“We’re A Good Group And We’re Going Places”

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

“We were one kick away from the Euros”. That was Rob Page’s line after Wales lost to Poland on penalties in their final play-off, denying them a spot in the European Championships in Germany.

When Dan James’ fateful spot-kick was saved by former Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczęsny, the first emotions were disappointment, despair and frustration.

“I’m absolutely gutted for them,” said Page post-match.

“It’s a horrible way to go out, it’s a cruel game and I’m really disappointed but I couldn’t be more proud of them, the journey they’re on and hopefully we’ll learn from going through the horrible experiences tonight.”

For the first 52 years of the European Championships, Wales could only dream of reaching that stage, now it is expected.

Wales went into their play-off final at a fervent Cardiff City Stadium expecting to reach a third consecutive Euros and a fourth major tournament from the last five when you include the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Of course, Wales have benefitted from an expanded 24 team Euros competition, but we have also been blessed with a golden generation of footballers.

Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are almost shoe-ins to any Wales all-time XI and it would be brave to argue there shouldn’t be a place for Ben Davies, while Ethan Ampadu’s ridiculous tally of 51 caps by the age of 23 seems it almost inevitable that he will be considered right up there with the best at some stage, if not already.

However, following the retirements of Bale, Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Jonny Williams, while Ramsey didn’t feature in either play-off due to injury, Wales were missing 411 caps against Poland, leading Page to label this “a side in transition”.

Ampadu is still young, but his midfield partner for much of this campaign – Jordan James – is only 19, while Neco Williams turns 23 and Brennan Johnson is only 22.

Page said after his side’s heartbreaking defeat: “Jordan James will have learnt a lot from that experience, he’ll be another Ethan Ampadu with 50 caps by the time he’s 23 no doubt.

“The age of the group is different to what we’ve had before, they’re a hungry group and really disappointed which says a lot about how far we’ve come.

“I know I’ve got a good group of players and we’re going on the right path, there’s younger players to be introduced into this group as well so that’s my next aim.

“With the games in June, we can use it to introduce some of the younger players and build on what we have here. We’re a good group and we’re going places.”

So who are the younger players?

Rubin Colwill jumps to mind, included in the wider 28-man squad but not on the bench against Poland, Charlie Savage another who showed his promise against Gibraltar. Luke Harris is highly thought of by Page and of course there’s Liverpool’s Lewis Koumas too.

But that is not to say Wales need to make sweeping changes. Moore was Wales’ oldest player against Poland at 31 followed by Ben Davies 30.

Both could make the Euros in four years’ time, Mepham and Rodon at 26 could make the next two.

If this is the low point from which Wales will build, then it’s not half bad.

Wales were meant to be a one-man team, without Gareth Bale we were nothing, or so they said.

Wales arguably possess more attacking options now than they ever have, Moore, Dan James, Johnson, Harry Wilson, David Brooks and Nathan Broadhead have all been in superb form domestically, while Liam Cullen has consistently scored crucial goals for Swansea.

“I’ve learnt lessons from the first game in Croatia in March if we get our values with and without the ball, then we’re a force to be reckoned with,” said Page.

So what of Rob Page?

Earlier in the campaign he came under significant pressure, particularly after the 4-2 home loss against Armenia and 2-0 defeat in Turkey.

Back then, there were those calling for Rob Page’s removal and rumours of clandestine meetings between FAW Chief Executive Noel Mooney and potential suitors for the role, rumours Mooney denied, but it has been a difficult period for the Wales manager.

Some have pointed to the current availability of Pontypridd born Steve Cooper and the possibility of bringing in the former Swansea manager in Page’s place.

Of course, there needs to be a review of what went right and what went wrong, but there is absolutely no doubt that this is a group of players who give their heart and soul for their manager.

Speaking on Sgorio after the match, ex-Wales midfielder Allen said: “The two things you have to look for is, are the players supportive of the manager? That’s very evident. Does the future look bright and is the team improving? That is also evident.”

“Page deserves the chance to carry on and the chance to prove himself again.”

There is no sign Page will step down and with almost two and a half years left on his contract it will force Mooney and co. to remove him from post.

If they do that, they may risk a revolt from the players, who’s appetite and Calon – Heart for playing for Page seems only surpassed by their love of the red shirt.

Speaking after the match, Page was already trying to turn his focus to the next qualifying campaign and the 2026 World Cup in North America.

