Gwent League showdown as Swansea hosts gripping finale

THE 2021/22 John H Collins Gwent Cross Country League reaches its climax with its fifth and final fixture at Singleton Park, Swansea.

Bristol & West AC look red-hot favourites to wrap up the overall team titles for both senior men and women. The men hold a huge 418 points lead over parc Bryn Bach Runners while the women are 318 points ahead of their own B team, who are joint second with Chepstow Harriers.

Second overall: Alice Bridger-Morales

Individually B&W’s Chelsea Creak has a 27 points lead over Chepstow Harriers’ Kath Matthews with another B&W athlete, Hannah Dyer, currently third.

Newcomer Creak has made amazing progress this winter; she opened up with 29th at Cardiff (admittedly incorporating the British Cross Challenge), then improved to third at Brecon and second at Pembrey Park before racing to her debut victory at Blaise Castle.

Likewise Dyer, who came into the sport via the Parkrun series, has progressed from 43rd, 13th, 16th and finally seventh last month to put her in contention for a podium finish.

The best-placed runner in the men’s standings is University of the West of England student Luke Burgess in second with B&W’s Adam Stokes seventh with clubmate Peter Baines eighth.

In the under 20 men’s standings North Somerset AC’s Will Cheek is second equal with Cardiff’s Oliver Price so that should be a tasty final race.

The Under 17 men’s competition is going to the wire after B&W’s Ishmael Bradley won the penultimate race at Blaise Castle to close the gap to leader Alex Hammond (Avon Valley Runners) to just one point.

Westbury Harriers’ Finn Goodhew is just three points off a podium finish so a good performance from him could turn the tables on Brecon’s Jack Organ.

Fellow Westbury runner Akira Bees is also second in the under 15 boys’ age group but leader Iwan Thomas of Carmarthen appears to have that title wrapped up with three wins from three starts this season.

Podium place: Akira Bees

But the battle for third is nicely poised with North Somerset’s Herbie Cooksley locked with Carmarthen’s Finley Bruce on nine points.

North Somerset could be celebrating in the under 13 boys’ category as Joseph Finch tops the standings on five points – two wins and two thirds – just two clear of Aaron Nathan of Cardiff Archers with Carmarthen’s Will Coles a further point behind on third.

Likewise Oliver Finch of NSAC has a slender one-point advantage in the under 11 boys race after two wins, a second and seventh at Blaise so one final big performance should secure the title but it is going to be nail-bitingly close.

B&W’s Fletcher Rogers is third equal with NSAC’s Oscar Warren so another great contest looming there as well.

NSAC’s Alice Bridger-Morales’ win at Blaise lifted her to second overall, four points behind Cardiff Uni student Georgia Palmer. Will the latter turn up for Swansea? Westbury’s Tilly Spinney is third.

Gold bid: Megan Hornung

If she races B&W’s Megan Hornung looks unbeatable in the under 17s age group. Three successive wins, including a massive 1min 32secs advantage at Blaise, have given her a slim but definite advantage over Freya Buglass (AVR) and basically the title will be hers if she wants it.

A terrific win by Estelle Lowe at Blaise, her first of the winter after two second and a fourth, lifted the Westbury Harrier to second overall two points behind Swansea’s impressive Libby Hale – who boasts three wins out of three starts.

Westbury team-mate Freya Smith was also a winner at Blaise but that was her first appearance in the league this winter so she won’t figure in the overall standing. Instead the Westbury challenge is led by Lola Simpson in fifth.