IN A high-intensity game at The Rec, Scarlets dug deep to claim a thrilling Champions Cup victory over Bath Rugby.
Throughout a tense Pool A encounter, there was little between the two sides with Scarlets scoring a try in each half through scrum-halves Gareth Davies – on his 200th appearance – and Kieran Hardy.
Both teams had their chances to win but in the end, the spoils and the famous old ragdoll headed to West Wales.
Bath got on the board first with Ben Spencer striking home shot from the kicking tee.
While Bath applied early pressure, the Scarlets broke the shackles in spectacular fashion.
Leigh Halfpenny broke the defensive line to offload to Scarlets skipper Steff Evans. The winger broke through the cover defence to link with scrum-half Gareth Davies on the inside line.
The Wales scrum-half still had work to do but jinked past the final defender to cross near the posts. Halfpenny added the extras, and shortly afterwards he missed a long-range effort to put the Scarlets further ahead.
The Scarlets lost Wales’ international forwards Jake Ball and Samson Lee to head injury assessments. Morgan Jones and Javan Sebastian replaced the duo.
It took 18 minutes of continuous pressure and knocking on the door of the Scarlets’ try-line before the hosts retook the lead.
A lovely piece of interplay began from No. 8, Zach Mercer. The ball was smartly shipped in contact before Sam Underhill found Ruaridh McConnochie, who dotted down in the corner. Spencer missed the conversion.
Bath then earned a scrum penalty after several warnings to the Scarlets’ front row. Spencer slotted home the three points to give Bath a four-point lead.
On 32 minutes the Welsh region got to within a point of Bath Rugby with a Halfpenny penalty. Just three minutes later, Spencer re-established the four-point gap as the hosts were awarded a penalty, which the nine converted with ease.
14-10 down at the break, the Scarlets would’ve been disappointed at the length of time they spent on the back foot and getting sucked into a physical confrontation with the rugged home eight.
It was only six minutes into the second period when the hosts were pinged for offside, allowing. Halfpenny to strike his penalty through the uprights from close range.
Bath piled the pressure on Scarlets with a lot of possession and territory, but they were unable to make that pressure pay off until the 53rd minute.
The hosts got their reward through Will Stuart, who crashed over to score in his first appearance of the season for the Blue, Black and White.
Josh Macleod replaced Jac Morgan, who enjoyed another outstanding game, and made an immediate impact with a turnover, while the experience of Jon Davies also proved crucial off the bench.
Scarlets kept plugging away and saw their hard work rewarded on 64 minutes.
Dan Jones combined with Rob Evans, who produced a sublime off-load to put Hardy away under the posts for a score converted by Halfpenny.
With one point in it, both sides had chances.
Hardy just failed to find Evans on his outside with the line beckoning, while Bath’s route-one approach came against a brick-wall defence.
A Halfpenny penalty gave the Scarlets a four-point cushion going into the final minutes, but Bath stole the kick-off before pounding away at the visitors’ line.
In the 78th minute, Bath crossed the whitewash, only to have the ball held up over the line following a crunching effort from Leigh Halfpenny to deny the home team a score.
But a try would be enough for the hosts to take the game.
As the clock struck red, Bath continued to pile on the pressure with continuous and relentless forward phases. As Spencer stretched his arm out towards the line, Morgan Jones steamed into the tackle.
It was the last play of the game.
With hearts in their mouths, Scarlets players waited for the TMO’s decision and reacted joyfully when the TMO ruled out the last gasp effort.
Glenn Delaney lauded the incredible never-say-die defensive effort that saw the Scarlets hang on for an outstanding 23-19 Heineken Champions Cup win over Bath at The Rec.
“That match had something for everyone didn’t it?” said a relieved Delaney afterwards.
“We had a chance to score just before those final minutes and then the commitment and effort at the end were massive. We were under so much pressure. That was about character. For me, it was epitomised by Gareth Davies. “The boys wanted to play for him on his 200th and it was really special the way they finished it off to get the job done for him.”
Reflecting on the tense end to the game, Glenn Delaney said: “Those final minutes were all about commitment and heart. There were bits about the defence in the first half I wasn’t so happy with, I was frustrated we weren’t as aggressive as we would have liked, but that character comes through in the big moments. These are big-game players. We are learning as a group what it is like to be in this contest and that was a big European game for us.
“It is a big step forward, we will enjoy it and get ready for Toulon next week.”
Delaney added: “In the second half I thought we moved the ball a little wider on the edge. We never go that going in the first half and we were pretty harsh on ourselves at half-time. That try in the middle of the field, Rob Evans’s pass to put Kieran away was outstanding. That is the game we wanted to play. We wanted to move Bath around.
“We knew we couldn’t go at Bath square-on because they are big and physical and are good players. We had to move them around, we saw a bit of the Scarlets way coming out and the DNA of the club, the boys are happy to be taking the ragdoll home.”
A 48-7 victory over Italy leaves Wales a win from the Grand Slam
IT was always going to be a tough game for the Italian side, but now it is official, Wales are one win away from the Grand Slam!
