Paul Williams (Llandovery Programme Notes)

Thank you and good… erm… afternoon

Despite there still being important rugby to be played, it befalls me, at what feels like an unbelievably early stage of this somewhat strange and abbreviated season, to acknowledge all the help, support and encouragement I’ve received in producing these pages on a regular basis throughout the past seven or so months.

So first, to my good friend Howard Evans, the walking encyclopaedia of Welsh club rugby, whose knowledgeable contributions save me from having to do an unbelievable amount of research if he didn’t have the required information on whoever the visitors may be stored somewhere inside his head, ready to dash off in an email at a few minutes’ notice.

Then there’s the quiet man of Aberavon RFC, webmaster Gareth Gange, whose diligent attention to detail means I can quickly and easily confirm who scored the last try in whatever fixture I’m referring to, along with a host of other significant details that I’d otherwise get hopelessly wrong.

There are then those who make numerous other contributions, such as Club Chairman Andrew John with his leading article and Commercial Manager Chris Davies with innumerable bits and bobs to keep the reader amused.

A special shout out goes to designer Stuart Evans (Sevans Design) whose talent for turning an assortment of diverse emails into the professional-looking publication you are now holding is something for which we’ve been incredibly grateful for well over twenty years now.

And I must make a special mention of my self-confessed number one literary followers Ceri and Rob, who tell me they look forward to reading my words over breakfast on the morning after each match.

Overarching all of the above, words cannot do justice to my appreciation of the club as a whole, management, coaches, players, staff, volunteers and loyal supporters all of whom contribute to making Aberavon RFC something of which we can all take pride in being a part. Thank you all

This afternoon brings down the curtain on the career of one of our longest-serving players, Will Price, who has been a fine and popular servant to the club since moving here from Tonmawr all those years ago, overcoming serious injury problems along the way. I could hear Howard Evans trying to persuade Will to think carefully about the decision to retire (code for trying to talk him out of it, perhaps?) but there comes a time for life after after rugby. Good luck Will, and thanks.

Congratulations go to staunch Wizards supporter Jonathan (Baayo) James and his fiancée Jade Brain, the very proud parents of their baby daughter Ariella-Rai born on February 3rd and weighing in at 7lb 11.5oz. Jonathan and Jade, from Fairway are both are over the moon and so are proud grandparents Hugh and Carolyn James. Jonathan can’t wait to dress her in a Wizards jersey and parade her around the ground.

Howard Evans (Llandovery Programme Notes)

Here we go again as for the fifth time this season the ‘Wizards’ and the ‘Drovers’ are meeting. We did not start playing against Llandovery until the 1993-94 season and yet already this season we have beaten them in an August friendly and in last month’s cup semi-final.

However, Llandovery have beaten us twice in the cup, both home and away. So, both clubs can ask – how do you lose and win in the cup? Rugby in Wales is indeed not simple is it? The knock-out cup means you can lose and win and in the league there are only 11 games with some clubs playing six at home and five away and others just the opposite.

There are a few players over the years who have represented both clubs, but primarily I think of fly halves James Garland and Cerith Rees. James will be here today and he is very, very welcome.

Interestingly, Joe Thomas, who was in Texas when we met in August, has since scored tries in all the three cup meetings.

One thing we do know is that though the coaches – Jason Hyatt and Euros Evans – were hookers, nevertheless, there will some good open rugby played today.

Even the referee stays the same as the cup semi-final with Rhys Jones in the middle, while Wayne Davies is on the line. I remember a Mid District semi-final many years ago when Wayne was referee. Despite two fierce sides, Wayne was outstanding that day.

Good luck to all players and officials and particularly to our splendid Will Price, who will be here as an Aberavon player for the final time.