“We’ve got games in June, Nations League in Autumn and then we’re into the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign,” said Page.

“My full focus is on building on what we’ve already started and the transition in this moment in time. I’ve got a great relationship with Dave Adams the technical director at the FAW, we’ve had our issues in the past, it’s well documented but we’re fine.

“I think the board and chief Executive see the journey we’re on, from retirement of senior players I think they see the work we’re doing, and the supporters do too. They are incredible, and I think they can see the effort the boys put in and the pride we should have as a nation for those players.

This team is going somewhere, they’re so disappointed that they haven’t qualified tonight. They’re hungry for it, there’s a lot more to come and there are plenty more good times ahead.”

Sportin Wales Co-Founder Alex Cuthbert On Wales Selection Shake Up

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

Wales host France this Sunday on the back of three losses in this years Six Nations, hoping to change their fortunes.

In their bid for a first win this Six Nations, Wales head coach Warren Gatland has opted to shakeup his midfield selecting exciting centre Joe Roberts for only his second cap alongside Ospreys’ Owen Watkin.

This is at the expense of 120 cap British and Irish Lion George North and Saracens’ Nick Tompkins.

Neither are injured, with the decision a tactical one.

Wales’ defence coach Mike Forshaw faced the press today and said this was an opportunity to have a look at Roberts in particular who he says was “unlucky” to miss out on World Cup selection.

Speaking exclusively to us, Sportin Wales co-founder and Wales international Alex Cuthbert says it may be a case that Gatland has now “seen enough of Tompkins and North” and with no title to play for this Six Nations it’s an ideal opportunity to try different combinations.

“The way the attack has gone it’s not quite clicking and I think the centres are getting the brunt of that,” said Cuthbert.

“Hopefully with Roberts’ speed and ball skills, they can get it clicking again.

“The driving maul in the 22 has been strong for Wales but I just want to see a bit more from the attack.”

Forshaw himself said he sees Roberts as a “really promising young 13 going forward” and with his left foot kicking gives Wales “a little bit of a different dimension with his kicking.”

Watkin on the other hand hasn’t been seen since starting the game against Scotland at 13 and Cuthbert feels his move to 12 will be an asset to Wales’ defence.

“There’s a big onus on Watkin and Sam Costelow this week to stop France getting across the gainline and getting their fast ruck speed game going,” said Cuthbert.

“Nick [Tompkins] probably hasn’t been as physical as he usually is so hopefully Watkin, who’s good at strips, can stop France.”


Forward changes

There are further changes in Wales’ pack with captain Dafydd Jenkins moving to six to accommodate the added physicality of Will Rowlands in the second row.

“I called it before the Six Nations,” said Cuthbert.

“I think it’s a good call to have Jenkins at six for physicality and then with Adam Beard’s lineout ability combined with Rowlands, who’s incredible around the park.

“If France get one over you up front it’s a difficult day.”

The only other change to the starting lineup sees Ryan Elias return to the starting lineup, swapping places I the starting lineup with Elliott Dee.

This appears to be in a bid to strengthen the scrum, an area which Cuthbert admits was “under the pump” against Ireland.

“I think they’re just trying to look at everyone,” said Cuthbert.

“I expect to see changes again next week for Wales against Italy.”


Rotation but pressure to win remains

While Forshaw was at pains to stress that the team selection and rotation wasn’t a white flag to sacrifice a victory, Cuthbert feels it is crucial Wales get a win this weekend.

“The minimum target in the Six Nations is two wins,” said Cuthbert.

“Anything less is a failure and if Wales lose this game the narrative changes to having to win against Italy.

“Hopefully Wales can start well and not as badly as last time at home against Scotland.

International rugby is a game won up front and Cuthbert predicts, Sunday won’t be any different.

“The front five and discipline will be the winning and losing of this game,” said Cuthbert.

“France are not as disciplined as they usually are so maybe Wales can get the upper hand there.”

Wales team to face France

Cam Winnett; Josh Adams, Joe Roberts, Owen Watkin, Rio Dyer; Sam Costelow, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Kieran Assiratti, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins (capt), Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Elliott Dee, Corey Domachowski, Dillon Lewis, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Gareth Davies, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady.

Dirty Dancer . . . Joe Ledley Tips Wales To Strut Their Euros Stuff Again

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

Joe Ledley sits back in his chair and smiles broadly at the memory.