Wales scored seven tries through Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens (2), George North, Callum Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit as they secured a comfortable Six Nations win in Rome.
The unbeaten tournament leaders reeled off a third successive bonus-point victory to increase pressure on their rivals for silverware. Italy meanwhile are staring down the barrel at another Wooden Spoon – they haven’t won a Six Nations match since 2015.https://www.youtube.com/embed/QI4FARxZcKk?feature=oembed
STILL A BIT OF WORK TO DO
The Welsh captain, Alun Wyn Jones, who is just one win away from winning his fourth Six Nations Grand Slam told S4C: “We were pretty clinical, particularly in the first half.
“We’re a tad frustrated with the second half but it’s a case of job done and plenty to work on.
“The excitement I feel every time I pull on this red jersey is insurmountable, so I’m looking forward to getting back to it on Monday and preparing for next weekend.”
Jones added: “It’s job done, but there’s still a bit to work on.”
Another heavy defeat will again raise the inevitable questions about Italy’s position in the Six Nations and whether there should be relegation.
The facts speak for themselves.
Today marked a 31st successive defeat for the Azzurri in the competition, with their last victory coming against Scotland in 2015.
Italy have not managed a home Six Nations win for eight years, with 20 successive losses.
Italy have conceded 187 points and 26 tries in four games this year.
Italy: Trulla, Bellini, Brex, Canna, Ioane, Garbisi, Varney; Fischetti, Bigi (capt), Zilocchi, Cannone, Sisi, Negri, Meyer, Lamaro.
Replacements: Fabiani for Ioane (7-18), Lovotti for Fischetti (65) Riccioni for Zilocchi (33), Lazzaroni for Cannone (52), Mbanda for Meyer (26-36), Violi for Varney (63), Mori for Garbisi (54) Padovani for Trulla (44).
Wales: L Williams; Rees-Zammit, North, J Davies, Adams; Biggar, G Davies; W Jones, Owens, Tomas Francis, Hill, AW Jones (capt), Navidi, Tipuric, Faletau.
Replacements: Dee for Owens (54), Carre for W Jones (57), Brown for Francis (45), Ball for AW Jones (54), Wainwright for Faletau (51), L Williams for G Davies (52), Sheedy for Biggar (52), Halaholo for North (46)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Touch judges: Pascal Gauzere (France) & Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1370764974163947527&lang=en-gb&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.herald.wales%2Fsport%2Fa-48-7-victory-over-italy-leaves-wales-a-win-from-the-grand-slam%2F&theme=light&widgetsVersion=e1ffbdb%3A1614796141937&width=500px
Surely it was discipline that was the main problem for Italy.
Mistakes and an incredible ability to give away stupid penalties, as a series of needless errors allowed the visitors to build an insurmountable lead early on.
It all started with Paolo Garbisi sending the ball dead from the kick-off before Luca Bigi infringed at the breakdown. The captain then cynically stopped a Gareth Davies quick tap and was duly yellow carded. Against 14 men, Wales built up an advantage they would not relinquish as the visitors won the game before it had really started. It was not a good example from the skipper and is symptomatic of where the Italians are currently at.
Arguably since before the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour, the back has struggled for form, leading many to question whether that was it for the Welsh centurion. Although he is only 28, it must be remembered that North has been around at the top level for a long time and there is only so much the body can take in modern day rugby. However, the move into the midfield seems to have given him a new lease of life.
To the surprise of many, Callum Sheedy did not start against Italy after his superb performance versus England. Instead, it was the much criticised Dan Biggar who continued at fly-half and produced a significantly improved display before giving way to the Bristol playmaker in the second period. Sheedy was also excellent when he came on and it leaves Wayne Pivac with a decision to make going forward. No doubt, Biggar will start next week against France – albeit the head coach is not afraid of making a big call – but the 25-year-old is certainly not far off the first XV.
Much has been said and written about the Azzurri’s continued presence in the Six Nations and based on the evidence in this fixture, they really shouldn’t be playing in a competition of this stature. Franco Smith’s charges were never at the races with Wales racing into a 22-0 lead midway through the half without really breaking a sweat. Italy hardly threatened on attack – especially during the first half – and it looked like it was a case of men against boys for large periods of this Test. The result means they have now lost 31 matches on the trot, which is the longest losing streak in the history of the Championship, and they last tasted victory in a Round Three clash against Scotland in 2015. The time is now ripe for tournament organisers to reconsider their participation.
Although Italy were never in this encounter, Wales deserve plenty of credit as they impressed for the entire game and made full use of the opportunities which were presented to them.
Pivac will be delighted with the clinical fashion with which his players went about their business and they had their bonus point in the bag by the half-hour mark after Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau and Ken Owens (2) crossed for tries. Despite leading 27-0 at the interval, Wales did not take their foot of the pedal with North also crossing the whitewash soon after the restart and although Monty Ioane scored a try for the hosts, that was a mere blip as Wales continued to dominate and sealed their win with five-pointers from Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit.
Six Nations: North set for 100th cap against England
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)
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)
Wales looking for third win in a row against England
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.
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.
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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