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Wales rugby update – Scarlets win Welsh derby

Welsh Derby: Scarlets 12 - 9 Ospreys

Defending champions Scarlets won a hard-fought 12 - 9 victory against the Ospreys in the 2017 Welsh Derby after the incredible finish. Horrible weather conditions influenced the outcome of the face-to-face battle for West Wales Derby, but never-the-less the clash will be talked about for years on both sides of the Loughor Bridge. The Scarlets were on their way to a third Guinness PRO14 loss this season as the Ospreys, their bitter rivals, used their one-man advantage to a 9-5 lead going into injury time. The first half sending off of Steff Evans allowed the Ospreys to fight their way up. Time was running out for the home side despite a series of determined raids as normal time ticked down. At the end, a measured cross-kick by center Scott Williams was caught by replacement No.8 Josh Macleod who ran 10 yards to score for his side turning things around in a surprising play. Scarlets fans who felt doomed after Evans' dismissal, were ecstatic as the Ospreys suffered a shocking blow. Steve Tandy's Ospreys side will rue not making the extra man count for more in the second half when they had the advantage. The Liberty Stadium side are still searching for their first away win of the 2017 – 2018 season having now lost their last four PRO14 games. Osprey fans have concerns about the team’s lack of progress despite the double European success against Northampton. The Scarlets surged back to the top of Conference B having been temporarily displaced by Leinster's win against Munster earlier in the day.

Manager Wayne Pivac's Scarlets side displayed huge reserves of courage in staying focused and confident while reduced to a 14 man team. A major factor in the outcome was the appalling weather which had a decisive impact on the quality of the clash. Both sides had little option but to limit their ambition as there were unforced handling errors that often prevented the encounter developing any flow as demonstrated by Leigh Halfpenny missing 4 attempts at goal inside the first 20 minutes. The Lions full-back was off target with 3 penalties as well as his effort at converting his team's 17th-minute try. The Scarlets clung to a slender 5-3 advantage by half-time, but the first 40 minutes saw their early dominance wane as the match continued. For much of the first half hour, the champions dominated the territory and possession, but without putting goals on the scoreboard with Halfpenny. Evans' try suggested it could be a productive night at the office for the winger. But the tide turned just before half-time when the Wales wide-man ran into Ben John who had leaped into the air to gather a Sam Davies cross-kick. John landed very dangerously on his shoulders after Evans' reckless challenge, and referee Ian Davies handed a distraught Evans a red card. Immediately Davies reduced the deficit with a long-range penalty. Two more kicks from the Wales international seemed to earn a victory for the visitors, before the frantic climax.

Squads

Scarlets
L Halfpenny; J McNicholl, H Parkes (P Asquith 74), S Williams, S Evans; D Jones (R Patchell 63), G Davies (A Davies 68); R Evans (W Jones 68), K Owens (c), W Kruger; T Beirne, D Bulbring (S Cummins 67); A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay (J Macleod 61).
Tries - S Evans, J Macleod
Con - L Halfpenny Ospreys
D Evans (D Biggar 10); B John (H Dirksen 37), A Beck, O Watkin, J Hassler; S Davies, R Webb; N Smith, S Badlwin, D Arhip; B Davies, AW Jones (c); D Lydiate, J Tipuric, O Cracknell.
Pens - S Davies (3)
Ref: I Davies
Att: 14,509

The festive Welsh Christmas season rugby calendar was busy. Some Welsh clubs and rugby players had more success than others. Here are some Welsh winners and losers over the Christmas period,

Rhys Webb - The Wales and Lions scrum-half had a tough time at the Parc y Scarlets. Webb dropped the ball several times as did his No.9 rival Gareth Davies for the home side on a strange night in Llanelli.

Josh Adams – Reportedly the in-form wing in the Aviva Premiership, Josh Adams’ two-try haul was key in Worcester Warriors’ massive 23-8 victory against the London Irish in the Premiership at Sixways. Adams first try was a speculative chip ahead; the second was stunning as the 22-year-old wing cut an angle to race in to take his tally to 8 and become the leading try-scorer in the Premiership. “I only found out at the end of the game that I am top try scorer,” said the man of the match Adams. “To get tries is very nice but to be winning games like that is even better.”

Owen Lane - Wales Under-20s captain Lane recently signed his first pro contract with the Cardiff Blues while earning the man of the match accolades. Lane shined on his debut in the 36 - 30 victory over Connacht and was named man of the match again at Rodney Parade on Boxing Day as the Blues defeated their regional arch-rivals the Dragons. Lane was key in the Blues’ first-half try, coming off the right-wing to hit the ball at pace for Aled Summerhill to score. Lane is dangerous and a constant menace with his pace and power.

Josh Macleod – Heavy rainfall at Parc y Scarlets made the rugby ball slippery as a wet bar of soap, as replacement No.8 Macleod gave the Scarlet's bragging rights in west Wales against the Ospreys. The Scarlets won the Wales Derby in a heart-stopping finish. A cross-kick by center Scott Williams was caught by Macleod who sprinted 10 yards to dot down for the points his side required to turn things around.