Action Replay (Llandovery Programme Notes)

Aberavon 33-14 Ebbw Vale
Indigo Group Premiership, 2nd April 2022

by Paul Williams

“A game of two halves” is probably the most-used cliché in the cliché-ridden world of sport, but the description fitted this match perfectly. A dry, sunny Saturday afternoon on a perfect playing surface and a willingness from both sides to open up from all parts of the field brought plenty of thrills, as well as a few spills, to the opening half, but whether it was the late-afternoon plummeting temperature, a touch of fatigue after all the earlier running, or perhaps a combination of those and other factors, but the jamboree for some reason gave way to a somewhat error-strewn final half-hour that became dominated by the referee’s whistle.

It was evident from the word go that while Aberavon’s much-changed line-up were all raring to go in the quest for a place in the forthcoming Premiership Cup Final, the visitors hadn’t just arrived to make up the numbers, and things quickly settled into the Wizards’ pacy backs seeking to find a way through or around a dogged Ebbw defence, while at the same time having to contain the visitors’ more direct but no less effective approach. Within this environment, two players – wing Cori Lewis-Jenkins and flanker Ben Williams, made their respective league debuts in Aberavon colours while the popular Chris Banfield captained the team for the first time. All three emerged with considerable credit.

It was the Wizards who made the early running, however, opening the scoring when the in-form Joe Gage burst up the middle and offloaded to Andrew Waite. The speedy number eight went charging away and when play was halted in the shadow of the visitors’ posts, quick ball was moved left and flanker Ashton Evans crashed over for an unconverted try.

That was followed by a brace of tries from Chay Smith, the first after a clever reverse pass from Iwan Temblett had the Ebbw defence wondering where the ball was as Smith sprinted in at the posts, and then Aled Thomas joisted a delicate chip into the in-goal area for the alert centre to acrobatically ground the ball inches before it rolled dead.

With Thomas having added both conversions, the Wizards were suddenly 19-nil up, and looking good value for their lead. The visitors, however, came storming back, laying siege to the Aberavon goal-line until lock Ethan Doyle was able to crash over at the posts for fly-half Evan Lloyd to add the conversion.

It was close to half time when the next score came. When it did, it was courtesy of the Aberavon scrum, which has caused more than a few problems for opposing packs this season. After a speculative kick ahead had earned them an attacking scrum-five, on came the pressure and as the Ebbw front row caved in referee Ben Whitehouse had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try, earning the Wizards a bonus point.

A fine try from Gage late in the third quarter was goaled by Thomas to make the score 33-7, but to their credit the visitors kept on battling away as play became increasingly attritional, with Mr Whitehouse’s whistle coming increasingly to the fore. Eventually number eight Alex Howes forced his way over from close range following a period of sustained pressure on the home line, with Lloyd again converting. It was to be the final score of the day as the match reached its conclusion with both teams battling away without success to add to their tally.

Will Price to Retire

Will Price has announced that he will retire from rugby at the end of this season.

Will played his first game for Aberavon on the 29th April 2009 against Llanelli at the Talbot Athletic Ground.

He has played 229 times for Aberavon (as of 8/4/22) and has scored 35 tries.

Wizards Head Coach Jason Hyatt spoke very highly of Price.

“I have had the privilege of coaching Will for many years and had the pleasure of watching him develop into an outstanding Wizard, on and off the field.

Will is a player who I often ask for advice, he is honest and knows how to bring the best out of everyone around him, a very special talent”.

During nearly 13-years of service at Aberavon, he has represented Wales Sevens on the International Sevens Series, a fine achievement, however, what is very fitting for Will Price is during his first full season at Aberavon he reached the cup final against Pontypridd, now he is to finish his Aberavon career in yet another cup final against Newport on April 24th.

“He’s the type of player you’d rather play with than against”

Ashley Beck

Ex-Wizard and former Captain Ian Moore is full of admiration for Price.

“For me, Will should go down as one of the greats who has put on the Aberavon jersey.

What a class player! So physical and skilful, someone who I would always want on my side, underrated by many, but those that were lucky enough to play alongside him knew how talented he was.

It was an absolute honour to play with you mate and all the best in your retirement”.

Former team-mate and friend, Welsh International Ashley Beck added.

