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The Dragon Round Up – August 7, 2023

What a weekend for Welsh sport!

A rugby victory over England, three Welsh cycling world champions in Glasgow, a Welshman teaching the rallying kings of Finland a thing or two, a drama-filled Cardiff City season-opener, and a top 10 finish for the Welsh Feathers at the Netball World Cup.

Let’s start with that trio of Welsh world champions, which included new mum Elinor Barker.

The 28-year-old was appearing at her first global track event since she became a mother after the last Olympics.

But she struck gold for Great Britain at the Cycling World Championships in Glasgow alongside sister Megan and a third Welsh teammate, Anna Morris.

The GB women’s team pursuit who took a magnificent gold medal in a blistering time of 4:08.771, beating New Zealand by over four seconds for the world championship title.

“The chance to win at home is so special and I can’t believe we did it. I rode it with my sister Meg and Anna and I went to school together, so what are the chances of that!” said Barker.

“It just feels all very surreal – the chances of any one of us getting here is so slim and the fact that we’ve all known each other from childhood is just bizarre!

Sometimes a rugby player produces one moment that echoes not just around a stadium, but back through the years gone by.

There was one at the Principality Stadium on Saturday night as Wales beat England 20-9 in the first of their World Cup warm-up matches.

Most rugby fans over the age of 30 can recall the Gavin Henson tackle on Matthew Tait back in 2005 during the Six Nations game against England.

Eighteen years on and new Wales captain Jac Morgan did something similar on opposite number Tom Pearson – lifting the man in white off the ground and dumping him backwards.

Morgan also showed composure and instinctive flair with ball in hand to set up the try for Gareth Davies that changed the course of the match.

George North scored the second try and there might well have been a third for Louis Rees-Zammit if the TMO had come to a different conclusion over a very tight call.

“Full credit to the boys it was a great game,” said Morgan.

“It was good after the training weeks to get that result and performance. The camps have been tough, but we worked hard and we’re pleased to get the results.

“We went in at half-time knowing we had more in the second half, we dug and came out firing.”

Leigh Halfpenny kicked 10 points on the day he earned his 100th cap in a team display that provided huge encouragement to Wales fans just a month out from the start of the World Cup in France.

Coach Warren Gatland is set to make wholesale changes for the return game against Steve Borthwick’s top England team at Twickenham this weekend, but was more than happy with what he saw from his players in their first outing since the Six Nations.

“We were fitter,” said Gatland as he left the stadium. “I felt some of the English forwards were blowing a bit just before half-time.”

Cardiff City manager Erol Bulut was left frustrated, even though his team produced by far the best performance among the Welsh clubs on the opening weekend of the season.

None of the Football League foursome of Cardiff, Swansea City, Newport County and Wrexham managed to gain a victory, with Cardiff and the Swans earning draws and both the League Two clubs losing.

Bulut probably gained the most satisfaction as his club earned a 2-2 draw away at Leeds United.

“I think the draw was a fair result for us,” said Bulut after his first Championship match in charge.

“We managed the pressure in the second half really well, but when you concede a goal just after half-time and then one at 90+5, you’re never going to like it, and I don’t like it.

“We played against a really good Leeds team. Individually they are very, very good, and they did put us under a lot of pressure in that second half. The result, though, with the way it was at one point, we have to be happy.”

Carl Ashworth had a debut to remember in goal For Swansea City as they were held at home to a 1-1 draw against Birmingham City.

The on-loan goalkeeper from Brighton was at fault for Birmingham’s opening goal from Siriki Dembele.

But Rushworth produced a sublime one-handed save to keep out Ivan Sunjic’s late strike after £2.5m summer signing Jerry Yates had drawn Swansea level with his first goal for the club.

Duff was left encouraged by his team’s recovery after falling a goal behind, but frustrated by their poor start.

He added: “I’ve got mixed emotions, really. Birmingham started probably a bit better than us but I thought we finished the first half really well, so I’m really disappointed to give away a poor goal.

“I think we were pretty dominant in the second half and they were trying to shut up shop.

“The players stuck to their task, I thought we looked really fit – we were still going in the 97th minute.”

Welcome to Wrexham was the football TV series of last season, but Welcome To League Two proved less profitable.

In an entertaining game, the Dragons were beaten 5-3 at home by MK Dons and manager Phil Parkinson admitted: “It wasn’t the day we wanted.

“Everyone’s talking about ourselves as favourites and sometimes you need a day like this, like a reality check to reassess things.”

Newport County didn’t even have a goal to celebrate as they lost their League Two opener, 3-0, at Accrington Stanley.

County manager Graham Coughlan admitted: “We gave away three soft goals and couldn’t hit the back of the net ourselves, so I’m very frustrated and very annoyed.”

Also dreaming of becoming a Welsh world champion this year is rallying star Elfyn Evans.

He enjoyed a great weekend and reduced the deficit at the top of the FIA World Rally Championship drivers’ standings from 55 to 25 points after winning Rally Finland.

The Dolgellau ace seized his chance when arch rival and Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä crashed out – winning the event outright and also taking maximum bonus points for setting the fastest time on the closing Power Stage.

Evans also becomes only the third driver from outside Finland to win the event on multiple occasions as he and co-driver Scott Martin repeated their 2021 triumph.

“It’s been a great weekend for us and it feels pretty special to win this rally for the second time,” said Evans.

“Things really clicked and the stage times came naturally. It’s a positive weekend in terms of the championship as well and we’re now a bit closer to Kalle than we were before.”

Wales finished their Netball World Cup campaign by claiming ninth place with a convincing win over Scotland.

Shooters Georgia Rowe and Phillipa Yarranton put in impressive displays as the Scots were beaten, 57-42 in Cape Town.

It means Wales return from South Africa with a place in the world’s top 10, an achievement skipper Nia Jones says they can be proud of.

Jones said: “Full credit to Scotland, we played them a few times over the last couple of years and it is always super competitive.

“We are two really evenly matched teams and it is about who performs better on the day to take it.

“I’m proud of how we turned the screw in that second half.”

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