Thomas Young - Ricoh Arena was the arena where Thomas Young, a player with just 2 Welsh caps to his name who was the man of the match. Thomas the son of Wasps rugby director Dai Young, gave an amazing performance against his former club Gloucester. The flanker has now scored 5 tries in 5 games against the Cherry and Whites and none better than the one in Wasps’ 49-24 victory over Kingsholm when showing an amazing turn of pace to race over from long distance. Look for Young to earn a third cap must surely be waiting in the upcoming Six Nations Championship.

Rhys Priestland, Aled Brew - The Welsh duo have been impressing at Bath this season but were part of a poor second-half showing at Sale Sharks. Priestland had slotted over 3 penalties to give Todd Blackadder's side a 9-6 lead at the break but then the team leaked 26 unanswered points in the second period. “You take your medicine, don’t you? Sale played really well, they played over the top of us and very direct,” said Blackadder after the match.

Marc Jones - The Rhondda-born hooker is competing in his 2nd spell at Sale Sharks after spending 2 seasons at Bristol. Jones only played in the last quarter of their Aviva Premiership victory against Bath in a brilliant Sharks performance that sunk Bath. Bath led 9-6 at the break before the Sharks scored 26 unanswered points.

Gavin Henson - Dragons fans will be hoping Gav's performance against the Blues on Boxing Day was just a fluke. Gav’s performance was tactically poor and off the pace in a quirky festive East Wales Derby between the arch-rivals. Henderson was to blame for 2 of the Blues tries and was outplayed by Wales outside-half contender Gareth Anscombe.

Nick Williams - The Blues No.8 bruiser was key in the breakdown against the Dragons at Rodney Parade on Boxing Day. Manager Danny Wilson's side prevailed in the East Wales Derby as they defeated the Dragons with Williams putting in some trademark hits.

Gethin Jenkins - 'Melon' came on for the yellow-carded Brad Thyer in the Blues' front row at Rodney Parade. It was only his third match this season and his first appearance since mid-November for the veteran prop. But Jenkins only lasted four minutes, after Wales' record cap holder suffered a head injury while making a tackle.

Jamie Roberts – Lions and Wales midfield battering ram Roberts will join Dan Carter in Japanese rugby next season when his contract with Harlequins expires next summer. Roberts was part of the Quins midfield at Kingston Park that saw little action in an 11-10 Aviva Premiership defeat. The match was dominated by a biting wind coming in off the North Sea.

England and Ireland have dominated the competition since Wales last won it in 2013, earning two Six Nations trophies each, with England targeting a third win this term. Manager Warren Gatland is happy for his Wales side to go into this season’s upcoming Six Nations Championship under the radar. Wales are taking a back-seat in the media to England, Ireland and Scotland, but Wales head coach Gatland said: “Long may that continue.”

In Wales’ Autumn Internationals campaign they earned victories against South Africa and Georgia, but lost to New Zealand and Australia. With Wales rugby players including Sam Warburton, George North, Liam Williams, Ross Moriarty, and Justin Tipuric, the Welsh side are expected to be able to compete with their European rivals.

“We will do a review with the coaches on Tuesday in terms of the autumn campaign, and then start thinking about the Six Nations and planning for that,” Gatland said. “It is a competition, so you want to go out there and do your best. With where all the teams are, it’s going to be one of the closest Six Nations that we have had for a long time. A lot of people are talking up other teams, and long may that continue from our point of view. Given where we are in terms of the amount of injuries and the inexperience we put out (for the autumn Tests), I think we are in a good place at the moment. We have worked on the way we want to play and looked at some different combinations, so I am pleased where we are. We didn’t pick some players in the squad that we could have picked because we know where they are. It was about developing some depth for the future. We will hopefully get a few players back from injury to strengthen the squad up for the Six Nations.”

Wales ended their Autumn Internationals series by winning a third successive home victory over South Africa. New Zealand-born deb Hadleigh Parkes only qualified for Wales on residency grounds hours before kick-off. But Parkes managed to score two first-half tries, and his midfield partner Scott Williams also touched down as the home side built an 18-point lead. The Springboks went ahead with touchdowns from Warrik Gelant, Handre Pollardn and Jesse Kriel, before a 68th-minute Leigh Halfpenny penalty put Wales ahead 24-22. “I suppose there is a little bit of relief,” said Gatland. “We started so well and looked comfortable, but the periods before and after half-time weren’t the best for us. I think we deserved the win and we are pleased with lots of things, especially given the injuries we’ve had and the young players we’ve blooded.”

Wales Captain Alun Wyn Jones talked about the clash. “It’s been an interesting autumn with two good halves against Australia and New Zealand, and then capping it off with the win here. We can’t get away from the fact we’ve lost two from four, but we are trying to change things and increase our attacking rugby. We had a purple patch from the first whistle, but then missed chances to drive that home.” Aviva Premiership side Bath were fined £60,000 after releasing Taulupe Faletau to play for Wales against South Africa in December. Premiership Rugby's policy states that non-English players can only be released by their clubs for international Tests matches in accordance with the requirements of World Rugby Regulation 9. That regulation only requires players to be released for the second, third and fourth weekends of November every year, so when Bath allowed Faletau to play for Wales on December 2, they broke league rules. The fine was initially set at £90,000 but was reduced following Bath's full co-operation throughout the process after they admitted to breaching the policy. “This Board policy has been an essential one, especially as there has been an increasing number of international matches being organized outside the specified international weeks. The agreed policy is well known to clubs, players and unions,” said a Premiership Rugby spokesman.

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