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The Dragon Round Up

Wales against England is a rugby fixture that doesn’t often travel under the radar, but World Cup year is always a little different.

Both countries have mostly kept their heads down and their voices lowered as they prepare for the tournament which starts in six weeks’ time.

But for many the warm-up international that takes place in Cardiff this weekend is a chance to show that they are ready to take centre – and one of those could well be Scarlets hooker Ryan Elias.

With his long time rival for the No.2 shirt, Ken Owens, out injured, Elias is keen to show he should be the main to anchor the Welsh front row out in France.

Elias has been training hard with the rest of the squad out in Turkey, but is now narrowing the focus to the Principality Stadium on Saturday – and a skirmish with the old enemy before the real battle begins.

“England are going to be like us – fighting desperately for World Cup places, so I’d imagine it’s going to get pretty tasty,” says Elias.

Elias already has 33 caps under his belt, but has the opportunity to establish himself as Wales’ top hooker with Owens now out of the picture through injury.

Not that he can take anything for granted with Dewi Lake, Elliot Dee and Sam Parry also in the running.

“There are three other very good hookers battling it out with myself in training every day for that spot. That’s why the two games against England and the one against the Springboks coming up are going to be so important,” said Elias.

“There will definitely be an edge this weekend – it’s a Wales England match. It doesn’t get much bigger than that for us as players and for the fans especially – it’s a huge occasion.”

Also getting ready for an end to rehearsals are Cardiff City and Swansea City, who both made final preparations for the start of the Championship season on Saturday.

The Bluebirds were held to a goalless draw at Wycombe Wanderers, while the Swans won 4-0 at Reading.

Now, attention turns to the real deals when Swansea host Birmingham City on Saturday and Cardiff visit relegated Leeds United a day later.

Aaron Ramsey, having returned to his first club at Cardiff, insists he is injury-free and can finally enjoy a smooth ride under their recently appointed Turkish boss, Erol Bulut.

“I feel good again,” said Ramsey, who has averaged 12 league starts per season since he left the Gunners in 2019.

“I kept myself ticking over in the off season and, I’ve been building up the minutes and I’m good to go.

“I still feel I’m capable of producing performances, so for me there was no better time to come back to Cardiff and to help them progress.”

After various injury issues, Ramsey showed he still has the durability to manage to make a combined 44 appearances for French club Nice and Wales last season.

His homecoming to the club he left 15 years ago, means the 32-year-old has managed to get Bluebirds fans all misty-eyed and they quickly sold out their aways fans’ allocation of 2,000 tickets for their opening trip to Leeds on Sunday.

In golf, the Welsh weather was tamed by Alex Cejka, who  defeated Padraig Harrington at the second play-off hole to win the Senior Open Championship at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club.

Cejka mixed two birdies with five bogeys and a double-bogey in horrendous conditions in Porthcawl to card a five-over 76, with Harrington posting a final-round 75 to join him on five over after missing an eagle attempt for outright victory on the final hole.

The players returned to the par-five 18th for a play-off, where Harrington tapped in for birdie – after almost holing his eagle putt from off the back of the green – and Cejka two-putted from 30 feet to extend the contest.

Harrington then missed the green with his approach on the second play-off hole and could only make par, as Cejka posted a two-putt birdie to claim the win and add to his senior major victories in 2021 at the Regions Tradition and KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.

“I still can’t believe it,” Cejka said.

 “It’s been a really tough week. It’s been a really tough two days. I can’t believe I’m standing with the trophy here.

“Seeing all those great names on the trophy, coming in here with all the pictures and everything, all the guys who won it before me, now holding it myself, it’s surreal.”

Wales earned their first victory at the Netball World Cup in South Africa, but were brought down to earth by champions New Zealand.

Captain Nia Jones Jones and her team earned their first victory in their third match at the tournament when they beat Sri Lanka, 68-56.

But after defeats to South Africa and Jamaica, Wales were then given a difficult time by New Zealand as they went down, 83-34.

The Silver Ferns showed why they are highly fancied to retain their trophy as they went 40-16 up at half-time, led 65-22 by the end of the third quarter, and then stretched their winning margin in the fourth quarter.

Jones said: “We knew today was probably a bit out of reach for us in terms of where we’re at as a national team.

“There were structures that we put out today that worked and if they worked against these guys, we know that they will work against Uganda and Trinidad and Tobago, that’s what we really need to look at and stick to it for a little bit longer.”

Wales now take on Uganda on Wednesday.

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