Match Report: Aberavon 27 – 14 Swansea

by Howard Evans

Aberavon must surely have scored the fastest-ever try from a kick-off, touched down by centre Chay Smith in about 15 seconds.

Swansea kicked off well, but wing Stef Andrews caught it and raced away from his own half, Smith was with him and took the pass to score in the corner.

Thereafter, the game was disappointing in some ways as Aberavon continually shoved the Swansea scrum backwards, even though prop Rowan Jenkins was not playing.

The front row of Rhys Fawcett, Luke Davies and Geraint James were far too good and Swansea had two front-rowers yellow-carded.

Swansea led 9-8 when former ‘Wizard’ Liam Popham kicked a hat-trick of penalties against one by Aled Thomas. But, it was never going to be good enough.

In the time added on Aberavon’s pack pushed Swansea backwards and a penalty try was awarded to send the sides in at half-time at 15-9.

On the resumption Aberavon looked like running clear with it when after 43 minutes full-back Joe Gage scored after a good Andrews tackle and a run by hooker Luke Davies. Thomas converted and Swansea had no answer.

After 54 minutes a sweeping move and a long crossfield pass saw wing Chris Banfield dive over for a bonus point try, but somehow no others followed.

With the game way into stoppage time, Swansea, who had tackled bravely, suddenly scored a try when centre Hanno Dirksen forced his way over after good forward drives.

Aberavon head coach Jason Hyatt said: “Of course I am delighted with another bonus-point win, but somehow we always seem to struggle against Swansea.

It was, as outside half Aled Thomas commented: “There just seemed to be little continuity to the game”.

For Aberavon, all six front-rowers did well with Fawcett and James laying the foundations. Possibly the best player was the hardworking young Rhondda lock Shay Smallman, who has made a good start to the season.

In the backs, Joe Thomas and Chay Smith were a fine pair of centres, while with skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves and deputy Will Price amongst those missing with injury, flanker Lee Purnell led the side.

Score:
Aberavon 27 – 14 Swansea

Aberavon Team:
Joe Gage; Chris Banfield, Chay Smith, Joe Thomas, Stef Andrews (rep Matthew Jenkins 73 min); Aled Thomas (rep Frankie Jones 56 min), Rhodri Cole (rep Iwan Temblett 56 min); Rhys Fawcett (rep Jordan Walters 64 min), Luke Davies (rep Cameron Lewis 68 min), Geraint James (rep Nicky Thomas 64 min), Shay Smallman, Rhodri Hughes, Lee Purnell (rep Billy Moxey 72 min), Andrew Waite (rep Ashton Evans 59 min), Lloyd Evans.

Notes:
Matthew Jenkins and Billy Moxey appeared from Trebanos RFC.

Aberavon Scorers:
T – Chay Smith, Penalty Try, Joe Gage, Chris Banfield
C – Aled Thomas
PG – Aled Thomas

Swansea Scorers:
T – Hanno Dirksen
PG – Liam Popham (3)

Referee:
Dewi Phillips

Man Of The Match:
1 – Rhys Fawcett
2 – Lee Purnell
3 – Luke Davies

Time Line:
20 sec: Aberavon – T – Chay Smith (5 – 0)
06 min: Swansea – PG – Liam Popham (5 – 3)
10 min: Aberavon – PG – Aled Thomas (8 – 3)
13 min: Swansea – PG – Liam Popham (8 – 6)
15 min: Swansea – PG – Liam Popham (8 – 9)
40 min: Swansea – Yellow Card – Owen Thomas
40+2 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (15 – 9)
40+2 min: Half Time
42 min: Aberavon – T – Joe Gage & C – Aled Thomas (22 – 9)
47 min: Swansea – End Yellow Card – Owen Thomas
51 min: Swansea – Yellow Card – Cameron Jones
54 min: Aberavon – T – Chris Banfield (27 – 9)
63 min: Swansea – End Yellow Card – Cameron Jones
80+2 min: Swansea – T – Hanno Dirksen (27 – 14)
80+3 min: Full Time

Action Replay (Swansea Programme Notes)

Aberavon 43-17 Llanelli
Premiership Cup, 18th September 2021
by Paul Williams

Aberavon’s first fully competitive match since March 7th 2020 yielded a six-try victory, albeit after an uncertain start. A strong start from the kick-off saw the Wizards making good progress into the visitors’ half but suddenly a wayward pass gifted Llanelli with seven points as centre Joe Roberts seized the opportunity presented by the loose, bouncing ball to race some 70 metres to the posts, presenting full-back Josh Phillips with the simplest of conversions.