“William is a great friend of mine and it was awesome to play with him down at the Wizards for some time.

He’s the type of player you’d rather play with than against. I had some great memories on and off the field with will him and hope he gets the send-off he deserves because he’s put so much into the Wizards jersey for so many years. 

Congratulations on an awesome career mate! Glad I got to share the field with you”.

“Will should go down as one of the greats who have put on the Aberavon jersey.”

Ian Moore

Will is of course an exceptional talent when it comes to rugby, a player who has the ability to carry across the gain line, to tackle his opponents ferociously and to distribute well and offload in the tackle as good as any – yet, the person behind the rugby ability is what his peers admire most.

“For all young players searching for answers on how to achieve their ambitions, he is an ideal role model. He keeps himself in perfect physical condition, his work rate is first class and most importantly, he’s a real nice guy.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Will’s family, especially Becky, Mia & Sofia for their support. Having the support of family & loved ones is so important for all young players to develop and Will has obviously been very fortunate to have such strong support”, added Hyatt.

Price will play his last home game at the Talbot Athletic Ground on Saturday 9 April against Llandovery.


Statement from Will Price.

It has been a privilege to play for Aberavon and I’m very proud to have represented the club for over 12 years and also captain the side too. 

Aberavon is a great club filled with amazing people and I just want to say thank you to each and everyone who have allowed me to be a part of it.

As a club we’ve had many highs and lows but all are great memories which I will always be thankful for, as well as all the friendships I’ve made on the way.

It is a hard decision to make and one I did not rush into making, but now I can look forward to spending more time with my Wife and two girls. 

Thank you once again to all. I will most definitely be down supporting the club and the boys next season. 

Will 

Team v Llandovery

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

Aberavon Starting XV:
Joe Gage; Frankie Jones, Chay Smith, Will Price, Stef Andrews; Dan Edwards, Iwan Temblett; Rowan Jenkins, Cameron Lewis, Chris Davies, Sam Pailor, Rhodri Hughes, Lee Purnell, Andrew Waite, Lloyd Evans.

Replacements:
Rhodri Cole, Cori Lewis-Jenkins, Joe Thomas, Ben Williams, Luke Davies, Rhys Fawcett, Sam Williams, Geraint James.

Preview: Aberavon v Llandovery

Aberavon play their last home game of the season this Saturday when they welcome Llandovery to the Talbot Athletic Ground in the Indigo Group Premiership, kick-off at 2:30 pm.

In the Premiership this season, the Drovers have won three from seven games. They have beaten RGC 1404 (bonus point win), Merthyr (bonus point win) and Swansea, but have lost to Newport, Pontypridd, Ebbw Vale and Cardiff.

In the Premiership Cup, the Drovers finished the pool stage of the competition in top spot of the West division after winning nine of their ten games. They then beat Pontypridd at home in the quarter-final stage before narrowly losing to Aberavon in the semi-final held at Merthyr a couple of weeks ago.

Looking at the Premiership, in “attack”, Llandovery have scored 24.4 points on average per game (ranked 7th) and 3.7 tries (ranked 5th). In “defence” they have conceded 26.9 points on average per game (ranked 10th) and 3.6 tries (ranked 9th). Aberavon have scored 29.6 points per game (ranked 4th) and 4.1 tries (ranked 3rd), and conceded 19.0 points (ranked 2nd) and 2.1 tries (ranked 1st).

Head-to-head, Aberavon and Llandovery have met each other 48 times in the Welsh National League (including playoffs), with the Wizards leading the series 30 – 16 with 2 games drawn. At the Talbot Athletic Ground, the Wizards lead 18 – 5 with 1 game drawn with them winning the last time the sides met at the ground (31 – 26 in 2018-19).