The summer of 16 . . . blue skies, Red Wall.

Bordeaux, Toulouse, Paris, and the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. Bale’s free-kicks, Ramsey’s flicks, the thumper from Neil Taylor, Captain Ash and his goal celebrations, Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn and the header from Vokes.

Bucket hats and welcome mats, wine and song, Ledley’s famous table-top dance routine and a bouncing team room when England were beaten by Iceland.

“Without doubt, those were the best moments of my entire football career,” says Ledley, a man who scored in the FA Cup at Wembley for his hometown club, Cardiff City, who helped Celtic beat Barcelona in the Champions League, and who roamed the dark lands of midfields in the Premier League.

None of that club stuff compared to the summer of 2016 and Wales’ joyfully incomprehensible march to the semi-finals of the European Championships.

Now, 37 years old, and two years into retirement, the greying temples reflected by the iron fibres in his trademark beard, Ledley knows what that period meant to supporters after decades of yearning, and the transforming effect it had on Welsh football.

But mostly, when he thinks about that tournament, he remembers the feeling of belonging.

“We were a band of brothers, but it also felt like we were on this amazing holiday together.

“It was the time of our lives. Gareth Bale feels the same way, and Aaron Ramsey. We were lucky and we were unlucky in some respects, but I wouldn’t swap what happened for the world.

“It was the most amazing few days. We changed Welsh football.”

A football experience never to be beaten? Possibly. Wales went to the 2020 European Championship finals, but it was a strange tournament, disrupted and delayed by Covid, stupidly split across various countries, and the Dragonhood were bundled out at the last 16 stage, losing 4-0 against Denmark.

Now, though, another Euros is close at hand.  Only this time – just as they had to in order to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Wales must negotiate two play-off matches.

The first is against Finland at the Cardiff City Stadium on March 21, followed – if they get through – by a final play-off versus either Poland or Estonia at the same venue five days later.

“I think they can do it,” says Ledley. “It’s going to be very difficult to win both games, but the biggest factor in their favour, is home advantage in both ties. That’s massive.

“It would be huge if they do it because to get to the finals in a place like Germany could have almost as big an impact as going to France.

“They might not even win a point when they get there, because they would be in a very tough group, but who cares?  The sheer impact on another generation of Wales being at a major finals in a football country like Germany, would be massive.

“I noticed after 2016 that more young kids wanted to play football – girls as much as boys. That was the impact we had, and this summer could spark something similar.”

Ledley may have stopped playing in late 2021, but he remains still very much in touch with the sport he gave himself to in 2004 when he joined Cardiff City as a nine-year-old.

He has done his coaching badges and was in line to work under former Bluebirds manager Mark Hudson a couple of years ago until Hudson was abruptly sacked.

But Ledley now works across TV and radio as a pundit, as an ambassador for the Football Association of Wales, and has recently joined the World in Motion agency where he will be used as a consultant and mentor for young players.

So, he has plenty of first-hand, close-up experience of watching the current Wales squad ahead of the task that awaits them, as well as the wisdom to know what it takes.

“If you look at this Finland fixture, then both teams will fancy it. If you’d told Finland, they’d get drawn against Wales then they’d have jumped at that – snapped your hand off.

“For Wales, Finland is a good draw, too. They are maybe not as strong as some of the others.”

What Ledley believes, though, is that Wales have to improve and expand their tactical approach if they are going to get through, in particular if they are going to beat a team as strong as Poland.

“With Wales at the moment, the structure is a bit off the cuff. The priority is to be solid and then hope for something on the counter-attack.

‘There isn’t much strategy based on us having possession, rather than the opposition.”

This view – that Wales under manager Rob Page – are limited in their ambitions, too preoccupied with defending and nicking a result, is something that has dogged Page ever since his squad made their tame exit at the group stages in Qatar.

It was there in the background when it appeared some within the FAW were plotting to get rid of their manager just as he was still trying to guide them to the finals.

But for Ledley, it is too simple a view to state that Page has limited horizons and should be replaced by someone more “progressive” – the buzzword that seems to be attached to any coach who wears white executive trainers, keeps a well-trimmed hipster beard, and talks a lot about his footballing “philosophy”.

“I actually think Rob Page has done an unbelievable job. If he gets Wales qualified for back-to-back major tournaments – a World Cup and a Euros – then that’s pretty impressive.

“That would put him up there as one of Wales’ greatest ever managers. To do a World Cup, then a Euros would be remarkable.

