Howard Evans (Newport Programme Notes)

For the second time this season we welcome Newport to the Talbot Athletic Ground.

Having started the season well by winning here in August, Newport have played some fine rugby and were clear winners of the Eastern section of the Cup.

They are clearly the top club side in Wales at the moment and as Aberavon usually rise to the occasion against a good side, then this match, at least for the neutral, is one not to be missed.

The Black and Ambers have possibly the best back thus far in Matt O’Brien, who is also club captain. He has moved from fly half to centre this season, but has already turned in some fine displays.

I am pretty sure we will also see, in the grandstand, Brian Jones, an outstanding player, who was capped for Wales at centre, but who I remember most for being in a great Barbarians side in South Africa in 1958.

Brian was then the only uncapped back, yet played outside Cliff Morgan and inside Sir Tony O’Reilly with great players all around him. He was also the first British player to appear in sides that defeated New Zealand, South Africa and Australia,

On the Aberavon side, we finished the Swansea game last week with teenagers at half back. Dan Edwards (18 years, three months) and Rhodri Lewis (17). Great prospects and credit to the Aberavon coaches for playing them. And what a try by young Lewis!

How is it that Cardiff could not recruit anyone to go to Parc y Scarlets?

Also, well done Rowan and Geraint, playing against Toulouse.

Today’s referee is Jason Bessant, who I once asked if he was related to the former Aberavon full back Phil Bessant, but he did not seem to think he was.

It is his second match with Aberavon this season as he controlled the game at Swansea in dreadful conditions last month.

My forecast is a very good match.

Action Replay (Newport Programme Notes)

Aberavon 28-13 Swansea
WRU Premiership, 9th December 2021

by Paul Williams

The Wizards got off to a good start to the season’s somewhat abbreviated league programme with a bonus point victory that will be remembered for one of the most remarkable tries seen at the Talbot Athletic Ground in quite some time.

With the fixture brought forward from Saturday afternoon to a wet and windy Thursday evening, in order to accommodate S4C’s desire to stream the event live on the internet, hopes of a spectacular display were not high, and the early exchanges were somewhat error strewn with both teams apparently striving to reach top gear without quite getting there. Thus we were fifteen minutes into the match before Swansea fly-half James Davies put over a simple penalty to open the scoring.

That seemed to spur the home side on to better things, and the Wizards’ superior forward power, particularly in the set scrums, began to take its toll. As pressure on the All-Whites’ defence began to mount, so the visitors’ discipline seemed to melt away, and lock Matthew Dodd found himself in hot water after blocking a tap-penalty attempt by Rhodri Cole, earning himself a ten-minute spell in the sidelines watching the home pack turn up the heat.

A string of scrummaging offences saw the Wizards lay siege to the visitors’ line, and eventually, after countless lectures and warnings, referee Dewi Phillips’ patience evaporated and a penalty try gave the home side a lead they were never to lose.

Dodd’s return to action coincided with tight-head prop Kaid o’Neill replacing him in the sin-bin. The young South African, signed on a three-year contract by the Ospreys, found himself up against a formidable opponent in Rhys Fawcett, and the Aberavon man, one of this season’s new recruits at the Talbot Athletic Ground, game him a thorough lesson in the dark arts of the front row.

There was, however, no further scoring from the Wizards in the first half, with just Davies’ second penalty narrowing the gap to a single point just before the interval.

With the strong wind now at their backs, the Wizards began the second half in positive fashion, and another powerful scrum drove the visitors off their own ball, with the ever-impressive Ashton Evans, operating at number eight, picking up and cleverly breaking clear before offloading to Rhodri Cole, who eluded two defenders to dart in for a corner try. Chris Banfield converted with a superb kick.

With the bit now firmly between their teeth, the Wizards kept battering away at the Swansea defence, varying play between the forwards driving powerfully and the backs going wide. Eventually something had to give, and it was hooker Ieuan Davies, a constant thorn in Swansea’s collective side, who came charging around the tail of a lineout to sprint over for his team’s third try, emerging from the melée wearing a broad grin.

Banfield again converted to make the score 21-6, but the visitors dug deep and found themselves able to reduce the arrears following a rare spell of concerted pressure when wing Josh Carrington crossed for a corner try that was converted by Davies.

The finale was yet to come, however, and time was nearly up when replacement full-back Joe Gage, making his 100th appearance in an Aberavon jersey, fielded a kick deep inside his own half, made ground up to halfway and then offloaded out of the tackle to replacement scrum-half Rhodri Lewis. The 17-year-old prospect went from a standing start to top speed in a couple of paces, slicing through the first-up defence before producing a bewildering series of side-steps that left the last two defenders clutching at thin air as he shot past them en-route to the try line. It was a moment that Aberavon supporters will remember for a long, long time, and no doubt one that, no matter where his rugby future may take him, Rhodri will surely never forget.

