Gareth Bale hailed the "incredible reception" he received after being presented to the Los Angeles FC fans for the first time since his move to the MLS leaders.

The former Real Madrid and Tottenham forward recently joined the MLS franchise on a one-year deal, which could be extended through to 2024, following his departure from Los Blancos.

The Wales international will be hoping for plenty of game time ahead of the World Cup later this year, and what will be the Dragons' first appearance at the finals since 1958.

Bale arrived in California on Friday and received a rapturous reception at the Banc of California Stadium when he was paraded to the supporters ahead of his new side's 'El Trafico' derby against rivals LA Galaxy.

LAFC ran out 3-2 winners and the 32-year-old is excited by the ongoing project at the franchise formed back in 2014.

 

"What an incredible reception I had when I came in," he told ESPN.

"The best prep [for the World Cup] is to play games.

"I want to come here. I want to play games and make my stamp and do as best I can to try and help LAFC win a trophy.

"And I can help with the youngsters because it's a very young team here, give them advice, seeing what I do in terms of professional standard and try to help them.

"The league is a growing league. It was an exciting opportunity I felt was right for me and my family.

"It's very new, but it's something that's really glamorous. It's just a very attractive club."

Wayne Pivac can understand the reasons behind South Africa naming an almost entirely new team to face Wales in their second Test but says his side will not take the second-string Springboks lightly.

Reigning world champions South Africa beat Wales 32-29 last weekend in Pretoria with the final kick of the ball in a thrilling start to the three-Test series.

The sides reconvene in Bloemfontein on Saturday in a game Wales, who have now lost three in a row against their opponents, must win to keep their hopes of a series triumph alive.

The hosts surprisingly named 14 changes to their side for this weekend's showdown when announcing their squad on Tuesday, with experienced lock Eben Etzebeth – in line for his 99th cap – the only player to retain his place in the XV.

Among the fresh faces in the Springboks' side are uncapped pair Kurt-Lee Arendse and Evan Roos, while four others – Ntuthuko Mchunu, Ruan Nortje, Deon Fourie and Grant Williams – could make their debuts from the bench.

Welsh rugby great Gareth Edwards accused South Africa of "disrespecting" Wales with their selection, but Pivac was more understanding when asked about the mass changes at his news conference on Thursday.

"From our point of view, it's a big focus on what we can improve from the last Test match," he said. "We are in a different part of the cycle; really we're at the end of our season, and they're at the start of theirs. 

"They've got their reasoning why they did it. They've got depth and quality throughout the squad and some experience in this team. So we're certainly not taking them lightly at all.

"There are players playing there with an opportunity to impress for the third test, so we know they'll come out strongly and represent their country like anyone else in that jersey. So for us, it's around what we can control and that's our performance.

"It hasn't changed our preparation at all. It is going to be 15 rugby players in green shirts, and we are expecting more of the same."

 

Unlike their opponents, Wales have stuck largely with the same group that came agonisingly close to pulling off a big result last weekend, with wing Alex Cuthbert replacing Josh Adams in the only change.

Adams is among the replacements, as is uncapped prop Sam Wainwright after Tomas Francis returned home following the concussion suffered in the first Test.

Elsewhere, George North will equal Stephen Jones' record as the most-capped Wales men's international back when making his 104th appearance.

Pivac's side head into the contest on a run of four successive defeats, each coming by a margin of four points or fewer – not since a six-match losing streak between February and November 2020 have they endured a worse run.

South Africa: Gelant, Arendse, Kriel, Esterhuizen, Fassi, Pollard (c), Hendrikse; Thomas du Toit, Dweba, Nyakane, Etzebeth, Orie, Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Roos.
Replacements: Marx, Mchunu, Koch, Nortje, Elstadt, Fourie, Williams, Willemse.

Wales: Williams, Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins, Cuthbert, Biggar (c), Hardy; Thomas, Elias, Lewis, Rowlands, Beard, Lydiate, Reffell, Faletau.
Replacements: Lake, Wyn Jones, Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones, Navidi, Williams, Anscombe, Adams.