“The reaction of some fans has surprised me. They need to realise and to understand how lucky we have been. They can’t get too above themselves and start thinking that Wales should qualify for every major tournament, every time.

“If they think qualification is automatic, then they’re wrong. It’s never going to be automatic for Wales. It’s always going to be difficult.

“But then I do take the point that given the quality of player we have in this Wales team, we should be scoring more goals and creating more entertainment. It’s a difficult balance to strike.”

That quality is not abundant across the squad, but it can be seen in certain individuals each week, with the likes of Brennan Johnson, Harry Wilson and, until his loan move to Southampton, David Brooks in the Premier League.

Ledley believes the absence of the injured Aaron Ramsey will not be the fatal blow some have suggested, and regards the finding of room for both Johnson and Kieffer Moore up front is a necessity.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Kieffer Moore, especially in these one-off games. He’s quick, as well as strong, he can leap, and that makes him a defender’s nightmare.

“I would play him, with Brennan Johnson and Dan James on the wings, and Harry Wilson fitting in behind. We can do that if Jordan James and Ethan Ampadu are the holding players in midfield.

“Jordan James has been brilliant.  He has come into that side and made that position his own. He’s also been superb this season for Birmingham.

“But the key man to provide the spark in these ties is probably Brennan Johnson.

“The potential he has on the pitch is frightening. He’s quick, he can finish, and we are just starting to see his talent can transfer to the real top level with Tottenham.

“Wales need to find a way of getting the ball to him more often because the ability is there.

“For me, the perfect scenario would be for Johnson to score the winner and then we are into a likely play-off final against Poland.

“I know they’ve got Robert Lewandowski, but at home? In Cardiff? One game? C’mon! – it’s there for us and I’m getting excited thinking about it already.”

Builder Jill Can Make Dragons Roar

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

Jill McIntosh is confident Cardiff Dragons can build on their encouraging Netball Super League opener when they host Manchester Thunder at the House of Sport on Friday night.

Dragons fought back to earn a thrilling 48-48 draw with Saracens Mavericks as all 10 teams got the season underway at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham last week.

It was a performance which suggested a new-look Dragons team – in which five players made their debuts under returning captain Nia Jones – can improve after some difficult recent seasons.

Having undergone a re-brand last year and with a new name, there is a fresh feel about Cardiff Dragons this season after major upheaval in the squad.

Dragons supporters will get their first glimpse of McIntosh’s rebuild on Friday when a strong Thunder line-up are certain to provide a severe test for a match that is already a sell-out.

The former Australia coach – who took charge midway through last season – has re-shaped the Dragons squad significantly.

Only three players remain from last season – Welsh internationals Georgia Rowe and Phillipa Yarranton, plus Laura Rudland.

But the balance of the new line-up gave grounds for optimism as they recovered from a four-goal deficit at half-time against Mavericks to earn a dramatic draw.

McIntosh says: “We have now got a very even group of 12 players, which is lovely to have.

“We can put out who we think is going to do the job, but we can chop and change until we find the line-up that works.”

New signings Hannah Passmore, Leah Middleton, Jacqui Newton, Khanyisa Chawane and Beth Ecuyer-Dale all impressed against Mavericks.

Former England U21 international Passmore – who moved to Cardiff from Team Bath – was one of two English players to make her Dragons debut, alongside former Maverick mid-courter Ecuyer-Dale.

The others to wear green for the first time in a league fixture were South African international centre “KC” Chawane, who played for the Proteas at last year’s World Cup, and Australian pair Newton and Middleton.

Experienced Defender Newton was playing in the Suncorp Super Netball League Down Under last year, but says she was keen to sample life, and netball, in Wales.

“I was looking at other opportunities and you can’t look past the Super League,” says the former Collingwood Magpies player.

“It’s a big, diverse league with lots of talent and skill. When Cardiff reached out, I couldn’t say no.

“We are a new team this year. We don’t have too many returning players. Some have come back and others have come in from outside.

“But we are just looking at performance. Jill has been really good at setting specific targets and key performance indicators for us. If we can hit all those, then hopefully that will give us the results that we want.”

Goal keeper Middleton, although raised in Australia, was born in England, but was capped by Wales for the first time last year as she qualifies through a Welsh grandmother from Bridgend.

Last season, the Dragons – then called the Celtic Dragons – only managed two victories in their Super League campaign..