Having twice succeeded from way out in the wide open spaces of the Talbot Athletic Ground, Banfied made no mistake with the conversion from close to the posts.

Team v Newport

The Aberavon team to face Newport at the Talbot Athletic Ground on Saturday at 2:30pm is…

Aberavon Starting XV:
Chris Banfield; Matthew Jenkins, Chay Smith, Will Price (capt), Stef Andrews; Joe Thomas, Rhodri Cole; Jordan Walters, Luke Davies, Chris Davies, Shay Smallman, Rhodri Hughes, Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite, Lee Purnell.

Replacements:
Rhodri Lewis, Frankie Jones, Joe Gage, Lloyd Evans, Cameron Lewis, Lewis Marsh, Brynley Toms, Nicky Thomas.

Preview: Aberavon v Newport

Aberavon (3rd – 5 points) will be looking to build on their opening day bonus-point win over Swansea last week when they welcome Newport (4th – 4 points) to the Talbot Athletic Ground this Saturday in the Indigo Group Premiership, kick-off at 2:30 pm.

In the Indigo Group Premiership Cup, Newport finished the pool stage of the competition at the top of the East division after winning eight of their ten games. Their only losses coming at Pontypridd back in September and at home to RGC 1404 last month. After topping the division, the Black & Ambers are rewarded by having a home game against Bridgend in the quarter-finals of the Cup in the new year.

In their opening game of the Premiership last weekend, Newport beat Bridgend 25 – 9 at Newport Stadium. The Ravens led 9 – 7 at half-time after hooker Will Griffiths scored the opening try for the Black & Ambers. Outside-half Will Reed added the extras. In the second half, lock Josh Skinner and centre Matt O’Brien scored tries for the home side with Reed adding eight more points through his boot.

Head-to-head, Aberavon and Newport have met each other 44 times in the Welsh National League, with the Black and Ambers leading the series 23 – 20 with 1 game drawn. At the Talbot Athletic Ground, Aberavon lead 12 – 9 with 1 game drawn and won the last time the sides met in the league at the ground (16 – 12 in 2019-20).

Looking back to the 1998-99 season when the sides met at the ground for the second time that season after the league table had split into two, Newport came to Aberavon for a midweek game after the Wizards were already relegated from the Premier Division.

The visitors got on the scoreboard first when lock Gareth Taylor went over for a try converted by outside-half Scott Mitchell. Aberavon tied the scores halfway through the opening half when outside-half Cerith Rees made a break before passing to flanker Howard Merrett for the try. Rees added the two points.

Late in the half, Newport scored two quick tries as first Mitchell, and then centre Matthew Watkins scored, with Mitchell converting both.

There was still time in the half however for the Wizards to respond – scrum-half Andrew Jacobs scored in the corner, whilst deep into injury time, wing Daran Griffiths sprinted 60 metres for a try after full-back Richard Lewis had kicked ahead a loose pass by Newport. Rees converted the try by Griffiths to make the score 21 – 19 to the visitors at the interval.

Early in the second half, replacement flanker Alex Popham scored Newport’s fourth try. Mitchell converted. Shortly afterwards, it was the Wizards turn to score their fourth try as centre Peter Roberts touched down. A Rees penalty then made the score 28 – 27 to Newport.

Aberavon went ahead for the first time in the game when Rees scored a wonderful try that started from his own 22. His conversion put the Wizards 34 – 28 up and, halfway through the second half, he added a penalty to put Aberavon nine points up.

Mitchell and Rees then traded penalties before Mitchell scored his second try of the game deep in injury time. When he converted his own try, the referee blew for full-time with the Wizards winning 40 – 38.

The Aberavon starting XV that day was: Richard Lewis; Daran Griffiths, Tim Green, Peter Roberts, Paul Jones; Cerith Rees, Andrew Jacobs; Lloyd Howell, Justin Hughes (capt), Alun Bevan, Ian Strang, Aled Jones, Damien Neill, Richard Morris, Howard Merrett.

The referee for Saturday’s game is Ben Whitehouse, aided by Stuart Kibble and Ryan Randall.

Wizards in European Glory

Aberavon Rugby Club are very proud of both Rowan Jenkins and Geraint James for featuring for the Cardiff Rugby in the Champions Cup against Toulouse.