Looking back twenty seasons ago the Wizards won the Division One fixture against Llandovery 22 – 13. Wizards outside-half Jamie Davies and Drovers full-back Stuart Harries traded penalties in the first half to make the score 6 – 6 at the interval. Early in the second half centre Tracey Lewis intercepted for the visitors inside their own 22 to set up a try for wing Ioan Davies. Harries added the extras to put Llandovery 13 – 6 up. This seemed to be the impetus that the home side needed as their 15 game unbeaten run in Division One came under threat. Wizards flanker Andrew Thomas set up an unconverted try for Davies in the corner, before Davies kicked his third penalty of the afternoon to help the Wizards into a narrow 14 – 13 lead with half-hour to go. As the match entered the final quarter scrum-half Daniel Hawkins scored from a scrum five while Davies kicked another penalty in the 70th minute as the Wizards consolidated their lead at the top of the table.

The Wizards team that day was: Matthew Back; Sam Greenaway, Barry Maddocks, Scott Leighton, Daran Griffiths; Jamie Davies, Daniel Hawkins; Mike Harris, Jason Hyatt, Greg Dix (rep Andrew Clatworthy), Mervyn Meredith, Steve Rees (rep Chris Gittins), Natano Tiatia (rep Marvin Thomas), Richard Morris, Andrew Thomas.

The referee for Saturday’s game is Gareth Newman, aided by Wayne Davies and Owen Wrangham.

Match Report: Aberavon 33 – 14 Ebbw Vale

by Howard Evans

Aberavon had gained the try-bonus by half-time and it was just as well because for most of the second half the whistle dominated.

There was little rugby played in the second spell with both sides having players yellow-carded, but it was the fault of neither side as they tried their level best to play rugby.

However many spectators left feeling they did not get their moneys-worth and replacements of both sides waited and waited to get on.

Aberavon had made 11 changes, including two league debutants and the side played as if they certainly wanted a place in the forthcoming cup final.

The ‘Wizards’ tried to open play up at every opportunity and it is no criticism of the ‘Steelmen’ that they kept it tight and tackled their hearts out.

Though Aberavon had the slight edge in the scrum, where Rhys Fawcett excelled, they found the Ebbw pack as strong as any they have played against.

Both sides put in splendid tackling, but Aled Thomas found willing runners in centres Joe Gage and Chay Smith who made some fine bursts.

The Vale had several young players in their midst while Aberavon had the teenage Ben Williams at ‘7’ and 18-yr-old Ceri Lewis-Jenkins on a wing.

All those young men played well and how young Vale hooker Harry Bee lasted through the first half, hobbling badly, was astonishing.

Gage produced the form that won him Wales Youth caps thanks to the half-back combination of Thomas and Iwan Temblett.

In the pack, lock Rhodri Hughes carried on with a cut on his head that will probably need stitches as both sides went strong in the contact area.

It took Aberavon just five minutes to score through flanker Ashton Evans and soon after Temblett gave a splendid backflip to Smith, who raced over for Aled Thomas to convert.

Thomas then cleverly grubber-kicked for the flying Smith to somersault over as he touched down and Aled again converted.

Ebbw ground it out down to the home line and lock Ethan Doyle went over for fly-half Evan Lloyd to convert.

Just before the half-time whistle, the home scrum shunted and a penalty try was awarded for a 26-7 scoreline.

Early in the second spell, Aberavon’s fifth try came from the exciting running of Gage and Thomas goaled from the touch-line.

Thereafter, what rugby was allowed to be played was mostly on the Aberavon line before No 8 Alex Howes scored and Lloyd converted with a fine kick.

By then, both sides had a player yellow-carded.

Ebbw coaches Jason Strange and Geraint Lewis can both take a pat on the back for the way their side worked hard throughout, never taking a back step.

For Aberavon, it was another five-pointer well done, but the spectators were robbed of seeing flowing rugby in the second half.

