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.
Llanelli Warriors RFC Win World Award
THE LLANELLI WARRIORS were named double Ability Rugby International Champions, the results announced with perfect timing just as the Warriors held their presentation evening.
The Ability Rugby International Championship compares the results of all the mixed ability sides across the globe, with an emphasis on games played but with a win element incorporated.
The results for 2018/29 have been much delayed but saw the Warriors regain the title from Scottish National Clan team. They edged out newcomers the Dragon Allstars who were playing their debut season. The 2019/20 season may have been curtailed, but the Warriors still managed more fixtures than any other mixed ability side, this time edging out another new side, the Port Talbot Panthers.
Mixed Ability rugby sees players with and without disabilities play alongside each other and against ‘normal’ rugby clubs. The concept continues to spread rapidly and the days when it was just the Warriors and their Swansea rivals the Gladiators, have long gone. 10 years ago the 1st sides started forming outside of West Wales and there are now over 100 teams and groups world wide.
Captain Richard Evans was very proud. “It takes a lot to organise fixtures regularly so this is a great reward for all our efforts. The boys are very committed and we just love to play. It’s great to see so many sides playing now and it’s great to be at the forefront of the movement”.
The news boosted the Warriors presentation evening where they looked back over their season.
James Anthony was the main beneficiary, playing his 1st full season his pace on the wing and accurate boot helped him lift the Top Points Scorer award and the Player of the Year titles.
Players’ Player went to 2nd row Tom Ashour. Quick enough to have previously played on the wing, he proved a reliable source of lineout ball and was always combative around the field.
Luke Pearse was named Most Improved Player, narrowly beating Will Browne, Lloyd Cawley and Dan Grinter.
The most closely contested was Sportsman where Luke Pearse, Arwel Thomas and Dan John were pipped by Chris Davies. The nominees were described as the glue of the club by Chairman Gwilym Lewis, and vital to the teams success.
The Warriors are especially anxious for Covid regulations to lift as the new season will be their 25th. Planning is difficult at present but they hope to have a number of special fixtures. At the end of the season they are due to head out to Ireland for the 3rd Mixed Ability world tournament which will feature 24 clubs from 8 different countries.
2020 Six Nations tickets on sale
WALES’ three home 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship matches – against Italy, France and Scotland – went on public sale on Friday (Sept 27), and are already in high demand.
Wayne Pivac kicks off his first Six Nations at the helm against Italy at Principality Stadium on Saturday, February 1, (2.15pm), after taking up the reins from departing head coach Warren Gatland post-Rugby World Cup.
Pivac’s side then heads to Dublin to take on Ireland before returning to Cardiff in round three to host France on Saturday, February 22 (4.45pm).
A trip to Twickenham then follows, before the tournament finale under the new regime, back in Wales against Scotland on Saturday, March 14 (2.15pm).
Pivac has one game to find his feet before the tournament opener, on November 30 against the Barbarians, when he will pick his debut Wales squad to match a BaaBaas side in Cardiff coached by Gatland.
That game – a double-header at the 73,931 capacity venue which also sees Wales Women take on Barbarian opposition – has revealed an insatiable appetite for rugby in the Welsh capital, with over 35,000 having already booked their places in the crowd, more than two months out from the fixture.
Tickets to see the BaaBaas are still available, starting at £10 per head for under 16s and £30 for adults, but now all three 2020 Guinness Six Nations matches can be snapped up too, with prices starting at £30 adult and £20 U16s for the opener against Italy (other prices are £50, £60*, £65 and £75 for this game).
Priority and advance sale, for the likes of member clubs, debenture holders and the official WRU supporters club, has meant that middle tier tickets and the two lowest price categories for both Scotland and France have already sold-out, leaving tickets at £90*, £95 and £105 to watch Les Blues – for Scotland all top price tickets have also gone, leaving only £90* and £95 categories.
*Tickets in this category include those with access to the WRU’s recently installed Alcohol Free Zone (AFZ) – a 4,200 capacity self-contained area at the North end of Principality Stadium – will now be a permanent presence at all Welsh rugby internationals and will be in use at the Six Nations for the first time, with existing debenture holders offered the opportunity to relocate to the new area.
“The best place to get hold of a ticket for the Barbarians game in November or for any of the home Six Nations matches at Principality Stadium in 2020 is from a WRU member club near you,” said a WRU spokesperson.
