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Elfyn Evans raises the stakes in Monte Carlo

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ELFYN EVANS’ bid to add further success to his history-making win on last year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB blasts off with next week’s Rallye Monte-Carlo (25-28 January).

As tradition dictates, the FIA World Rally Championship commences with the notoriously challenging Alpine classic – a wintry event that always throws up an ultra-testing cocktail of ice, snow and slush making the already demanding mountain roads among the trickiest on the 13-round WRC calendar, which reaches Wales in early October.

Evans has contested Rallye Monte-Carlo four times previously and has never finished outside the top eight. His best result to date is sixth place on his debut in 2014 and again last year.

“It’s never an easy event,” admits the 29-year-old from Dolgellau. “There are so many factors that come into play that you don’t generally get on a more normal round of the championship but it’s an iconic way to start the year. The stages themselves – if you take away all the snow and ice – are absolutely fantastic.”

Since taking his maiden WRC win in Wales – the first for a Welsh driver, and the first for a British driver on home soil since the late Richard Burns in 2000 – Evans has been promoted by his title-winning M-Sport team. For 2018, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt line up alongside five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier in one of the Cumbrian outfit’s pair of front-line Red Bull-liveried Ford Fiesta WRCs.

“It’s a good place to be alongside Seb again this year,” he enthused. “We worked together well last year – albeit on different tyres – so to continue that on now with identical equipment is a fantastic opportunity.”

While clearly keen to make the most of his coveted seat alongside the French maestro, Evans is by no means overawed by his illustrious team-team. “He’s a fantastic benchmark to have in the team, has a lot of experience and is the best in the world at the moment, so you’d be a fool not to capitalise on that and learn from him. My aim, though, is always to try to beat him if we can.”

And the Welshman is certainly brimming with confidence after his break-through season in 2017 when he not only posted his first WRC victory but also two impressive second place finishes en route to fifth place in the final WRC championship standings.

“We made some good steps forward and found a happy place with the car – hopefully we can continue improving from there,” he disclosed.

Evans, though, will need to be at his brilliant best not just to beat Ogier but also to fend off some world class opposition in what promises to be another thrilling world championship series. Last year’s introduction of new technical rules not only introduced faster, more exciting cars but also created renewed rivalry between the top teams.

M-Sport might have won both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ crowns in 2017 but the opposition from Citroën, Hyundai and Toyota will be even stronger in 2018. Evans, however, believes the M-Sport technicians – now benefiting from increased support from Ford – will keep the Fiesta in front.

“There are small improvements but ultimately, with the regulations as they are, it doesn’t give anyone the scope to make massive changes. More a case of tweaking here and there,” he explained.

“We already had a strong platform, we just need to keep nibbling away to find gains in performance. Hopefully, the guys have been doing that over the winter and we all will continue pushing hard with the support of Ford this year. There’s always been a Ford connection with some engineering support but that’s now stepped up a level – that should help us to improve and stay at the top.”

While next week’s famous Rallye Monte-Carlo will provide a stern opening test, the WRC calendar throws up numerous challenges before the intrepid teams encounter the legendary Welsh forests in early October. As ever, the calendar is an epic adventure ranging from the snow packed tracks of Sweden to the rock-strewn mountain passes of Mexico and Argentina.

“To be honest, there are no rounds that I’m not looking forward to,” continued Evans. “I now have fond memories of just about all of the events. My focus this year will be to enjoy them all and to get the most out of each one, rather just targeting a handful.

“It will, of course, be special to be back in Wales,” he grinned. “The DMACK tyres obviously helped to put us in good position last year, now we’re equal Michelins to everyone else. Let’s wait and see. It’s a few months away but, obviously, we will be looking for another great result.”

In the meantime, all those wanting to follow Evans’ fortunes on television are spoilt for choice with both live and highlights coverage of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship on Channel 5, BT Sport, S4C and Red Bull TV.

Tickets for the 2018 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (4-7 October) will go on sale when the competitive route is revealed in April.

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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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