken Owen as ‘Bread of Heaven’ rang loudly from the Thatcher’s terrace, alongside sympathy for former outside half Rhys Priestland, whose birthday celebration were ruined when he limped off with a pulled hamstring to be replaced by Freddie Burns.

The Scarlets, now set and stable and got a nudge on at the scrum to establish the mantra for the evening with scrum half Gareth Davies darting clear on the blindside; England international full back Anthony Watson showed a clean pair of heels himself in response when running 40 metres from deep in his danger zone with flanker Sam Underhill in support.

A score was inevitable with such a frantic opening and it was the Scarlets who got the scoreboard rolling in a scintillating manner after nine minutes, starting from Beirne’s clawed line out ball.

Williams made the initial break, finding the support of second row David Bullring; centre Hadleigh Parkes took up the mantle finding Australian winger Paul Asquith, to flanker Aaron Shingler as they moved the ball with silky hands hitting gaps before it fell once again to the marauding Beirne.

From 15 metres out, he produced a Phil Bennett sidestep to screech in for a try converted by outside half Dan Jones.

Hymns and Arias was resounding into the cold air but the try was sweet, Neil Diamond’s appreciation of Caroline perhaps a better analogy for possibly the try of the season from the Land of my Fathers.

Freddie Burns pinged the Bath opening score after No. 8 John Barclay stopped their forward impetus and left the field for ten minutes on the French referee’s direction.

It was the Scarlets however who then dug deep, making ground and managing the game time superbly.
Shingler, running straight and with purpose made the gain line.

Full back Rhys Patchell and Parkes endeavour had the 13,822 crowd on the edge of their seats, which put Asquith in corner for a score despite being down to 14 men.

There was no stopping the red tide as five minutes later scrum half Davies rumbled 25 metres and found Welsh international Parkes on his shoulder and the centre crossed for his ninth try in 71 appearances, under duress, for a converted score and a 19-3 lead.

Williams was on fire, making another break to set up a scrum when the Scarlets were living in the moment; if he timed the pass his side were clear again for a score and perhaps on reflection needed just to consolidate their exuberance and make half time with their tail feathers unruffled may have suited.

A war of attrition with short passes and yardage in the tight areas wore down the clock and with it the Bath players and supporter’s hearts. The dominant scrum was verbalised loudly from prop Rob Evans and Jones slipped over the penalty for a half time lead of 22-3.

Bath as a city welcomes an array of nationalities but the atmosphere that trounced around the English fortress in January was full of ‘Heart and Soul’.

The Welsh contingent were delirious with their melody for a team of ‘Samson Lees’ eloquently reverberating around a city’s proclaimed architecture. Having been missing from the front row for many weeks before Christmas the prop was quite superb alongside fellow international Evans and his skipper, Ken Owens anchored between them.

Pivac has been coaching for 22 years since his first footstep on the rung in Northland, New Zealand but the victory in the back yard of the Aviva Premiership rugby giants was surely up with his best moments. Pro 12 champions last season having beaten Munster in Dublin to return a week later and rumble Leinster in the same venue included.

The ‘Rec’ was a cultural phenomenon, when Scarlets rugby once more came of age as they sat on the brink of a place in the European quarter final for the first time in 11 years. Bath rugby had lifted this trophy 20 years ago under the leadership of Scottish scrum half Andy Nicol’s but through their parade at half time, would have been in awe of the first half performance.

Music and Wales go hand in hand. Greenhill School, on tour at Backwell with the year ten students playing football, rugby and netball had the experience of a lifetime arranged through PE teacher Phil ‘Taffy’ Williams.
A school whose equally renowned musical talent under Samantha Hughes would have taken the Irish love ballad ‘Fields of Athenry’ to new heights given the opportunity.

Innate to the Irish famine of 1845 this anthem of the ‘underdog’ often resonating at Landsdowne Road or even Anfield a mercurial throw back to the task that sat before the visitors.

Top of Conference B the Scarlets took control early in the second half as they went in search of their bonus point try. The home eight were not match at the scrum set piece as Owens didn’t hesitate in choosing a rumble instead of taking a pot at goal.

Three times they drained the time and the Bath spirit, perilously close to crossing the try line through forward drives. Six minutes into the second half Patchell received the ball to deftly put a grubber kick through, allowing Williams to dab down wide out and Jones add the extras for 29-3.

The red tide were feeding the baying supporters cries for evangelical bread, where the ‘manna’ and intensity was unyielding. The team of Samson Lee lost their talisman on 55 minutes as his replacement Werner Kruger was rock sold as the choristers ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ resonated loudly and proudly.

Bath coaching guru Todd Blackadder needed his side to develop a pattern of play as they refused a kick at goal in search of a try, which came when winger Matt Banahan caught Burns kick in the corner allowing the outside half to convert with an hour played.

‘Long John’ Welsh second row Luke Charteris, a man with a biochemist degree and a fluent French speaker to boot took the hand-me-down inspirational singing to his hear. Not one for ‘losing my religion’ the boiler house man’s efforts allowed him a well earned rest at the same time as opposite number Bullring.