 

Dan Biggar was bemused by criticism of Wales' approach to their first Test in South Africa, wondering if they were expected to "just roll the carpet out".

Wales came agonisingly close to a famous win in Pretoria, ultimately going down 32-29 following four costly yellow cards – including one for Biggar.

After playing a brief period with 12 men, Wales had 13 on the pitch when an unlikely try gave Biggar a conversion that would have secured an improbable late lead.

Instead, he missed the posts and was then punished for a knock-on at the other end, allowing Damian Willemse to settle the match from the tee.

There would have undoubtedly been some relief in the Springboks camp as they were ultimately able to celebrate following their first home game in front of a crowd since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Trailing 18-3 at half-time, South Africa captain Siya Kolisi acknowledged afterwards: "They [Wales] got under our skin."

There were multiple confrontations between the two sets of players off the ball, and Kolisi added his team "did a couple of things out of character".

When Biggar subsequently faced the media, he could not understand why Wales were expected to shoulder the blame for incidents of this nature.

"I don't know what the referee expected us to do," he said. "Just come here, lie down and give South Africa everything their own way?

"From our point of view, we wanted to try to get in their faces, get in their faces and not take a backwards step. That's part of the game.

"We were coming here, and if you stand off South Africa out here, then you'll get steam-rolled pretty quickly. You need some aggression and competitiveness and get into it.

"I didn't see any issue. They were just as niggly, competitive and as abrasive as we were. From our point of view, that was perfect for us.

"The decisions will be analysed. But from our point of view, I don't understand why people are bothered about it.

"It's a Test match, and we're away from home against the world champions. I'm not quite sure what people expected from us, just roll the carpet out and applaud them off the pitch?

"I don't know what the issue is. It's a Test match and we were more than happy to get stuck into them. That's what Test matches are about.

"I really don't understand. I see it as a non-event. That's exactly what you want from a Test match; you want it confrontational, you want it aggressive.

"There was no dirty play or anything. We just went at it and got confrontational. It worked for us, certainly in the first half.

"I've got no issue whatsoever. Whatever happens on the field, you shake hands afterwards, and there is absolutely zero issue."

World champions South Africa required an 83rd-minute penalty from Damian Willemse to defeat an indisciplined Wales side 32-29 in Pretoria.

The Springboks' first home match in front of a crowd since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup was an epic – albeit not the sort the South Africa fans might have anticipated.

Despite four yellow cards that saw Wales squander a half-time advantage, Wayne Pivac's men almost rescued a remarkable result, only to be denied at the last.

Two Louis Rees-Zammit tries gave Wales a commanding lead, but Dan Biggar headed to the sin bin shortly before the interval, and Bongi Mbonambi powered over following the restart.

Malcolm Marx also crossed, and the visitors appeared to have collapsed after Cheslin Kolbe's try was followed by a yellow card for Alun Wyn Jones – the awarding of which caused some confusion.

Rees-Zammit went from hero to zero as his desperate attempt to stop a South Africa try saw him join Jones on the sidelines, and Wales were down to 12 men and behind when Rhys Carre's intervention resulted in a penalty try.

But the tourists did not lack spirit and sensationally drew level again through Dewi Lake with 13 on the pitch, only for Biggar to marginally miss the posts with the conversion when he could have secured a late lead.

Instead, Biggar's knock-on at the other end allowed Willemse to kick the Springboks to a memorable triumph to begin this three-Test series, which continues in Bloemfontein next Saturday.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac is hoping for a first good night's sleep in almost four months when his side get their tour of South Africa underway this weekend.

The tourists kick off their three-match series against the world champions at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday in what will be the teams' second meeting since the Springboks won their 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final encounter.

Armed with several players who partook in the British and Irish Lions' tour to the Southern Hemisphere last year, Pivac will have some experienced heads on hand as he hopes to spring a surprise.

But he admits his time spent masterminding his side's prospects after a dismal start to 2022 means he will only rest soundly when the first game is done and dusted.

