INTERNATIONAL Rugby League will be held in Llanelli for the first time in 16 years when Wales host Serbia in a Rugby League World Cup qualifying match on Saturday October 15 at Parc Stebonheath (kick-off 6pm).
The last time Wales played in this town was in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup when Wales edged out a Hazem El Masri inspired Lebanon side 24-22.
Wales played three full internationals at the Parc Stebonheath ground before the Second World War, beating France 41-7 in 1935 in front of a reported 30,000 crowd, before an 18-2 win over the same opponents in 1938 and a 17-9 win over England later that same year. All games were part of victorious European Championship campaigns for the Welsh.
Since the war, the stadium has primarily been used for football as the home of Welsh Football League side Llanelli Town AFC, but since 2015, it has been the fortress of Conference South Rugby League side West Wales Raiders.
Raiders’ director Andrew Thorne is looking forward to hosting such an important event in Wales’ first step to World Cup glory.
“I’m so pleased that the World Cup qualifier against Serbia is being played at Parc Stebonheath,” he said. “Trying to build Rugby League in West Wales has always been tough, but over the last two years with the support of Wales Rugby League, we have managed to grow participation in the sport and now have a junior pathway. With the game coming to Stebonheath, I can only see that this fantastic sport will grow even more in the West.
“This is sure to be a fantastic event and hope that the public in Llanelli and the surrounding areas come and support the Wales team on the start of their World Cup campaign.”
Meryl Gravell, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board member for Regeneration and Leisure, said: “It’s absolutely wonderful to have the Wales Rugby League national side coming to Llanelli to continue the hard work that West Wales Rugby League are doing for the local area.”
Wales are taking part in a three-team group this autumn in the attempt to qualify for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup finals in Australia. In addition to the home game against Serbia in Llanelli, Wales will travel to Italy a fortnight later. The winner of the group goes straight through to the finals with the runners up taking on the second place side from Ireland, Spain and Russia in a final challenge in Leigh on November 4.
Wales coach John Kear is looking forward to his side playing in Llanelli and believes that Serbia will be strong opposition, especially after recently playing a full international match in Australia involving both Serbian and Australian born players. “It’s exciting that we’re going to South West Wales,” he said.
“It’s an area we’ve not played in since the last World Cup in 2013 when we took on Cook Islands in Neath.
“I’m anticipating support and enthusiasm from all the sports fans around the area and I’m sure it will be well attended.
“It’s a big game for us as we need to get to the World Cup, there’s no doubt about that. It’s now getting to knock out proportions so every game is very important.
“Serbia are looking to strengthen and that’s why they played their recent international match against the Philippines in Australia through that. Brian Smith is with them too and he’ll make sure they will be well drilled. They will be a formidable challenge for us.”
Wales Rugby League have had links with Llanelli for over 100 years. No less than 46 players who have turned out for Llanelli RUFC or the Scarlets have played Rugby League for Wales, while at least 15 WRL internationals were born in Llanelli. This is something that Wales Rugby League chairman Brian Juliff is keen to celebrate.
He said: “I am thrilled that we are playing this game in Llanelli as it presents us with a great opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding heritage players that originated from West Wales.
“Supporting Andrew Thorne and his team of administrators and players as they continue to develop Rugby League in the region is a real pleasure, as I am fully aware of the huge amount of hard work and enthusiasm these volunteers bring to Wales Rugby League.
“Wales are the current European Rugby League Champions but we are very aware of the changing playing personnel that we will face in both qualifying games against Serbia and Italy due to our opponents’ intentions to field Australian based heritage players.
“We will, of course, stay strong to our belief that playing home grown players will continue to pay long term dividends and promote a sustainable and successful Wales Rugby League team.
“On that basis alone it would be hugely encouraging if our local supporters could fill the stadium and cheer our boys to success in this important first game. Cymru Am Byth!”
Scarlets slide to PR014 loss
SCARLETS went down to a second defeat of the Guinness PRO14 campaign after ill-discipline cost them dear in a 20-7 loss at Scotstoun.
Trailing 10-0 at half-time, they had second row Sam Lousi red carded for a dangerous tackle two minutes into the second period and despite a spirited late resurgence left Glasgow empty handed.
On his 150th appearance, prop Samson Lee crossed for his side’s lone try to spark a comeback in the final quarter, but Scarlets were unable to take the chances they created to claw their way back into the game.