The House of Sport, a stone’s throw from Cardiff City Stadium, will be the main home venue for the Dragons again this season.

But with a nod to the future – and their ambitions to be part of the newly revamped Super League from 2025 – two of the team’s fixtures in June will be staged at the bigger capacity venue of the Utilita Arena in the centre of Cardiff.

Those are the games against Leeds Rhinos on June 8, and the match against Team Bath on June 15.

No Drop Danger, Insists Bulut

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

Cardiff City are still looking upwards, rather than down, insists manager Erol Bulut who says the club is not in a relegation fight.

That comes despite the Bluebirds’ steady tumble down the Championship table.

Having been firmly in the play-off mix earlier on in the season, Cardiff are now closer to the relegation zone than the top six.  They are 14th in the table, 13 points adrift of the top six and nine above the relegation places.

But manager Bulut does not believe they are now focussed on fighting to avoid the drop into League One.

“I think in football, nothing is guaranteed,” he said.

“But I think with the team that we have right now, with 13 games to play, we don’t have to think about the relegation places. That’s my opinion.”

The Bluebirds have won just once in their last eight games in all competitions and are winless in their previous four Championship outings.

It comes after what was a positive start to the campaign, with Cardiff falling from being fifth in October to 14th place ahead of their clash with fellow strugglers Stoke City on Saturday.

All 10 clubs below Cardiff in the Championship have changed their manager during the course of the 2023/24 campaign.

But Bulut says he has no regrets over taking the Cardiff job amid what is his side’s worst run of the season.

The Turkish boss says he made the right choice by moving to south Wales last summer – stressing that he remains eager to keep building at the club.

“For me it was not an easy decision to come to Cardiff,” he explained.

“I made the decision for me and I did not make the wrong choice, I think I made the right choice to be here in Cardiff.

“I made the correct choice to be with this team to build something at Cardiff City with the board, the players and my coaches.

“I knew it was not an easy job, but now I think everybody, fans, media, inside the club, how we started and how we went in the first few weeks, we put the expectations high. Many big teams with big budgets are behind us.

“We cannot say we have invested really big amounts to get players in to be at a different level so we have to go step by step.

“Of course, I would like it more to be in the top six but this is a big step from last season to this season.”

Stoke are in an even bigger mess than Cardiff, having fallen to just three points above the relegation zone after five defeats in their last six matches.

Head coach Steven Schumacher, who took charge at the club in December, has been unable to halt their decline and wins for QPR and Sheffield Wednesday last weekend has cranked up the pressure on their rivals at the bottom.

But Schumacher said: “It’s a big game but they all are.

“There are 13 games to go and loads of teams in the bottom half of the division in the same situation as we are.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to stand up for the fight and that’s what we keep asking the players to do. I know we’ve got the right characters in there to get the results we need.”

This Mission Is Possible

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

It has already been dubbed “Mission Impossible” but Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins insists he would not bother getting on the plane if he thought he could not be a winner in Ireland this weekend.

The statistics alone make intimidating reading for Wales as they journey to Dublin for the third round of the Six Nations on Saturday.

The last three Irish wins over Wales have been by 20+ points and they have won six of the last seven against the team in red.

Ireland have won 38 of their last 40 Test matches on home soil (L2), with only England (2019) and France (2021) winning in Dublin in that spell.

The current run of 17 consecutive home wins is the best in their Test history.

In contrast, Wales have lost nine of their last 10 Six Nations matches, including their last three.

But five of those defeats have come by four points or fewer, including both matches so far this campaign (1 point v Scotland, 2 points v England), so Jenkins insists this mission is do-able.

“It’s a massive challenge going to Ireland, who are probably the No 1 team in the world at the moment, but it’s really exciting to challenge ourselves against the best with no fear and no pressure,” said Jenkins.

“We can 100 per cent cause an upset. If we didn’t think that there would be no point in going there in the first place.

“We have full confidence we can win and do a job, although it is going to be tough.”

Jenkins has already notched one win over an Irish side with Exeter Chiefs against Munster in the Champions Cup this season.

But he concedes that at international level, Ireland have become the team everyone is striving to match in Europe.

”Fair play to Ireland, they are a class outfit and have demonstrated why they are the best team in the world in the last couple of weeks.”

“We just need to go out there, leave everything out there and see what can happen. You don’t like being underdogs, because you work so hard to be the best, but that’s the state we are in.