“Tickets are in high demand, the appetite for Welsh rugby in Cardiff is as strong as it has ever been and with a new coaching team in place and an intense curiosity about what the future will hold for Wales, the 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship is going to sell fast.
“We would encourage all supporters to act quickly and pick up tickets as soon as they can to any of these matches, to avoid disappointment, but to also always ensure that they buy from official sources – member clubs, official WRU partners or directly from us online, at our ticket office or via our dedicated hotline number – with all proceeds from ticket sales fed directly back into the game at all levels.”
All four games are available now from a Welsh rugby club near you, online at www.wru.wales/tickets, in person at the WRU ticket office or by phone 0844 847 1881 (calls to this number cost 7p per minute plus your company’s access charge) – maximum purchase limits apply.
Dewi targeting 6th consecutive Welsh cross country title
THE 113TH Welsh Cross Country Championships takes place in Swansea on Saturday 25th February. The undulating and scenic course at Singleton Park has a great history of holding the championships.
Dewi Griffiths (Swansea Harriers) will aim to take a record sixth consecutive Welsh Cross Country title in the senior men’s race.
The Swansea Harrier equalled Steve Jones’ record in 2016 and will now hope to move a step closer to Jones’ record total of nine titles.
Griffiths closest competition is likely to come from his clubmate Kristian Jones. Griffiths however beat Jones recently at the Armagh Road Races where the pair were 3rd and 5th respectively. He also beat Jones at the British Athletics Cardiff Cross Challenge in January and is the current UK Inter-Counties Champion.
Iolo Hughes (Sale Harriers), Carwyn Jones (Cardiff AAC) and Swansea Harriers trio Marc Hobbs, Guy Smith and Jon Tobin will all also hope to contest the podium places.
Swansea Harriers are similarly unlikely to be stopped from retaining their team title with rivals Cardiff AAC not likely to match them despite being the current National Six Stage Road Relay Champions.
The senior women’s race is likely to see a battle between the Welsh 10km champion, Clara Evans (Pontypridd Roadents) and Natasha Cockram (Cwmbran Harriers) who returns to competition in Wales following an athletics scholarship at Tulsa University.
Alaw Beynon-Thomas and Kate Roberts will lead the Swansea Harriers team with Carys Hughes and Lucy Marland heading the Cardiff AAC team. The two are likely to contest for the club title here with Swansea starting as the defending champions.
Cardiff man Jake Heyward will start as favourite in the U20 men’s race, backed up by club mate Ciaran Lewis. Heyward won the U17 men’s crown 12 months ago and in July 2016 became the European Youth 1500m Champion. Oliver Dickinson of Wells City is also likely to feature.
Cari Hughes is another UK Inter-Counties Champion set to compete in Swansea. Her title last February came at U17 level but this time she will contest the U20 race. Heidi Davies of Brecon AC should be the closest match for the athlete who made her Great Britain & Northern Ireland debut at Edinburgh in January.
The U17 men’s race should be highly competitive, featuring the top three athletes from the British Athletics Cross Challenge standings. Dominic Smith of Swansea Harriers leads, with the 2016 English Schools Champion, Matthew Willis of Wrexham in second and Oliver Barbaresi of Menai Track & Field third.
The U17 women’s race will also feature a large number of athletes that are used to competing against each other. The Cardiff contingent is particularly strong here and will include; Carys Bill, Abi Fisher and Kiara Frizelle.
Mia Roberts (Deeside AAC) will start the U15 girls race as a large favourite. Roberts will toe the line on Saturday as the current Welsh Cross Country, Welsh Schools, Welsh Inter-Regional and Cardiff Cross Challenge Champion. Caitlin Gwyther (Swansea Harriers) should also feature here.
James Penrose (Cardiff Archers) will hope to retain the U15 boys title. Osian Perrin won the U13 boys title last time but will contest the U15 boys race this time.
Jacob Reynolds (Cardiff AAC) is the highest place athlete from last year’s championships that remains in the U13 boys age-group. He is the Welsh Schools and Welsh Inter-Regional Champion.
Samia Jones (Menai Track & Field) will lead her clubs chances in the U13 girls race. Daisy Thompson will head a large Carmarthen Harriers team. Neisha Roberts (Deeside AAC) will try to emulate her sister Mia’s recent Championship successes with victory here. The younger athlete lies third in the British Athletics Cross Challenge Series.
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