It was Lee who was handed the honour of leading out the Scarlets as the visitors looked to continue their excellent record at Scotstoun.
Both sides have built a reputation for running rugby, but the opening half proved a real arm wrestle, particularly at the breakdown.
There were threatening bursts from scrum-half Gareth Davies and centre Johnny Williams, but every time the Scarlets entered Warriors territory, they conceded a penalty.
It took 28 minutes for the scoreboard operator to be called upon with Glasgow fly-half Adam Hastings landing a long-range penalty, sandwiched between two misses from similar range.
Prop Oli Kebble then barged over from close-range with Hastings’s conversion making it 10-0 to the home side.
To compound matters Scarlets lost back-rower Josh Macleod to a leg injury, replaced by international openside James Davies.
Halfpenny was wide with his first penalty attempt as Scarlets attempted to claw back the deficit, but in the final move of the half a Williams break came to nothing as Glasgow pilfered another turnover penalty.
Needing a strong response after the restart, the second half started in disastrous fashion when Lousi was red carded for a dangerous tackle on Glasgow wing Ratu Tagive.
It wasn’t long before the Warriors took advantage of the extra man with experienced No. 8 Ryan Wilson diving over for his side’s second try.
Scotland international Adam Hastings converted and added another penalty to push the score out to 20-0, but that sparked the Scarlets into a spirited response.
With the bench making a big impact, Scarlets brought a real energy to their performance and were rewarded when Lee found a way to the line after a lovely ‘show and go’ from a couple of metres out. Halfpenny converted and suddenly the Scarlets sensed a way back.
It needed an outstanding cover tackle from Steff Evans to deny Scotland international Tommy Seymour shortly afterwards, but back came the Scarlets forcing the home side to concede a string of penalties.
It led to lock Richie Gray being shown yellow, but the visitors couldn’t make the most of it as Ken Owens had the ball dislodged as he charged towards the whitewash.
In the dying moments, the dangerous Evans almost produced a stunning solo score but wasn’t able to ground the ball in the corner, then Tom Rogers went close on the other flank.
Reduced to 13 men following the sin-binning of Nick Grigg for an illegal high shot, Glasgow were able to hold out late on, leaving the Scarlets to reflect on a second defeat of the campaign.
Speaking after the match, Scarlets head coach Glenn Delaney said: “It was a game of two halves, we weren’t accurate early in the first half. We were quite rueful we did not take the opportunities when they presented themselves. We had some territory and possession without really getting momentum with the collisions. At the breakdown area we were struggling a little bit to keep the ball and continuity going and that told.
“It was a nip and tuck first-half and they capitalised, took a chance and fair play to them for that.
“In the second period we had a red card and then we really put some momentum into the game and we looked pretty good and I felt we probably had another score in us at that point and it was all on.
“We finished with plenty of energy. That is the footie we are trying to play, we just didn’t get to do that in the first half.
“I was really proud of the effort, that is never in question with our lads. We just need to be more accurate so we can put more of a mark on our game.”
As for the injuries to Josh Macleod, Ken Owens and Blade Thomson, Delaney added: “Josh has a hamstring injury so we will have a look at that and see how he gets on. The medics are looking after him and it’s pretty early to make an assessment, we will know more in the next 24-48 hours.
“He has worked so hard to get in that Wales squad and I thought he was outstanding again today, making big plays and doing what he has been doing for us for the last 12 months.
“The form that he has shown to get us into that position he was showing that tonight so it was a shame for him. When James (Davies) came on he looked great so we have two good guys in that seven shirt.
“Ken has a shoulder injury, he has some bruising, and Blade has an elbow problem. It’s about managing it. It’s pretty early when you get those joint related things, they tend to take a day or so to really know what the severity is.”
New Welsh rugby kit launched
THE NEW Macron Wales kit, to be worn for the first time against France in Paris on October 24, has been unveiled simultaneously in the private changing rooms of the national team headquarters in Hensol and the Wales Women squad’s current base in Swansea University.
Jonathan Davies and Ross Moriarty were joined ‘virtually’ by Wales Women captain Siwan Lillicrap and Gwen Crabb to reveal the kit against a backdrop of jerseys from the community game in Wales which have also been produced by the WRU’s new official technical partner.
The launch of the new kit has taken on a post-Covid feel with both squads currently training in respective ‘bubbles’ and so the community aspect of the partnership – £1m of free kit to be supplied yearly to Welsh rugby clubs over six years – has been reflected by a display of existing Macron community rugby shirts.