It was an unexpected turn of events, particularly when the power of the home pack was already causing havoc at the set scrums, yet the end of the opening quarter was approaching when the Wizards got back on terms, with an attacking scrum-five marching the Llanelli pack backwards for number eight Andy Waite to claim the touchdown, and fly-half Aled Thomas to add the conversion.

Llanelli, however, had not come to roll over, and a period of sustained attack earned home flanker Lloyd Evans a yellow card for an illegal tackle. The visitors took full advantage of the defence being a man short, and scrum-half Archie Hughes ran well to score close to the posts for Phillips to again convert.

Thomas and Phillips then traded penalties before, as half-time approached, the Aberavon scrum did its usual thing, with the front row of Rowan Jenkins, Ieuan Davies and Geraint James causing no small degree of chaos in the opposing ranks, and after two further phases lock Shay Smallman scooped up the ball from a ruck and ploughed over for his first try since joining Aberavon, with Thomas’ conversion levelling things to 17-17 at the interval.

The second half was ten minutes old when the Wizards finally went ahead, and it was again a set scrum that did the damage, with the visitors’ front row standing up en-bloc to try and halt the relentless drive, inevitably yielding a penalty try.

The usual second-half changes in personnel made no noticeable difference to the pattern of play. Front rowers Jenkins, Davies and James made way for Rhys Fawcett, Luke Davies and Nicky Thomas and the scrummaging mayhem continued unabated, while behind the scrum Joe Thomas, a blood replacement for acting skipper Will Price, went tearing through midfield before brilliantly offloading out of a tackle to send co-centre and prolific try-scorer Chay Smith racing in beneath the crossbar. Thomas’ conversion made it 31-17 and at last the Wizards looked likely victors.

In the final minutes the result was put well and truly beyond doubt when Iwan Temblett, having replaced the excellent Rhodri Cole at scrum-half, went racing away after good running from replacements Jon Phillips and Ashton Evans, bamboozling the defence with several full-tilt changes of direction to score out on the left. Thomas again converted, but was inches out after, in the final minute, the apparently indestructible Lee Purnell capped an 80-minute display of non-stop hard graft, tackling, clearing-out and covering every blade of grass by turning up in exactly the right place to go over in the right-hand corner following a sustained attack that had swept back and forth across the field.

Llanelli, for their part, are a young side that will only improve if they are allowed to play together on a regular basis. On this occasion, however, Aberavon’s customary blend of youth and experience ultimately held too many aces. While the home supporters’ clubhouse vote for the ‘Merlin Man of the Match’ award went to Andy Waite, there were numerous others who deserved an ‘honourable mention’ in that category.

Paul Williams (Swansea Programme Notes)

Continuity

When confronted with their first truly competitive match on over a year and a half, any sports team seeking to ‘pick up where they left off’ is surely faced with the most enormous of challenges, as all momentum has surely been lost, and finding that rarer-than-hens’-teeth commodity, continuity, is surely the most challenging aspect of the lot.

Aberavon, however, took a long view of the situation, and when the world ground to a halt following that hard-earned win over Cardiff in March 2000, the club brought its unique sense of community to the fore, providing care to those struggling to come to terms with the lockdown, delivering provisions to those unable to venture our into a virus-infected world, and providing moral support for any and all who needed it. I got the distinct impression, from regular conversations with Head Coach Jason Hyatt, that the strong team spirit that has brought with it a degree of success to the old club of ours, it a moveable feast, with the playing squad working together off the field as well as they did on it.

That the entire squad from the aborted 2019-2020 season had been retained for 2021-22 therefore came as no surprise. Quite few of the additional signings, however, were pleasant surprises, as several familiar faces made welcome returns to the fold, complementing the customary crop of academy and development players seeking to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Justin Tipuric (a man who, incidentally, has never forgotten the seasons he spent here at Aberavon, however much the media choose to ignore that stage of his playing career).