Score:
Aberavon 33 – 14 Ebbw Vale

Aberavon Team:
Chris Banfield (capt) (rep Stef Andrews 68 min); Cori Lewis-Jenkins, Chay Smith, Joe Gage, Frankie Jones; Aled Thomas (rep Will Price 54 min), Iwan Temblett (rep Rhodri Cole 68 min); Rhys Fawcett (rep Rowan Jenkins 68 min), Luke Davies (rep Cameron Lewis 68 min), Chris Davies (rep Geraint James 68 min), Sam Pailor (rep Shay Smallman 68 min), Rhodri Hughes (off injured 80+1 min), Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite, Ben Williams (rep Lloyd Evans 54 min).

Notes:
Cori Lewis-Jenkins appeared from the Ospreys; Sam Pailor appeared from Trebanos RFC; Ben Williams appeared from Gilfach Goch RFC. Cori Lewis-Jenkins made his debut for the club. Ben Williams league debut for the club.

Aberavon Scorers:
T – Chay Smith (2), Ashton Evans, Penalty Try, Joe Gage
C – Aled Thomas (3)

Ebbw Vale Scorers:
T – Ethan Doyle, Alex Howe
C – Evan Lloyd (2)

Referee:
Ben Whitehouse

Man Of The Match:
1 – Joe Gage
2 – Ashton Evans
3 – Chay Smith

Time Line:
05 min: Aberavon – T – Ashton Evans (5 – 0)
14 min: Aberavon – T – Chay Smith & C – Aled Thomas (12 – 0)
23 min: Aberavon – T – Chay Smith & C – Aled Thomas (19 – 0)
27 min: Ebbw Vale – T – Ethan Doyle & C – Evan Lloyd (19 – 7)
39 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (26 – 7)
39 min: Ebbw Vale – Yellow Card – A.N.Other
40+3 min: Half Time
53 min: Aberavon – T – Joe Gage & C – Aled Thomas (33 – 7)
69 min: Aberavon – Yellow Card – Lloyd Evans
71 min: Ebbw Vale – T – Alex Howe & C – Evan Lloyd (33 – 14)
80+6 min: Full Time

Howard Evans (Ebbw Vale Programme Notes)

Welcome for the second time this season to the Steelmen from Eugene Cross Park and to their coach Jason Strange.

At the same time as welcoming Jason, let me also say how sad I was that Greg Woods, a good Rugby man, has departed, but Jason is back home, well nearly, because I seem to recall he is from nearby Nantyglo, that hotbed of fly halves.

I do not think the great Roy Lewis will be hear today, but now in his 90’s, Roy still keeps in touch with me and he has written so many good words on his club and rugby in general.

Aberavon first met and entertained Ebbw Vale on December 29, 1894 – 128 years ago!!

I have to say that Ebbw Vale fought hard before losing to a Jack Heywood try (3-0).

I just missed that game, but Roy may have been there in his pram.

Ebbw have already won a ‘friendly’ here this season. I’m sure it will be a good game between two great clubs.

Cliff David

I must break away at this point to mention the death of a dear friend of mine and of so many people – Cliff David.

Cliff was on the finest men I have ever known. He died last Sunday, aged 90, having been a headmaster, Pilot Officer in the RAF and rugby player for Aberavon, Swansea University, RAF, London Welsh and Ranji Walker’s XV.

Cliff was club treasurer, committeeman and life member. A good, good man. I will miss him dearly.

So, for today’s match please spend at least a minute remembering Cliff. And to the players, please play this one for Cliff. Thank You.

Action Replay (Ebbw Vale Programme Notes)

Llandovery 23-24 Aberavon
Premiership Cup Semi-Final, 26th March 2022 at The Wern, Merthyr

(by Paul Williams)

A remarkable fact about this match is that Aberavon’s victory ultimately came from the only touch of the ball by a player who came on as a late replacement. It was a match that saw first one team then another gain ascendancy, before play swung one way then the other during a frenetic final few minutes.