"I’ll probably get my first decent night's sleep since the end of the Six Nations," he stated. "That's a fact.

"It just doesn't go away. The thing with coaches and players is you're not happy until you get your next win under your belt. It's been a long time between drinks, and of course there is that memory.

"If you finish on winning the Six Nations then it's quite a nice memory, but losing to Italy has been challenging in terms of the pressure you put on yourself as opposed to the pressure others put on you."

Wales have lost their past three matches and are winless in five away from home, sliding to ninth in the world rankings while South Africa retain top spot.

Pivac is aware his side will be the underdogs, adding: "It's understandable. You've got to look at where the two teams are coming from. They're the world champions, in their own backyard, at altitude.

"It's a tough place for anyone to go, and from the outside looking in, from our last performance, you would write us off.

"The main thing is that we haven't written ourselves off. Some of the players look at it, a lot of them are on social media all the time. It's a fact of the game. I don't mind it at all, because it is just people reporting on the facts.

"If you want to argue, play a bit better. That's where we've got to do our arguing and say that we are better than that, don't write us off and then bang."

Ryan Giggs has resigned as manager of the Wales national team.

Giggs stepped back from his role as Wales boss, which he assumed in 2018, in November 2020 after being arrested of suspicion of assault. He was charged with assaulting two women by Greater Manchester Police in April 2021.

The former Manchester United winger was replaced by Robert Page for Wales' campaign at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, with the caretaker boss since leading the team to qualification for the World Cup later this year.

Giggs was originally due to face trial on January 24 this year after being charged with causing actual bodily harm to a woman in her 30s and common assault of a woman in her 20s, but his case was adjourned until August 8 due to a lack of court space.

The 48-year-old has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty to the charges, as well as to one count of controlling and coercive behaviour.

He announced on Monday he was stepping down to allow the team to prepare for the World Cup without any distractions.

"After much consideration, I am standing down from my position as manager of the Wales men's national team with immediate effect," read a statement issued by Giggs.

"It has been an honour and a privilege to manage my country, but it is only right that the FAW, the coaching staff and the players prepare for the tournament with certainty, clarification and without speculation around the position of their head coach."

In the statement, widely reported by UK media, Giggs said: "I do not want the country's preparations for the World Cup to be affected, destabilised or jeopardised in any way by the continued interest around this case. I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed some unforgettable moments during my three years in charge of the national team.

"I am sad that we cannot continue this journey together because I believe that this extraordinary group will make the country proud at our first World Cup since 1958.

"It is my intention to resume my managerial career at a later date and I look forward to watching our national team alongside you in the stands."

In a separate statement, the Football Association of Wales said: "The FAW places on record its gratitude to Ryan Giggs for his tenure as manager of the Cymru men's national team and appreciates the decision he has taken, which is in the best interests of Welsh football.

"The full focus of the FAW and the Cymru men's national team is on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year."

Louis van Gaal was adamant the Netherlands "were entitled to the win" after a late Memphis Depay goal secured a 3-2 victory over Wales.

The hosts looked to be cruising after first-half goals from Noa Lang and Cody Gakpo put them 2-0 up after just 23 minutes.

However, the Dragons appeared to have snatched a point after a Brennan Johnson strike was added to by Gareth Bale's stoppage-time penalty.

Wales were to be left heartbroken, though, as Depay went straight up the other end and scored the winner with a few seconds remaining.

That condemned Wales to their 10th straight defeat against the Dutch, conceding 29 in the process.

It also extended the Oranje's unbeaten streak to 13 games in all competitions as they prepare for the World Cup in Qatar.

Van Gaal, who was left frustrated by some refereeing decisions, felt his team got what they deserved.

"Great that it all turned out like this, I think it's nice to see the way we mentally resisted at 2-2. Although I thought we were entitled to the win. It wasn't a penalty at all for Wales either. I can't believe the referee gave it," Van Gaal told NOS.

 

Turning his attention to the winning goal, which came after a long ball forward straight from kick-off after Bale's penalty, Van Gaal refused to take the credit.