And so, following three tough pre-season friendlies that gave the coaching staff the chance to run the rule over all and sundry, at last came a ‘proper’ Saturday afternoon fixture as traditionally enjoyed at this time of the year – a match played out before a healthy live audience, tired of televised rugby from empty stadia with a recorded soundtrack of crowd noises. Here was ‘real’ club rugby at long last, and for many of us, I think, it brought home the reality of what we’d missed these past eighteen months – a full-blooded encounter played out with a crowd cheering on their heroes, and a post-match drink and chat any anyone who happened to be in the clubhouse.

Not surprisingly, that oh-so-precious continuity wasn’t immediately apparent. It took almost a quarter of the match before the Wizards got properly going on all cylinders, and over half the game before they finally hit top gear, but when they did there was no stopping them. At the end of eighty-plus minutes the best efforts of a young, fit, spirited and fast-moving Llanelli team were not sufficient to overcome the continuity of another rare commodity – team spirit. Aberavon have had it in spades; the players play for one another, and their enthusiasm spreads throughout the club’s loyal supporter base, more so when squad members turn up en bloc in the public bar following their post-match meal. Team spirit was preserved during lockdown due to all that work in the community, and, as I gathered from a short conversation with returning hero Nicky Thomas after last Saturday’s match, is being fully embraced by those recent additions to the squad. When I said it was good to see him back at the club, his response was, “I wanted to come back to Aberavon because this is where I really enjoyed my rugby.”

Let’s hope for continuity of enjoyment, for us all. It’s been a long wait.

A brief but sincere message of thanks from the backroom boys…

Jon Nightingale, after many years of providing a welcome pair of matchday hands in and around the Aberavon dressing room, has stepped down from the role, but doesn’t go without the thanks of his colleagues. While this was mentioned in last week’s programme, in particular Dai Beaton, Jeff Thomas and Max Waliczek would like to personally express their sincere thanks to Jon for all his hard work over the years.

Howard Evans (Swansea Programme Notes)

Today we welcome the famous ‘All-Whites’ of Swansea RFC, who have a great history and indeed, they are the club that our captain Joe Tomalin-Reeves first played for.

A well-known Wales international forward once said that Justin Tipuric was the most famous of Swansea players. Well, he never played for Swansea, but certainly the likes of Trew, Bancroft (x2), Owen, Davey, ‘Stoker’ Williams, Dewi Bebb, Clem Thomas, Scott Gibbs and even our former coach Kevin Hopkins did play.

Welcome today to my friend Dave Dow, who is producing the early history of Swansea rugby and will no doubt be taking photographs of this game.

Also, a welcome to our former player, Liam Popham, who is still remembered here by players and supporters.

I think everyone was happy with last week’s win over Llanelli, especially a great performance by the pack, while Swansea went down at Llandovery.

Sadly, we probably will have another minute’s silence before the game as you no doubt will know of the passing of our great lock forward Max Wiltshire. Max was a tough nut at the front of the line-out and with his great friend, the late Billy Mainwaring in the middle if it.

Also, I hear of the death of Billy Pascoe’s wife Betty. Billy was a fine rugby player and their son Colin was capped at football from Swansea City.

Our condolences go both the Wiltshire and Pascoe families.

I wish the injured Joe Tomailin-Reeves, David Pritchard, Jay Baker, Will Price and Sam Williams well for their recoveries and I must also mention today’s referee, Dewi Phillips, good luck for this afternoon.

Dewi’s father, the Reverend Eldon Phillips, is a friend of mine and a great entertainer, even though he supports the Scarlets!!

Team v Swansea

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

Aberavon Starting XV:
Joe Gage; Chris Banfield, Chay Smith, Joe Thomas, Stef Andrews; Aled Thomas, Rhodri Cole; Rowan Jenkins, Luke Davies, Geraint James, Shay Smallman, Rhodri Hughes, Lee Purnell, Andrew Waite, Lloyd Evans.

Replacements:
Iwan Temblett, Jonathan Phillips, Matthew Jenkins, Cameron Lewis, Billy Moxey, Ashton Evans, Rhys Fawcett, Nicky Thomas.

