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WELSH SPORT IN REVIEW | SPORTS FEATURE

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Sports Feature

photo: David Rawcliffe

It only seems like yesterday that we were barely waiting for the Six Nations to start, and yet now it is December, bringing with it a time of merriment, frost and reflection.

Football

Fresh off an impressive run at Euro 2016, expectations were understandably high for Wales’s team to reach their first World Cup in 60 years. Despite some impressive victories in the group stages, a heart-breaking defeat to Ireland in October meant that Wales failed, despite their spirited ambition. There were positives to take from the campaign though, with youngster Ben Woodburn impressing with his cameo roles off the bench and a commitment from Coleman to promoting youth players boding well for the future.

At club level, Swansea has endured a rather dismal start to their Premier League campaign. Despite the sturdy revival instigated by Paul Clement at the end of last season, Swansea has failed to live up to the pedigree of the top flight, currently looming in the bottom half of the table. All eyes will be on Clement to guide Swansea out of their rut, though he may be looking to the transfer window to replace the significant void left following the departure of Gylfi Sigurðsson in the summer. Meanwhile, Neil Warnock’s renaissance at Cardiff continues to blossom as they sit in a playoff position in the Championship. Despite trailing off from a prolific start to the season, the Bluebirds will be pushing for Premier League status in the coming year. Providing they retain the services of their key players, City fans should be hopeful.

Rugby

It seems there is finally some change in the air with the Welsh rugby team. Having relied on the hackneyed Warrenball for too long, remaining in a limbo between physicality and creativity, there has been a tide of fresh thinking in the autumn. The fact that 25-year-old George North looks set to sign a dual national contract after ending his time with the Northampton Saints has delighted national team coach Warren Gatland.

The world class winger will return to playing domestic rugby, with an aim to ultimately extending his career in a sport known for being harsh on its player’s bodies, which hopefully bodes well for the future of Wales’ national sport. Following the calamitous Six Nations campaign that saw Wales finish second from bottom with only two victories, this Autumn has heralded fresh faces and an attempt at a new style of rugby. Though there is still some way to go with the international team, there is optimism for 2018.

Meanwhile, in Conference A of the Welsh Guinness Pro14 Conference, Cardiff Blues and Ospreys have had a downcast start to the season and will be hoping to improve on their form in order to push for play-offs. Down in Conference B, Scarlets are dominating the league and looking to top their group while the Dragons are struggling in the bottom half of the table.

Elsewhere in Sport

Representing the capital and Wales on ice, the Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey Team capped an emphatic season as league champions in 2017, while also winning the Challenge Cup and coming runners-up in the Play-Offs. After coming runners-up in the cup and league last season, head coach Andrew Lord will be vindicated by his team’s performance. Elsewhere, Glamorgan County Cricket Club completed a rather indifferent season in the County Championship Division Two, finishing seventh with 133 points, with their South African star Colin Ingram picking up the player of the year award.

Looking forward

As we look ahead to the New Year, there is not long to wait for an emphatic fixture as the Welsh League Cup final kicks off in January. With Cardiff Metropolitan University already confirming their spot in the final, it will be either Connah’s Quay Nomads or The New Saints joining them. The latter have enjoyed a purple patch in the cup’s recent history, having won it for the past three years. Elsewhere, the Motorpoint will host their annual Welsh Snooker Open from February through to March, as the best in the snooker world compete for the coveted title. Finally, hosting three of their five matches at the Principality Stadium, the home of Welsh rugby will be teeming with avid fans as the Six Nations returns throughout February and March.

words CONOR KNIGHT

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