"They had agreed that they were going to do this, I hadn't said anything. It's fantastic that it works out like this," he added.

Depay then applauded the team's mental fortitude as they secured another result against the odds, having come from 2-0 down to draw with Poland and beaten Wales with a stoppage-time winner in their previous two matches.

"It says a lot about the team. We want to win. Once again we showed a great mentality," the Barcelona forward said.

Gareth Bale hailed his team-mates but was left frustrated after a Memphis Depay goal with seconds remaining condemned Wales to a 3-2 defeat.

Bale's side appeared to have earned an unlikely point as a first-half Brennan Johnson goal and an injury-time penalty from their captain made it 2-2 after the Netherlands had gone two goals up.

However, Depay smashed home a last-gasp finish to earn the hosts all three points and keep Wales bottom of Group A4 and winless.

While Wales will be hoping to take plenty of lessons from this Nations League campaign ahead of the World Cup, Bale did not hide his frustration at being unable to secure a morale-boosting draw.

"It's hard to take but I'd rather this happen now and we address it than it happen at the World Cup," Bale told BBC Sport after the game.

"Of course we are disappointed we conceded late, but we're competing with these big teams in every game now."

Wales have now lost three of their last five matches in all competitions, while they have lost all 10 internationals against the Netherlands, conceding 29 goals in the process.

But Bale was optimistic, stating: "It's just the finer details we need to iron out. If we can do that it will put us in a good place for the World Cup."

Wales are not in action now until September, when attention will turn to trying to rescue their Nations League campaign in preparation for their first appearance at a World Cup since 1958.

Bale, meanwhile, will now have his focus on finding a club ahead of the new season.

The former Real Madrid forward laughed off the suggestion he could join Getafe, with Cardiff City having been linked with the 32-year-old.

Memphis Depay snatched a 3-2 Nations League victory for the Netherlands as late drama in Rotterdam denied Wales, who thought a late Gareth Bale penalty had secured a point.

First-half goals from Cody Gakpo and Noa Lang put the hosts two up, but a Brennan Johnson goal and a stoppage-time Bale spot-kick looked to have earned Wales a draw.

However, Oranje talisman Depay subsequently grabbed a winner to spark wild celebrations in the home ranks.

A third victory in four matches at the end of a long season continued a strong Nations League campaign for the Netherlands, who remain top of the group while Wales are bottom and winless.

 

Wales great and former British and Irish Lions captain Phil Bennett has died aged 73.

Bennett is widely regarded as one of the best fly-halves to ever play for Wales, making 29 appearances for his country and helping them to two Five Nations grand slams and three triple crowns.

He was also an integral figure on the unbeaten British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 1974, while he enjoyed 20 outings with the Barbarians.

Bennett, who was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005, was also just the second Welshman to captain the Lions on their 1977 visit to New Zealand.

Former club Scarlets confirmed the passing of their president on Sunday, with executive chairman Simon Muderack saying: "As a club, region and community, we are devastated by this news.

"Wherever the Scarlets travel around the world, people mention the name Phil Bennett. He was an icon of our sport, a rugby superstar, but someone who always remembered his roots.

"There was no finer ambassador of Scarlets Rugby than Phil, a player respected across the rugby world, both during his career and long after he finished playing.

"Phil was a hero and friend to so many people, not only in Llanelli and west Wales, but throughout the game and I am sure a lot of Scarlets supporters will have their own particular stories of the times they met and chatted to 'Benny'. He loved the club and epitomised the values we hold true – humility and pride in our community.

"On behalf of everyone at the Scarlets, we send our heartfelt condolences to Pat, Steven, James and all of Phil's family and friends at this incredibly sad time."

Roberto Martinez felt Belgium had two Nations League points taken away from them by the VAR after Brennan Johnson's late equaliser gave Wales a 1-1 draw.

Youri Tielemans' 50th-minute strike looked as though it would prove enough for Belgium, who were without Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku in Cardiff.