Preview: Aberavon v Swansea

Aberavon (2nd) will be looking to build on their opening day win over Llanelli last weekend when they welcome Swansea (6th) to the Talbot Athletic Ground this Saturday in the Indigo Group Premiership Cup, kick-off at 2:30 pm.

Before the cancellation of the 2019-20 season, Swansea were ninth in the Premiership after winning seven of their seventeen games, whilst Aberavon were third after winning eleven of their sixteen games.

The All Whites played one pre-season game as they took on Neath at the Gnoll to commemorate the Welsh All Blacks’ 150th anniversary. Swansea led 14 – 0 at the interval thanks to tries by hooker Owen Thomas and flanker/captain Jay Williams. Outside-half James Davies converted both. Davies extended the visitors lead almost halfway through the second half with a penalty, with Neath scoring two converted tries in the last ten minutes to make the final score 17 – 14 to Swansea.

Swansea got their Premiership Cup campaign underway last weekend with a 5 – 21 loss at Llandovery with all the scoring taking place in the first half. The Drovers were 18 – 0 up before Swansea scored their opening try of the season when hooker Owen Thomas went over from short range after a lineout in the corner.

Looking back at the fixture eight seasons ago, the match was played in the wind and rain. The game was Ian Moore’s 300th game for the Wizards whilst there were club debuts for Rheon James & Tom Duncan who were both on loan from Cornish Pirates. Aberavon’s wing Richard Carter scored the opening try in the corner after 22 minutes of play. However, Swansea’s Cameron Clement kicked two penalties to put the visitors ahead at 6 – 5. A Ceiron Thomas penalty and a Clement miss saw Aberavon lead 8 – 6 at the break and it stayed that way until 11 minutes from time when replacement Jamie Davies placed a penalty. Then, Chris Morgans and Moore took play to the Swansea line and James, though tackled, crashed over from a Morgans pass with Davies converting to make the final score Aberavon 18, Swansea 6.

The Wizards team that day was: Jonathan Phillips; Richard Carter, Richard Thomas (rep Aaron Jones), Rheon James, Stef Andrews; Ceiron Thomas (rep Jamie Davies), Chris Morgans; Rowan Jenkins, Ieuan Davies, Anthony Edwards (rep Andrew Clatworthy), Gavin Ronan, Ian Moore, Ben Thomas, Tom Duncan (rep James Bija), Chris Davies.

The referee for Saturday’s game is Dewi Phillips, aided by Lewis Harrison and Rhodri Morgan.

Match Report: Aberavon 43 – 17 Llanelli

by Howard Evans

It was mission accomplished for Aberavon as they finished not only as winners, but also with a try-bonus.

Llanelli led 7-0, 14-7 and 17-10, but neither the home players nor the coaches touched the panic button and the ‘Wizards’ went ahead after 49 minutes and rattled off 33 unanswered points.

There was no doubt about Aberavon’s scrum superiority and Llanelli had to go to passive scrums.

After a sloppy start, the experience of the ‘Wizards’ players and their strength in the tackle was finally too much for Llanelli.

Backs coach Lyndon Lewis said afterwards: “We kicked more to space as the game went on and held the ball better for a number of phases. Our scrum was outstanding and we wore Llanelli down.”

It was hard to pick any player out, but certainly it was lock Shay Smallman’s best game for the club and a very-fit Andrew Waite showed up well at No 8, but overall it was the tireless play of the Gilfach Goch product Lee Purnell that got my nod.

Hooker Cameron Lewis acted as a flanker when he splendidly brought Wales under-20 scrum-half Harri Williams down and I will certainly not forget how Purnell scored the final try in the corner.

Behind the scrum, centre Chay Smith showed his fine all-round game and there were happy league returns for Iwan Temblett and Joe Thomas, as there was for prop Nicky Thomas.

After only two minutes a stray pass was snapped up by Llanelli centre Joe Roberts and he ran clear from halfway with a competent full-back Josh Phillips converting.

Aberavon’s scrum went forward and Waite gained the touchdown with Aled Thomas converting, but after 26 minutes the ‘Wizards’ lost Lloyd Evans for 10 minutes.