“We’ve had that underdog tag for quite a while now, but we’re still not winning. We are really chasing that win and there is no pressure on us – we’ve got nothing to lose.”

Jenkins admitted to being impressed with how hard Munster, led by Tadhg Beirne, battled at the breakdown against his club side, Exeter Chiefs, earlier in the season.

That is an area in which Wales know they have to be highly competitive on Saturday.

“They pride themselves on the breakdown both on attack and in defence – it is massive for them, They have some class players for us to match up against,” he added.

“The breakdown has been a big focus this week. We talked about their pack and most of them are world class jackalers, so I’s going to be a challenge, but one we are looking forward to.

“If we give our backline a chance, we feel we can cause them problems out wide, so it is down to the pack to get them the ball.”

Leading the charge in the battle of the breakdown for Wales will be their turnover king Tommy Reffell.

Renowned for putting his head in where it hurts most, the Leicester Tigers back row man has played a starring role to date this season against the Scots and English.

“Tommy is probably one of the best in the world at that and he’s proved that in the last couple of weeks. It’s an honour to play with him,” said Jenkins.

“We’ve all got to step up in that department, but he is leading the way in terms of his performances.

“When you see a player doing special things like he did at Twickenham and against Scotland, it makes you want to raise your game.”

Ireland are bidding to extend their three-year winning run at home to 18 Tests and equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations victories.

Their coach, Andy Farrell, has triumphed in 23 of 24 matches on Irish soil during his reign, with a 15-13 loss to France in 2021 the only blemish.

But Farrell insists Ireand are cautious of being told the victory is assured.

“We have full respect in regard to what Wales are going to bring because they’re always unbelievably hard to beat and we expect them to be chomping at the bit,” he  said.

“The two performances that they had (against Scotland and England), they could be coming here with two wins and no losses so we know exactly what we’re up against.”

Dafydd’s D-Day Demand

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist


Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins wants no more pats on the back for near misses or heroic, but doomed, fightbacks.


Jenkins takes his team to Twickenham on Saturday for round two of the Six Nations with one outcome on his mind – winning.


No more hard luck stories, or dreamy what-might-have-beens, as followed the dramatic 27-26 home defeat to Scotland last week.


“England v Wales is always massive because of the history involved in the fixture. It is a must win game for us because of where we are in the tournament,” said Jenkins.


“It is all about winning – it doesn’t really mean anything if you don’t win. Twickenham would be a great place to win for any Welshman, but especially for me as I play over there.


“I’m looking to get one over on Henry Slade and my Exeter Chiefs clubmates.”

One of those will be Cardiff-born wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, who is on the bench in England’s unchanged side from their opening round win over Italy in Rome.


He had the choice of opting for England or Wales, but Wales coach Warren Gatland has pointed out there were no special plans for him following his decision to turn his back on the nation of his birth.

“We haven’t even spoken about him, he’s made his decision so good luck to him. There’s been no mention of his name,” said Gatland.


“It doesn’t add any extra spice. There are a lot of players from both countries who are dual-qualified. I hope things go well for him.”


England insist Feyi-Waboso is ready to face Wales after Steve Borthwick selected an unchanged team for the clash at Twickenham.


Feyi-Waboso made his Test debut as a late replacement in the round one victory over Italy and he continues on the bench for the visit of Gatland’s men.


The 21-year-old wing sensation has pledged allegiance to England despite being born and raised in Cardiff, prompting Gatland to remark that his decision had not gone down well across the border.


Borthwick had no hesitation giving Feyi-Waboso, who has been in electric form for Exeter this season, the opportunity to win his second cap.


“Not from my point of view. He came on and did really well against Italy. He has been an incredibly calm, composed and mature character,” Borthwick said.


Taking his Wales team to Twickenham won’t hold any fears for Gatland.


He has nothing but good memories of games at the home of English rugby, having won titles with both club and country at the 82,000-seater venue.


And with England players calling on the crowd to get behind them to make life even more difficult for the young Welsh side, Gatland is looking to instill confidence in his group.


“The first four times I went there we won three Premiership finals and a Heineken Cup final with Wasps. I don’t find it intimidating at all!” added Gatland.


What he failed to point out is that his first game in charge of Wales in 2008 was also at Twickenham when his Welsh side won there for the first time in 20 years.