Over 150 years of rugby history in North Somerset has placed foundations from which the home side ran with their head of steam. Pivac manipulated his cast list with the game and full points in the bag, with Aled Davies arriving at inside half. Tried and trusted combinations saw Owens and Beirne orchastrting the line forcing Watson to desperately run from deep as the ‘big shift’ put in from down West was recognised.

Owens, Hong Kong born Barclay, and Evans were done but still the tide wouldn’t subside, drawn to their supporters in the Dyson stand as Pivac’s decision to play a six to two forward split off the bench drew a scrum penalty.

Jones added the points for a 32-10 and a fourscore lead with 12 minutes to play. The defensive patterns were as impressive as any offensive effort, Patchell making a last ditch cover tackle on Zach Mercer with five minutes to play typifying the ‘hywl’.

Top of the ball line out and replacement Josh Macloed madeground and play was outside the danger zone with Jones clearance. Back came Bath and No. 8 Zach Mercer couldn’t be denied in the opposite corner for a converted try after a cutting run from winger Aled Brew, skipper Matt Garvey and second row Paul Grant.

Williams and Prydie responded to gain a penalty for offside with ‘Sospan Fach’ finishing proceedings fittingly, with Jones boot, edging the score to 35-17.

The Bath faithful, forlorn and remorseful took an early bath wondering what had happened.

LTC Mobility sponsored Furnace rugby club members summed it up amidst their exuberant acclaims.

Centre and club vice captain Scott Davies hoarsely crooned: “It’s the best away trip I’ve experienced. Our 1800 strong choir left nothing in the changing room and it was certainly a factor in lifting the squad.”

On Saturday (Jan 20) another blockbuster awaits, when Toulon visit Parc Y Scarlets and the home side need a minimum of a bonus point to progress into the knockout stages.

Davies smiling face finished the evening with: “Let this be the springboard to the next level. This could be the year we lift the Heineken trophy and the whole of Europe will stand up for the champions.”

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Sport

Matchroom Reds continue good form

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MATCHROOM REDS continued their good Llanelli Snooker League form with a fine 5-2 victory on their trip to Burry Port Legion.

The highlight an impressive 92 clearance-break from Reds’ cueman Craig Price; J.Bullen, R.Evans and B.Newcombe added winning support; Rob Davies and Dean Thomas hit back for the home side.

Elsewhere  in Division 1, Pontyberem also posted a convincing win, a 6-1 victory against Snooker  World Whites, courtesy of A.Harris, E.Bowen, C.Rees, K.Selwood and Kieran Evans (54 break); just D.Jones’ frame avoided the Ammanford side the whitewash.

Similarly, only C.Howells was on top as Burry Port Reading Room Blues crashed 6-1 to Trimsaran; for the latter, J.Tudor, L.Holland, K.Proctor, M.Foreman and C.Thomas all contributed points.

Llanesco were 5-2 winners at the expense of Gorseinon Workmens’, after L.Lloyd, S.Thomas, C.Lloyd and C.Rees had struck; M.Davies and J.Wilcox were on song for the Brighton Road side.

Meanwhile, Jeff Jones (42 break), Paul Martin, Adrian Phillips and Gary Stead steered Cross Hands B to a 5-2 success away at Ponthenri Social, whose winning duo were Nigel Lewis and Jeff Howells.

T.Rees and L.Davies were Matchroom Whites’ winning pair as they sank to a 5-2 defeat at Upper Tumble blues; E.Rees, J.Bradley, I.James and N.Walters were frame winners for the hosts.

Morfa Social swept to a comprehensive 6-1 victory against Pontarddulais Workingmens’, with Rob Hughes, Scott Ashford, G.Lewis, B.Follows and Andrew Hatto all on top; only Steve Davies won for Bont.

In Division 2, the Gremlin Club kept up their impressive form with a thumping 7-0 victory at Pontarddulais Cons B; B.Price (32), R.Barney, M.Dagnall, L.Collins, K.Gronow and G.Stollery completed the rout.

It required the aggregate point to separate Bryn and Trallwm A and New Lodge B as Bryn edged home 4-3, thanks to the efforts of J.Townsend, M.Boland and J.Jones; Andrew John, Gary Williams (27) and Roy Morgan hit back for Lodge.

It was more clear cut at Matchroom Blacks, where the home side defeated Bryn B 6-1, courtesy of Rhys Morgan, Ryan Maides, Thomas Williams, Cory Jenkins and Nathan Brain; Kurtis Myhill was the visitors’ solitary point-earner.

Cross Hands A saw off the challenge of Upper Tumble Reds to win 5-2, after Jeff Howells, Matthew James, Elwyn Williams and Gerald Evans each won their frame; S.Marshall and K.Evans replied for the Tumble cuemen.

Liam McGhee, S.Crump, K.James and J.Jordan earned Llandybie RFC a solid 5-2 win against Tycroes RFC, with M.Walters and A.Rees replying.