Due to the pandemic and quarantine issues relating to Cardiff Rugbys’ recent travel to South Africa in November, they were without 42 players. This gave a golden opportunity to Jenkins and James to feature in a game they will remember for a lifetime.

Jenkins started the game at loose-head prop facing Charlie Faumuina who has earned 50 international caps for New Zealand. However, Jenkins held his own and did himself proud.

James entered the field of play with 10 minutes to go and did exceptionally well.

Both players will remain in the Cardiff Rugby camp this week as they prepare to face Harlequins.

Match Report: Aberavon 28 – 13 Swansea

by Paul Williams

The Wizards got off to a good start to the season’s somewhat abbreviated league programme with a bonus point victory that will be remembered for one of the most remarkable tries seen at the Talbot Athletic Ground in quite some time.

With the fixture brought forward from Saturday afternoon to a wet and windy Thursday evening, in order to accommodate S4C’s desire to stream the event live on the internet, hopes of a spectacular display were not high, and the early exchanges were somewhat error strewn with both teams apparently striving to reach top gear without quite getting there. Thus we were fifteen minutes into the match before Swansea fly-half James Davies put over a simple penalty to open the scoring.

That seemed to spur the home side on to better things, and the Wizards’ superior forward power, particularly in the set scrums, began to take its toll. As pressure on the All-Whites’ defence began to mount, so the visitors’ discipline seemed to melt away, and lock Matthew Dodd found himself in hot water after blocking a tap-penalty attempt by Rhodri Cole, earning himself a ten-minute spell in the sidelines watching the home pack turn up the heat.

A string of scrummaging offences saw the Wizards lay siege to the visitors’ line, and eventually, after countless lectures and warnings, referee Dewi Phillips’ patience evaporated and a penalty try gave the home side a lead they were never to lose.

Dodd’s return to action coincided with tight-head prop Kaid o’Neill replacing him in the sin-bin. The young South African, signed on a three-year contract by the Ospreys, found himself up against a formidable opponent in Rhys Fawcett, and the Aberavon man, one of this season’s new recruits at the Talbot Athletic Ground, gave him a thorough lesson in the dark arts of the front row.

There was, however, no further scoring from the Wizards in the first half, with just Davies’ second penalty narrowing the gap to a single point just before the interval.

With the strong wind now at their backs, the Wizards began the second half in positive fashion, and another powerful scrum drove the visitors off their own ball, with the ever-impressive Ashton Evans, operating at number eight, picking up and cleverly breaking clear before offloading to Rhodri Cole, who eluded two defenders to dart in for a corner try. Chris Banfield converted with a superb kick.

With the bit now firmly between their teeth, the Wizards kept battering away at the Swansea defence, varying play between the forwards driving powerfully and the backs going wide. Eventually something had to give, and it was hooker Ieuan Davies, a constant thorn in Swansea’s collective side, who came charging around the tail of a lineout to sprint over for his team’s third try, emerging from the melée wearing a broad grin.

Banfield again converted to make the score 21-6, but the visitors dug deep and found themselves able to reduce the arrears following a rare spell of concerted pressure when wing Josh Carrington crossed for a corner try that was converted by Davies.

The finale was yet to come, however, and time was nearly up when replacement full-back Joe Gage, making his 100th appearance in an Aberavon jersey, fielded a kick deep inside his own half, made ground up to halfway and then offloaded out of the tackle to replacement scrum-half Rhodri Lewis. The 17-year-old prospect went from a standing start to top speed in a couple of paces, slicing through the first-up defence before producing a bewildering series of side-steps that left the last two defenders clutching at thin air as he shot past them en-route to the try line. It was a moment that Aberavon supporters will remember for a long, long time, and no doubt one that, no matter where his rugby future may take him, Rhodri will surely never forget.

Score:
Aberavon 28 – 13 Swansea

Aberavon Team:
Chris Banfield; Matthew Jenkins (rep Joe Gage 57 min), Chay Smith, Will Price (capt) (rep Dan Edwards 63 min), Stef Andrews; Joe Thomas, Rhodri Cole (rep Rhodri Lewis 69 min); Rhys Fawcett (rep Jordan Walters 66 min), Ieuan Davies (rep Cameron Lewis 66 min), Chris Davies, Shay Smallman (rep Rhodri Hughes 61 min), Sam Williams, Sam Pailor (rep Lee Purnell 61 min), Ashton Evans, Lloyd Evans.

Replacements not used:
Geraint James.

Notes:
Matthew Jenkins & Sam Pailor appeared from Trebanos RFC; Rhodri Lewis & Dan Edwards appeared from the Ospreys.
Joe Gage made his 100th appearance for Aberavon RFC.