His ‘Class of 2012’ then lifted the Triple Crown at HQ before his 2015 team knocked England out of their own World Cup.


“It’s a great stadium to enter when you have all the fans there. I love the atmosphere and it’s even more special if you can walk away with a win.


“That’s not easy to do, but we’ve prepared well this week, and we need to build on the second half against Scotland last weekend.


“For us, it’s about starting well and stopping the crowd singing ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ too early and too often. We need to silence them a bit – that becomes an important factor.


“We need to start a lot better than last week, and we need to reduce the number of turnovers. We had around 38 per cent of turnovers against us last week and that really hurt us.”


Jenkins will be leading a side showing seven changes from the defeat to Scotland, with loose-head prop Gareth Thomas and centre George North coming back into the starting XV, while lock Will Rowlands returns to the replacements’ bench.


“The Machine” Says He’s Switched On

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

 Liam Williams can prove his claim that he is back to his best when he faces rising star Hamzah Sheeraz at the Copper Box Arena in London on Saturday night.


It’s a big night for Wales’ former middleweight world title challenger – nicknamed, The Machine – even though he will not be the centre of attention.


The spotlight most definitely falls on Sheeraz, who is younger and unbeaten and tipped as one of the next big things in British boxing.


But Williams is keen to make up for lost time and throw a spanner in the works, even though the Clydach Vale fighter knows the clock is ticking.


At 31 and with four career losses, Willians cannot afford too many more setbacks if he is to realise his world title ambitions and is already two months behind schedule for this fight.


The former British and Commonwealth champion was due to face Sheeraz last December before his rival pulled out with a perforated eardrum, forcing the fight to be postponed by two-months.


Sheeraz, 24, is being guided towards a world title shot of his own and his handlers see Williams as nothing more than a durable opponent to overcome as the next stepping stone.


For Williams, that typecasting has been like a red rag to a bull and he says: “I think it’s a bad mistake.

“They’ve bought me in to get beaten by this guy. He’s very good, he’s talented. He’s obviously big for the weight. 


“The list goes on really, but I don’t think I’m the right guy for the job. I think you’ve brought in the wrong guy.


“I’ve trained my nuts off. I’m ready. If I’m not ready now, I never will be. I feel like I’ve turned back the clock a little bit and I’ve got the killer instinct back. I’m really digging in and want to be the best.


Williams was accused of being a “dirty fighter” by Chris Eubank Jr in the build-up to his unanimous decision defeat to the Brighton boxer in 2022.


But he has since bounced back, picking up two victories over the relatively unknown Nizar Trimech and Florin Cardos.


“It’s an exciting fight, I’m really looking forward to it,” said Williams.

“It’s been a long time coming, being back in one of these big fights which everyone is excited and really interested to see.


“I believe I should have been back here sooner but these things happen. It’s not always straightforward, I’m just really happy and glad to be back on the big stage.”

“The pressure is on him, I’ve been there before, I’ve been in big fights before. People can say what they want, I know what I’ve got left in the tank.


“I’ve had a couple of ups and downs but it’s all part of the process. I think I’m going to stop the guy, 100 percent. I fully plan to make a statement and take him out. I’m not taking any prisoners.”

The 18-0-0 Sheeraz, who celebrated a second-round stoppage over Ukrainian Dmytro Mytrofanov in August, is looking to continue his impressive run against experienced Williams.


The Slough fighter insists he must get the job done at the Copper Box Arena if he is to continue his world title bid.


“It’s a must win for both of us,” Sheeraz said.


“I can’t afford to slip up. The sacrifices I’ve made are more than an average fighter would make. It would be disrespectful to my team if I slip up.


“My aspirations and plans are too big to be losing. It all comes down to how I can display my work in camp on fight night.


“I’ve done that for 18 fights and hopefully 19 will be on the way.

“This can give me endless opportunities. I can fight for a world title, I can fight for a British title, face the likes of Chris Eubank Jr.


“Once you get through a fight like this with flying colours then the doors are open. 

“I want a good performance on February 10 and then I want a fight out in Saudi and to become well known out there.


“It’s probably the best time to be involved in boxing. Especially with the money in it, the promoters working together, the platform, it’s all at its peak.”

Erol’s Five-Star Bluebirds

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

Erol Bulut believes Cardiff City have been given a five-star rating for the remainder of their Championship campaign.

The Bluebirds manager is optimistic that five new signings made just before the transfer deadline can transform their promotion prospects.