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Llangennech prove too strong for Crymych

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LLANGENNECH earned their third bonus-point win in a row on Saturday (Dec 4) as they beat Crymych 30-10.

The home side started well and it was Andrew Thomas who crossed for the game’s first try.

That went unconverted but replacement no.10 Osian Evans then extended Llangennech’s lead to 11-0 with two penalties.

Crymych were then reduced to 14 players for ten minutes following a yellow card and Llangennech then picked up their second try of the game as Jordan Saunders touched down.

Evans then added the extras to give the home side an 18-0 lead at the break.

Crymych started the second half well and were rewarded with two unconverted tries for Tomos Lewis and Ilan Phillips.

However, there was then a red card for replacement tighthead Liam Tobias meaning Llangennech would be down to 14 men for the remainder of the game.

Despite being a man light Llangennech still pushed forward and they were awarded a penalty try off a driving maul.

Llangennech then got their bonus point in the last minute of the game as Kalum Evans touched down for an unconverted try to complete the scoring.

It means Llangennech sit top of the table with 15 points from their opening three games.

PHOTO by Darren Harries

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Reds earn win in John’s first game in charge

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IF the first game under the new management of Lee John and Dylan Blain is an indication of how Llanelli Town mean to progress, the future looks bright, as they were almost unrecognisable to the side that had performed so abysmally a fortnight previously against the same opponents.

John and Blain were in charge of the visitors on that occasion at Glanhafod Park, but their influence even at this early stage is obvious, with the home side once more demonstrating a fast-flowing style and passing game which has been sadly lacking for most of the season, and hopefully this trend will continue.

The only worry is the small squad of players available for selection, with two more, captain Kyle Copp and Zac Brown, leaving recently, while injuries are also a concern with the latest casualty being Robert Thomas who will probably miss the rest of the season.

Doubtless, there will be efforts made to strengthen the squad during the January transfer window, but until then reserve and academy players will have to be utilised to swell the numbers.

The hosts were on the front foot from the outset, with the midfield particularly prominent, producing opportunities for the front runners, with a Callum Saunders delivery into the box being pushed clear by Scott Coughlan in the Goytre goal just before Callum Bateman was about to make a headed contact.

Thomas then went down injured, and after efforts to play on had to admit defeat, being replaced by Morgan Weaver after 18 minutes.

Bateman fired over after being played in by Chris Thomas when he broke from the back, but ironically, despite their dominance the Reds went close to conceding when the visitors, with almost their first real threat, forced Exauce Dimonekene into a great save to deny Jay Thomas, and then make an even better stop to keep out the rebound from James Parry.

These near-misses spurred on Goytre, and a corner to the near post by Bradley Flay was headed against the upright by Tim Parker.

Having survived these near-efforts, the hosts retaliated when a short corner by James Loveridge set up Sam Parsons whose well struck finish into the goalmouth was just about kept out Coughlan before the loose ball was hacked clear.

Loveridge himself then had a chance of opening the scoring, but blazed over from a decent position, and the interval arrived with neither side being able to break the deadlock.

The dominant force in the first half, the Reds continued where they had left off by taking the contest to their opponents, and Miles John was unlucky when his near post attempt on target deflected off Daniel Birch for a corner.

From this, Nathan Logan directed a header across the area to Bateman, but again Coughlan did just enough to prevent an opening score.

Louis Gerrard fired narrowly wide of the Goytre goal from distance, but the final ball was somehow lacking, and the nearest they came was from a Saunders free kick which went inches over the bar. 

For all their dominance, they also had to be vigilant at the other end as their opponents gradually came more into the game, and John brought off a saving tackle on Parker to prevent him pulling the trigger inside the box, while Goytre really should have taken the lead when an unmarked Flay headed wide from a few yards out following a great cross by Joseph Pelosi.

The Reds capitalised on this let-off by going ahead on 76 minutes through Logan who was found some 25 yards out from goal, and he curled a delightful finish past Coughlan just inside the post.

This proved to be his last action as he was replaced by Dylan Williams on 80 minutes, but within three minutes the lead was extended with something of a freak goal when Saunders unleashed a speculative shot on target which Coughlan made a complete hash of, allowing it to bounce off his legs and into the net.

Despite this setback, the visitors hauled themselves back into contention in the 86th minute after some initial attempts on the home goal had been partially cleared, with the ball eventually running loose and being met by Kyran Steadman who fired a well- aimed strike into the bottom corner to set up a grandstand finish.

With the clock running down but with a potential substantial amount of stoppage time to be added, the hosts were anxious to ensure they were not about to concede their advantage, and both Williams and Gavin Jones went close, before matters were finally wrapped up by Saunders in the 5th minute of added time when he despatched a well-taken set piece past Coughlan to seal the points, and more importantly a winning start for the new hierarchy.    

Another tough assignment awaits them on Saturday (Dec 11) when they travel to the Rhondda for their fixture against Cambrian & Clydach, kick off 2.30pm.

PHOTO by Darren Harries

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