Aberavon Scorers:
T – Penalty Try, Rhodri Cole, Ieuan Davies, Rhodri Lewis
C – Chris Banfield (3)

Swansea Scorers:
T – Josh Carrington
C – James Davies
PG – James Davies (2)

Referee:
Dewi Phillips

Man Of The Match:
1 – Rhodri Cole
2 – Chris Banfield
3 – Rhodri Lewis

Time Line:
15 min: Swansea – PG – James Davies (0 – 3)
19 min: Swansea – Yellow Card – Matthew Dodd
27 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (7 – 3)
30 min: Swansea – Yellow Card – Kaid O’Neill
31 min: Swansea – End Yellow Card – Matthew Dodd
40+2 min: Swansea – PG – James Davies (7 – 6)
40+2 min: Half Time
40 min: Swansea – End Yellow Card – Kaid O’Neill
49 min: Aberavon – T – Rhodri Cole & C – Chris Banfield (14 – 6)
62 min: Aberavon – T – Ieuan Davies & C – Chris Banfield (21 – 6)
70 min: Swansea – T – Josh Carrington & C – James Davies (21 – 13)
79 min: Aberavon – T – Rhodri Lewis & C – Chris Banfield (28 – 13)
80+1 min: Full Time

Action Replay (Swansea Programme Notes)

Aberavon 22-17 Carmarthen Quins
WRU Premiership Cup, 19th November 2021

by Paul Williams

The Wizards kept their season rolling along nicely with yet another bonus-point win in this penultimate match of the Indigo Premiership Cup pool stage.

With the WRU having now confirmed that the top four clubs in each of the East and West pools will go through to the quarter-finals of a knockout tournament, and with Llandovery and Aberavon guaranteed the top two places in the West, the Quins were keen to cement their third place with a win. As it turned out, the single losing bonus point they gained was sufficient to remove the mathematical possibility of Swansea overtaking them, and the top three are now set in stone, with Bridgend and Swansea set to battle it out for the fourth qualifying spot.

The match, to an extent, followed a pattern similar to that of the Wizards’ victory at Carmarthen Park a few weeks ago. The Quins enjoyed much of the possession and territory but found the Aberavon defence difficult to break down for long periods. The Wizards, meanwhile, struck four times in devastating fashion, and although the visitors ultimately ran in three tries of their own, they were always chasing the game.

A quarter of the match had passed before the Wizards opened the scoring, putting the visitors’ defence under intense pressure before an accurate kick from fly-half Joe Thomas found Aled Rees out wide on the left. The powerful wing still had a lot to do, but he cut inside the cover and powered through a couple of attempted tackles to touch down wide out.

Things then reverted to type, with the visitors pounding away against an unyielding defence that became increasingly adept at turning over possession to frustrate their opponents. The deadlock was broken when one such turnover, courtesy of Andrew Waite, led to a bout of interpassing down the right wing with Frankie Jones eventually speeding clear to score in the right-hand corner. Chris Banfield converted magnificently from the touchline to make the half-time score 12-nil.

The pattern continued until 15 minutes into the second half when left wing Morgan Griffiths managed to elude the home defence for once and squeeze over in the corner for an unconverted try, but almost immediately the Wizards found another gear, and with Rhodri Cole in inspirational form play was switched one way then another, with Banfield eventually sending out a huge pass that found skipper-for-the-night Lloyd Evans haring down the touchline en-route to an acrobatic touch-down in the right-hand corner.

Five minutes later the Quins had again reduced the arrears when replacement scrum-half Rhodri Davies took a quick tap-penalty and raced in at the posts for fly-half Jac Wilson to convert.

Wilson was also to add a late try having intercepted a loose pass near half-way, but by then the Wizards had all but sealed the win as Banfield fielded a speculative kick and set off on a counterattacking run that split the Quins’ defence, handing on to Joe Thomas who accelerated away and released the speeding Chay Smith down the touchline and over in the corner for the try of the match.

This was very much a team effort from the Wizards against opponents who are, make no mistake, a quality team, and credit must go to all who played a part, with a high work-rate in defence creating the chances to claim possession and turn defence into attack with devastating results.

Paul Williams (Swansea Programme Notes)

2021-22: Getting it all back up and running…

To begin with something of only passing relevance here, somewhere between the longitudinal positions of Bridgend and Merthyr Tydfil, it seems, there is a vertical line on the map that arbitrarily divides Wales into East and West. At least, in the context of the Indigo Group Premiership, that’s what I thought to be the case, until I glanced at a map and concluded that the line must be slightly off-perpendicular, as Colwyn Bay, home of RGC, is slightly to the West of Bridgend.