But Wales, who had an early Ethan Ampadu strike contentiously ruled out by the video assistant, were grateful to see Johnson's 86th-minute leveller allowed to stand despite the linesman initially flagging for offside.

Martinez, however, was left furious by the decision.

"I can't analyse this game until I get an explanation from someone about that goal against. It was a shocking decision," Martinez told VTM. 

"The assistant referee makes the right decision, but somehow the VAR makes it in his head to overrule. Those lines are not parallel.

"We should have won this match. They took two points away from us tonight, it was simply offside.

"My players don't deserve this, because we defended really well."

The stalemate meant Belgium failed to capitalise on the Netherlands' 2-2 draw with Poland in the other clash in Group A4.

Martinez's side remain three points behind the Netherlands with three games played.


 

Substitute Brennan Johnson struck late on to get Wales off the mark in the Nations League with their first point in a deserved 1-1 draw against Belgium.

The Red Devils have often struggled against Wales in recent times, namely at Euro 2016 when losing at the quarter-final stage, and they were again frustrated on Saturday.

Youri Tielemans' 50th-minute strike looked as though it would prove enough for Belgium, who were without the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku in Cardiff.

But Wales, who had an early Ethan Ampadu strike contentiously ruled out by VAR, equalised in the 86th minute through Johnson's effort to leave the visitors frustrated.

Wales forward Gareth Bale will not rush into a decision on his club future, but has categorically ruled out a move to LaLiga side Getafe.

Bale will become a free agent at the end of the month when his contract with Real Madrid, where he has spent the past nine years, officially expires.

The 32-year-old has been linked with an array of clubs across Europe and in the United States, one of those being Madrid-based Getafe.

Speaking earlier this week, Getafe president Angel Torres claimed the Spanish side had been contacted by Bale's representatives regarding a possible transfer.

However, Bale denied that was the case when speaking at a news conference that was again dominated by questions regarding his next career move.

Asked if he was close to making a decision, the former Tottenham man laughed and said: "No. But I'm not going to Getafe, that's for sure.

"I just want to be playing going into the World Cup to be as fit as I can. The manager saying ideally he wants everybody to be playing, and everybody wants to be playing.

"Hopefully I can enjoy my holiday and then decide where I want to be and what I want to do to try and play games to be as fit as I can for the World Cup."

Bale won 16 trophies during his time with Madrid, but he barely played in the 2021-22 campaign, which ended with Los Blancos winning a LaLiga and Champions League double.

 

He featured in seven of Madrid's 56 matches in all competitions – 13 per cent – with just four of those being starts.

"Once I get back into playing regular football, my body will get more robust and a bit better," Bale said on Friday.

"It's very difficult when you're in and out of a team to get a rhythm in terms of your fitness and health. 

"Any player will tell you, playing week-in week-out, your body becomes more robust, you get used to it and you get fitter. I just need to play games and I'll be good to go.

"I guess whoever I go to it'll be a win-win because hopefully I'll be playing well and getting myself ready. 

"Once these internationals are over, I'll have plenty of time to go on holiday and decide my future then."

Bale inspired Wales to their first World Cup since 1958 with victory over Ukraine in last Sunday's play-off qualifying final, ending any talk of an early retirement.

That 64-year gap is the biggest between qualifications for a World Cup tournament of any nation in history, though there is uncertainty over who will be in charge of Wales in Qatar.

Rob Page has been in caretaker charge since Ryan Giggs stepped aside following his arrest on assault charges in November 2020, allegations which he denies.

Giggs' trial is due to be held in August, but Bale believes Page deserves to remain in the post.

"I think he is the long-term manager," Bale said. "I don't think there is any question in the changing room or from the fans.

"He's done an incredible job coming in in difficult circumstances. Everyone with him has a great relationship.

"We have that good mixture where we can have a bit of fun but, when we need to work, we work hard. We do it correctly. There's a great balance. He's been great for us."

Louis van Gaal could not help but be impressed with his decision to not substitute Wout Weghorst when he appeared to be injured before scoring Netherlands' winning goal against Wales.