Two minutes later and good Llanelli forward play left scrum half Archie Hughes free to score with Phillips adding the extras before Thomas and Phillips traded penalties.

Another huge forward effort saw Smallman gain his first club try and the Thomas conversion made it 17-17 at half-time.

From then on Aberavon took over with another mighty forward surge bringing a penalty try and then Aberavon brought on a strong bench.

Llanelli were now visibly tiring and Llanelli had received two yellow cards at separate times. The Aberavon tails were up and the clever Smith was away and under the crossbar with Thomas converting.

Aberavon now ran from everywhere and replacement Ashton Evans gave Temblett a sniff of the line. He went left, right and left again to score and Thomas again goaled.

Right on time more flowing rugby saw the astonishing Purnell last to receive and cross in the corner. How he had kept going only he will know.

A neutral observer told me it was a good match to watch and Aberavon, despite losing acting skipper Will Price with a cut eye will be well satisfied with their afternoon’s work.

Score:
Aberavon 43 – 17 Llanelli

Aberavon Team:
Joe Gage (rep Jonathan Phillips 62 min); Chris Banfield, Chay Smith, Will Price (capt) (blood rep Joe Thomas 43-57 min, rep Joe Thomas 62 min), Stef Andrews; Aled Thomas, Rhodri Cole (rep Iwan Temblett 64 min); Rowan Jenkins (rep Rhys Fawcett 54 min), Ieuan Davies (rep Luke Davies 57 min), Geraint James (rep Nicky Thomas 53 min), Shay Smallman, Rhodri Hughes, Lee Purnell, Andrew Waite (rep Ashton Evans 70 min), Lloyd Evans (rep Cameron Lewis 80 min).

Aberavon Scorers:
T – Andrew Waite, Shay Smallman, Penalty Try, Chay Smith, Iwan Temblett, Lee Purnell
C – Aled Thomas (4)
PG – Aled Thomas

Llanelli Scorers:
T – Joe Roberts, Archie Hughes
C – Josh Phillips (2)
PG – Josh Phillips

Referee:
Gareth Newman

Man Of The Match:
1 – Andrew Waite
2 – Rowan Jenkins
3 – Lee Purnell

Time Line:
02 min: Llanelli – T – Joe Roberts & C – Josh Phillips (0 – 7)
17 min: Aberavon – T – Andrew Waite & C – Aled Thomas (7 – 7)
25 min: Aberavon – Yellow Card – Lloyd Evans
28 min: Llanelli – T – Archie Hughes & C – Josh Phillips (7 – 14)
35 min: Aberavon – PG – Aled Thomas (10 – 14)
38 min: Aberavon – End Yellow Card – Lloyd Evans
40 min: Llanelli – PG – Josh Phillips (10 -17)
40+3 min: Aberavon – T – Shay Smallman & C – Aled Thomas (17 – 17)
40+6 min: Half Time
47 min: Llanelli – Yellow Card – Ryan Thomas
49 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (24 – 17)
61 min: Llanelli – End Yellow Card – Ryan Thomas
67 min: Aberavon – T – Chay Smith & C – Aled Thomas (31 – 17)
74 min: Llanelli – Yellow Card – Rhys Cherry
78 min: Aberavon – T – Iwan Temblett & C – Aled Thomas (38 – 17)
80+7 min: Llanelli – End Yellow Card – Rhys Cherry
80+9 min: Aberavon – T – Lee Purnell (43 – 17)
80+10 min: Full Time

Paul Williams (Llanelli Programme Notes)

At long last…

7th March 2020 – the day the 2019-2020 met its premature end. Among the various and conflicting memories I have of that evening is a lasting image of the final kick of the match – a conversion attempt that, if successful, would have earned visitors Cardiff a draw at the Talbot Athletic Ground, veer off well to the right of the goalposts. Justice was done, as the Wizards had been the better of the two sides by some distance that evening and were looking ahead at a cup semi-final clash with Merthyr at the Gnoll, for which they were surely firm favourites, as well as being in with a shout of the league title.

Then there was the end-of-season tournament involving the Scottish Super-Six clubs, which was an eagerly anticipated innovation, with a considerable number of Aberavon supporters having already arranged their trips north of the border.