However, the powers that be have arrived at the decision that the team representing the entirety of North Wales – quite a responsibility, when you think about it – can be considered to be on either or both sides of the divide, and in the interests of balance should be considered part of the ‘East’ group, in contrast with the decision made some years ago when someone, in their wisdom, decided that the rugby up in the north of the Principality should fall within the Scarlets region.

No matter, however. In a kind of post-apocalyptic season where our beloved game has, at club level, had to get itself back up and running after a year and a half without any competitive activity, this new cup format has been something of a winner. There’s been no shortage of quality and entertainment, and a pleasingly full and varied programme of fixtures taking us through the Autumn months, with now the prospect of an eight-team knockout tournament to be slotted in between now and the end of the season. Getting this underway will be, from an Aberavon viewpoint, a home quarter final against Merthyr on January 22nd, coincidentally the team we were due to meet in a semi-final at Neath in 2019-20, shortly after that season was scuppered by the pandemic.

That Swansea aren’t among the qualifiers for the knockout stages is something I find quite surprising. They battled hard here at the Talbot Athletic Ground in just the second competitive match of the season, and while the result didn’t go their way the 27-14 scoreline in the Wizards’ favour in no way reflected their contribution to the match, particularly the strong finish they staged, in which Hanno Dirksen’s late try snatched from my grasp the prize of having forecast a final score of 27-9, with salt being rubbed into that particular wound by the fact that a certain brother-in-law had forecast 27-14 and smugly walked off with what was so nearly mine!

Again, more recently in the sweeping wind and rain at St Helen’s, the youthful All Whites were good value and none of us from Aberavon could have complained had the narrow lead they held going into the final ten minutes remained until the final whistle; as it turned out, the Wizards’ driving forward play, allied to two pieces of magic from a Rhodri Cole-Matthew Jenkins combination, took the final score to 20-30 which again failed to reflect the energy, effort and no small amount of quality on display from the home team.

Onwards we now go, however, into this season’s league competition, which has always looked like playing second-fiddle to the Premiership Cup, not least because the format (and, indeed, the length of what remains of this season) is that each of the twelve teams will play each of the other eleven only once. Apart from anything else this results in some teams having six home fixtures with others having only five, so there will always be a question mark over the eventual final placings and whether they represent a true reflection of the various team’s efforts.

All-in-all it is, however, a fair stab at getting the club game back on its feet, and I’m sure we can all agree that, whoever wins what during these strange times, it’s been a relief for us all to get out there and enjoy the game we love ‘in the flesh’, so to speak.

As for this evening, to the All-Whites of Swansea (and in particular to any old friends from my many years of working just a kick away from St Helen’s), a warm welcome is extended.

Enjoy the game.

Howard Evans (Swansea Programme Notes)

We welcome the ‘All-Whites’ for the second time this season, having also met them at St Helen’s recently.

It is 2-0 to Aberavon so far, but I have been most impressed by the fitness, style of play and sheer enthusiasm of what is a very young Swansea side.

In the match at Swansea they shocked the ‘Wizards’ enough to be leading with about eight minutes of play remaining before two tries by Matthew Jenkins saw Aberavon deprive them of at least a bonus point.

My earliest recollections of seeing Swansea play go back to the late 1940s in matches at Cardiff Arms Park.

I remember Alun Thomas and Roy Sutton at half-back and Len Davies as a good centre, who was at Swansea University with our former player, Cliff David.

As far as meeting their players, I especially remember Clem Thomas, who became a journalist and was a tremendous character in the press-box and indeed everywhere that he went.

Clem was the only journalist at Cardiff who said “Ullo Ullo, something funny there” when New Zealand’sAndy Haden dived from a line-out in the gloom on the other side of the field.

Another Swansea player was Kevin Hopkins, who became a damn good coach at Aberavon and still watches us this season, having reached the age of 60 (he says 59!).

Kevin, if asked who he is cheering for, would probably say the referee. But, he was part of some wonderful Swansea backs that included Malcolm Dacey, Tony Clement, Rob Jones and Simon Davies.

Of the forwards, I got to know Richard Webster and Keith Colclough and Keith was rated by the late John Billot as his particular favourite.

It was almost impossible to see Swansea without internationals, but times have changed and there are no caps in Premiership sides. Just good, honest players as we will see tonight.

Swansea Game Tonight

Just a reminder that we play Swansea tonight (Thursday 9th) at 7:30pm in our first Indigo Premiership League fixture of the season.

Please remind all your fellow Aberavon Supporters who possibly do not use Social Media or our Website that the game is tonight.

The club shop will be open at 7pm.

Thank you.