The Oranje claimed a dramatic 2-1 Nations League away win on Wednesday, with both teams scoring in second-half stoppage time.

Teun Koopmeiners had opened the scoring just after the break with a cool finish from the edge of the box.

Rhys Norrington-Davies levelled with a towering header to seemingly snatch a draw for Wales, but Weghorst produced a brilliant diving header a minute later to secure all three points in Cardiff.

The Burnley striker was almost withdrawn a little earlier with an injury, but Van Gaal opted against replacing him with Memphis Depay.

Asked about Depay's seemingly lengthy warm-up on the sidelines, Van Gaal said: "I don't know if Memphis had more warming up than other players. I don't think so.

"It's the structure in our selection; you warm up, sit down, warm up, sit down, so you can change instantly.

"Of course I say here in a moment, 'Okay, Memphis now maybe I shall change [for] Weghorst'. You know the name?

"He had a knock, then had to go out. I thought he was injured, and then he was not injured. And then I have to say, I had Memphis with me, 'If he's fit then I don't change'.

"And you know who makes the winning goal? Weghorst! Yes! And then I think… [pats himself on the back]."

Van Gaal is in his third spell as Netherlands coach and presided over the conclusion of their World Cup qualification campaign, ensuring they reached Qatar 2022 after failing to participate at Russia 2018.

They will face Senegal, Ecuador and hosts Qatar in Group A later this year.

Gareth Bale can still "definitely do a job in the Premier League", according to his former Wales team-mate Joe Ledley.

Bale will officially become a free agent at the end of this month when his contract at Real Madrid, where he has spent the past nine seasons, expires.

The 32-year-old is on the lookout for a new club to maintain his fitness after inspiring Wales to their first World Cup in 64 years with victory over Ukraine on Sunday.

That ended any talk of an early retirement, with a number of clubs being credited with an interest in Bale, including hometown team Cardiff City, Getafe and sides in Major League Soccer.

Ledley, who played with Bale for Wales until 2018, believes English top-flight clubs should be eyeing up a move for him, one year on from his loan spell with Tottenham.

Speaking exclusively to Stats Perform, Ledley said: "I'd love obviously to see him back home in Cardiff, but the Championship is way too much; that's too many games.

"You're playing Saturday, Tuesday. The only benefit would be to have the Welsh medical team on his doorstep which is for me one of the best medical teams around - and that would benefit him.

"But the World Cup is not far away. I don't think he'll be missing many games wherever he signed.

"He can definitely do a job in the Premier League, without a shadow of a doubt.

"We'll see what happens but I'm sure after these few games [for Wales] he will have a rest for a month or two and decide his future."

Bale won 16 trophies during his time with Madrid, but he barely played in the 2021-22 campaign, which ended with Los Blancos winning a LaLiga and Champions League double.

He featured in seven of Madrid's 56 matches in all competitions – 13 per cent – with just four of those being starts.

Ledley thinks Bale was harshly treated by the Spanish giants, yet believes the club and their supporters are already starting to appreciate what he achieved during his time there.

"I thought they were very harsh on him considering what he achieved," he added.

"Then you look at how grateful they were to him near the end of his last appearance at the Bernabeu [when he was applauded by supporters]. They appreciate what he's done and sometimes this happens in football.

"Once they've gone you appreciate them more, but during his time I thought they were very harsh considering some of the other signings and other players that they've had.

"They got away with a little bit more than Gareth did considering what he's achieved there.

"But that's football and people say maybe he didn't help yourself and stuff like that, but, for me, he's one of the most dedicated footballers and professionals. He's never been in the papers for the wrong things."

There had been speculation Bale could retire if Wales did not qualify for Qatar 2022, but Ledley hopes the Dragons' success means he keeps going for a while yet.

"I'm sure he's dedicated to trying to play for Wales as long as possible," he said.

"The one thing you miss is playing for your national team because we've got that sort of unique camp where everyone just loves meeting up for Wales and I think he would miss that.

"I'm just grateful he's still got another year hopefully inside him and he hasn't decided to retire because football is better with him."

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