Such optimism was, of course, swiftly dashed as the inexorable march of COVID-19 led to the only possible conclusion. Thereafter, we could at least, as Aberavon supporters, see our beloved club hit the headlines for all the right reasons as squad members set about working alongside local charities to help ensure that the most vulnerable members of society received the support that was so essential during such unprecedented times.

Meanwhile, as lockdown continued, there was scant comfort on hand for rugby fans as first what remained of the Six Nations tournament was played out in empty stadia, with TV coverage overdubbed with recorded crowd noises. Similar was to follow as the professional game went ahead under similar circumstances, prompting many to question, I presume rhetorically, as to whether the virus was able to discriminate between professional players and the semi-pro and amateur ranks. Such televised rugby, stripped of its usual atmosphere, was a pretty scant diet for those accustomed to following their local club every weekend, which would go some way to explaining why our recent pre-season friendlies, taking place more than eighteen months after that premature last match of the 2019-2020 campaign, attracted surprisingly healthy audiences.

However, here we are, and while we must hope and pray that the approaching winter doesn’t herald the need for another lockdown, it has been a great relief to climb back into the saddle, as it were, and re-establish the Saturday afternoon routines that we all know so well. The season ahead takes on a new look, with the Indigo Group Premiership Cup occupying the first few months – two groups, east and west, of six clubs, with each club playing the other five in their group twice in a league format, then the top two from each group going through to a knockout phase comprising two semi-finals and a final. That will be followed by the league competition, but this will involve each of the twelve clubs playing one another once, either home or away. If I may be so bold as to suggest one potential criticism of this, it is that some clubs will have six home matches, while others will have only five. With these being spread across almost five months, it leaves home fixtures after mid-December looking very thin on the ground. It is, however, what it is, and we must make of it what we can.

Looking back to what I increasingly tend to regard as “the good old days”, seeing Llanelli here this early in the season reminds of those long-lost seasons of yore when the fixture list showed only minimal changes from one year to the next. Traditionally, before league rugby was introduced to replace the old Merit Table, we’d play Glamorgan Wanders at home on the first Saturday in September, and then Llanelli either home or away the following weekend, and Cardiff the weekend after that. Newbridge would be our opponents on the last weekend in September, and on the rare occasions when the month contained five Saturdays, an extra match against opponents such as Torquay or Moseley would bring a change from the intra-Welsh nature of the season as it was. How times have changed.

Enjoy the game.

Howard Evans (Llanelli Programme Notes)

At last. At last. We are back into serious action as Llanelli RFC, who I still call ‘The Scarlets’, are here to begin what was once called The Welsh Cup.

I believe that it would be the 50th season of such Cup rugby, though it is very hard to be sure of that fact, what with the pandemic, etc.

Personally, I will be glad to see such good rugby men as coach Paul Fisher and Anthony Buchanan.

I don’t know what the role of ‘Buks’ will be, but Llanelli are lucky to have this pair and most probably we will see Gareth Jenkins here as well.

A huge amount of players have turned out for both of the clubs and of course, the splendid Aberavon fly half Aled Thomas is one of those.

No doubt we will see the accent on Academy players in the Llanelli ranks, which means that they will be a fast, fit side and we should see a feast of running rugby.
I have made it clear that I don’t like big scores, as in Basketball, and that I do like real rugby and hopefully that is how it will be this afternoon.

Today’s referee is Gareth Newman, who did his level best to keep our friendly with Ebbw Vale moving, while applying the new laws. It was no easy job, but he came out with it well. I wish him a good match.

There will no doubt be debutants appearing for both sides, but two Aberavon players who will not be on the pitch are wing Jay Baker and skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves. We wish both well on the road to recovery from their injuries.

Also missing from the backroom team is John Nightingale, who has stepped down after giving many years of good service. Thanks John.

Now, let the serious business begin.

Baker to Miss Season

Wizards Wing Jay Baker sustained an injury during a preseason training session with Aberavon.

With ongoing consultations and investigations it has been concluded that Baker has ruptured is Anterior Cruciate Ligament and also has a head on his meniscus. Therefore, Jay will now undergo treatment for this injury and will miss what looks like the whole season.

Everyone at the club wishes Jay a speedy recovery and we hope to see him on the field towards the back end of this current season.