Bulut hinted he may quit when there were no new signings with a week to go in the January window, but now he admits to being stunned by the uplift in standards when he finally got five players in.

Cardiff brought in Josh Wilson-Esbrand, Nat Phillips and Famara Diedhiou on loan from Manchester City, Liverpool and Granada respectively.

They also signed midfielder David Turnbull from Celtic and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath from Nottingham Forest on permanent deals to bolster their Championship play-off hopes.

The boost the new boys gave the side, along with the return to fitness of Wales skipper Aaron Ramsey, led to a 1-0 win at Watford last weekend that ended a run of three successive defeats in which they conceded 10 goals.

Now Bulut wants to ramp up the quality when Preston North End arrive in the Welsh capital on Saturday to further bridge the five-point gap to the play-off places.

“Our tempo and quality in the training sessions looks different than a few weeks ago,” said Bulut.

“It’s different when you train with Under-21s players to players who have played for clubs like Celtic.

“Everyone should understand what I am trying to do, bring the level of the players higher to push the level of the players already at the club higher. That’s why I am talking about the project for the next few years.”

Bulut – whose Cardiff contract expires in the summer – is challenging players to raise their levels to avoid falling down the pecking order at the club.

“You have to increase your level, if not, you are out,” he explained.

“Football is like this, if you cannot adapt, you cannot play. When the speed is higher, some players cannot follow, then you have to change. We have to bring in players on that level.”

With Ramsey back, new signing Turnbull ready for his home debut, and club captain Joe Ralls deserving of a new contract – according to his manager – the prospects for the second half of the season now appear far brighter.

Bulut believes the triumph at Vicarage Road, combined with Cardiff’s late dealings in the January window have significantly lifted the mood at the club ahead of their Championship run-in.

“This win has given us a lot of confidence. We needed it,” added Bulut.

“When we see the last few games, the players were frustrated. We didn’t have enough players, we had injuries and some players could not be replaced.

“They were waiting for a few transfers to come in to have a better squad.

“I said it many times in press conferences and now we have the players in who have good quality. For the price that we had available, we got good players in.”

Hooray For Hector! He’s Off To Paris

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

Hector Pardoe proved himself to be an Olympic gold medal contender this summer with a sensational bronze medal at the World Aquatics Championships.

The Welsh star – Britain’s leading marathon swimmer – finished third in the 10km marathon swim in Qatar to clinch his place at the Paris Olympics later this year.

Pardoe’s magnificent finish in the final seconds of the 10km event on Sunday – which saw him surge clear of a small pack in the final few strokes to touch for bronze – was the highlight of four hours of racing across the men’s and women’s contests, which also saw Toby Robinson and Leah Crisp qualify GB spots for Paris 2024.

Pardoe – who went to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but suffered a brutal eye injury from an opponents’ flying elbow – said: “The emotions were quite high, following the path of redemption from Tokyo 2020 with the eye injury.

“I just wanted to secure the Olympic qualification, so to come out with a medal is even better.

“I was feeling great throughout the whole race, that last lap, I made it happen and followed my strategy perfectly.”

Swimmers had to complete six laps of the 1.6km course, set in the choppy seas of Old Doha Port.

For Pardoe, historically a strong finisher, the aim was to keep himself among the lead pack throughout the entire race, and he proceeded to do just that, retaining a consistent pace and never letting the front few racers out of his sights.

As the pack began to split late in the race, and the athletes veered off the previous course to head into the funnel to the finish, it meant Pardoe was where he wanted to be to launch down the outside of several rivals and swim in to touch the board behind only Hungary’s Kristof Rasovsky and Marc-Antoine Olivier of France.

That place also made sure of an Olympic berth.

After a near-miss at his previous outing in the Open Water World Cup, and with memories of the premature end to his Olympic debut in 2021, this was a result a long time in the making for Pardoe – and comes 13 years after Keri-Anne Payne won the women’s 10km title in Shanghai, the last medal on a global level for Britain in the Olympic distance.

“In Funchal in December, I just missed out on that podium by 0.2 seconds,” added Pardoe.

“I wasn’t going to let that happen this time, and I managed to get my hand on the wall first. That’s a medal for GB that puts us on the map in marathon swimming.

“I went into Tokyo as a 20-year-old without much experience. The experience I’ve gained in the last three years will really set me up nicely to compete with the big boys in Paris. “