A set of unique features sees the red dragon of the Welsh flag embossed across lower back of the shirt, an embossed pattern covering the sleeves – cleverly transforming the hexagonal shape of the WRU three-feathers logo into ‘dragon scales’ – and the Welsh word ANRHYDEDD (honour), also embossed, on the back of the collar.
The ‘away‘ version is a black jersey with a white v-neck collar, this time tipped with red trim that is also found on the sleeves and cuffs.
Both sleeves again feature an all over embossed pattern, but this time a geometric graphic brings a new age look to the garment.
The Welsh dragon is once again embossed on the lower back and another Welsh word, ANGERDD (passion) is embossed on the back of the collar.
“The new kit is striking representation of Welsh rugby tradition and we are delighted to be able to launch our new seven-year partnership with Macron in such a spectacular way,” said WRU CEO Steve Phillips.
“We are delighted with the bespoke kit, training and leisurewear Macron has provided so far, where Italian design meets Welsh passion with impressive results.
“And we are sure that the Welsh rugby watching public will be equally impressed when they get their hands on their favourite pieces in the expansive product range available.”
Wales Women will wear the kit in action for the first time against Scotland in their own postponed Six Nations clash on November 1 and, from next season, Macron’s affinity with Welsh rugby will increase even further when the first instalment of £6m worth of kit over six years, is supplied to the clubs in the community game throughout Wales.
“The Welsh Rugby Union represents one of the pillar stones of world rugby and for Macron to stand side by side with this sporting giant, means that we as a brand, have reached yet another great milestone,” said Macron‘s CEO Gianluca Pavanello.
“Our goal is for the new kits to be instantly recognisable and something that clearly express the Welsh identity and spirit. We hope that our hard work has paid off and that the new collection will be loved by players and fans alike and that the kits evoke the emotion that such a great nation deserves.”
Scarlets make five changes for European quarter-final
Johnny Williams and Sione Kalamafoni have been handed their Scarlets’ European debuts for Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Toulon at the Stade Felix Mayol (8.15pm UK time).
Both summer signings are included in a side showing five changes to the line-up that took the field against the Dragons in the Scarlets last match of the Guinness PRO14 season.
Wales and British & Irish Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny returns to face his former side, linking up with Johnny McNicholl and Steff Evans in an all-international back three.
Williams and Steff Hughes continue their midfield combination, while Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies has recovered from injury to partner Dan Jones at half-back.
Skipper Ken Owens, Wyn Jones and Samson Lee pack down in the front row and behind them Tongan international Sam Lousi starts at lock alongside Jake Ball.
In a reshuffled back-row, the PRO14’s turnover king Josh Macleod gets the nod at openside; Kalamafoni, who featured for Leicester Tigers in the pool stages of the tournament, wears the No. 8 jersey and Scotland international Blade Thomson has recovered from an Achilles issue to start at blindside.
On the bench, Ryan Elias, Phil Price and Javan Sebastian provide front-row cover with Lewis Rawlins and James Davies the other forward replacements. Kieran Hardy, Angus O’Brien and Tyler Morgan cover the backs. Morgan is set to make his first Scarlets appearance since joining from the Dragons.
The Scarlets and Toulon faced each other twice during the pool stages. A last-gasp converted try grabbed a 17-16 victory for the French side in November. The three-times European champions then claimed a crucial 27-15 win at Parc y Scarlets in January to ensure they topped the group.
Head coach Glenn Delaney said: “It is a final for us. If you win three finals in a row you win a trophy. We are that far away from achieving the objective we all set out upon 12 to 13 months ago. It would be lovely to finish it off the right way. Whenever you get the opportunity to play for a trophy you have got to be very respectful and take it deadly serious, which is exactly what our boys have been doing.”
Scarlets team v RC Toulon (Saturday, September 19, 2020; kick-off 8.15pm UK)
15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Steff Evans; 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ken Owens (capt), 3 Samson Lee, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Sam Lousi, 6 Blade Thomson, 7 Josh Macleod, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.
Reps: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 James Davies, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Unavailable because of injury
Rob Evans (neck), Rhys Patchell (calf), Liam Williams (foot), Daf Hughes (knee), Steff Thomas (knee), Alex Jeffries (elbow), Tomi Lewis (knee), Aaron Shingler.
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