After a scoreless opening quarter, the Wizards quite suddenly seized the initiative from a defensive scrum in the shadow of their own goalposts, opting to run the ball out of defence. A long pass from Aled Thomas found Jonathan Phillips on the far left, and the full-back’s acceleration took him clear of the first-up defence. A short pass out to Stef Andrews saw the winger kick ahead into the Llandovery 22, and while the Drovers’ defence desperately chased back to cover the danger, Aberavon centre Joe Thomas had too much pace, superbly judging the bounce of the ball and regathering to crash over in the left-hand corner for namesake Aled to add the conversion with a well-judged kick.

Almost immediately the Wizards were back on the attack, but a second try was prevented, albeit illegally, by Llandovery fly-half Kristian Jones whose deliberate knock on earned a ten-minute spell in the sinbin. In truth there was a strong case for a penalty try as Jones’ intervention prevented the ball from reaching Phillips with a clear run to the line. The match officials, however, thought otherwise and the result was Aled Thomas kicking for touch, the Aberavon forwards driving on and Llandovery being penalised as the maul was brought to ground. The Wizards opted for the scrum and, having already gained the upper hand in that particular phase of play, drove the set-piece relentlessly on until the Drovers infringed under pressure and the penalty try was at last awarded.

With the Drovers still reeling from that quick one-two, the Wizards then went on to add to their tally when centre Will Price went off on a diagonal run that took him clean through to posts without a hand being laid on him, with Aled Thomas adding the extras to give his side a 21-point lead.

Llandovery were far from done, however. Adopting a more attritional approach that seemed to rattle the Wizards, they clawed their way back into contention as the interval approached with tries from scrum-half Lee Rees and centre Tomi Lewis, with Lewis also converting Rees’ effort.

Late in the third quarter Jones got the scoreboard ticking again with a penalty goal to reduce the arrears to six points, and two minutes later Rees was again in for an unconverted try. Jones then took his team ahead by two points with another penalty before further drama saw Aberavon awarded a penalty some 45 metres out and fifteen metres from the left-hand touchline. With Aled Thomas sizing up a shot at goal, it transpired that the Wizards had already alerted the officials that they wished to send on Dan Edwards to replace Thomas, and so it was the Cwmafan teenager who found himself facing the prospect of attempting the long-range attempt on goal. Apparently unfazed, however, the youngster judged the wind to perfection and the ball sailed between the uprights to put the Wizards back ahead, albeit by a single point.

It was to be Edwards’ one and only touch of the ball, but what a crucial touch it was. As the Drovers redoubled their efforts to get the result, they managed to battle their way back downfield and into Aberavon territory, but a penalty award close to the right-hand touchline was too much for Jones, who sent his attempt on goal across the face of the posts and into the welcoming arms of Chris Banfield, who gleefully ran the ball out of play to bring this most tense of matches to a close.

Paul Williams (Ebbw Vale Programme Notes)

The Business End

So, we enter the final month, as things stand, of the 2021-22 season. I say ‘as things stand’, because things can still change – our visit to Merthyr, scheduled for April 23rd, will need to be rearranged (at least, we hope so, as the Wizards now have a rather important date on April 24th which must surely take precedence). April is traditionally the month when success or failure over an eight-month season is evaluated, although during the years preceding the pandemic-induced disruption to sport generally, the club game in Wales went through a period of considerable flux, featuring fixtures running into May and involving additional play-offs for those at either end of the table.

This being something of a ‘transitional’ season, following the forced abandonment of 2019-20 and complete cancellation of 2020-21, has at last seen the wheels our beloved sport at club level begin to turn again, for which we must all be thankful. The Wizards have enjoyed success in the unusual format of the Premiership Cup, hence the important date in just over three weeks’ time, but at the same time face something of a league fixture backlog thanks to a Winter riddled with postponements, with four matches still to be played after today, making for a busy few weeks before we even consider preparation for a Cup Final.

Of course, we aren’t the only club playing ‘fixture catch-up’. Our visitors today have their own busy schedule with which to deal. Looking at the table, it’s rather surprising to see them positioned just above the three clubs battling it out to avoid the wooden spoon, albeit with a decent cushion in terms of points. When they last visited here for a pre-season ‘friendly’ in August last year, they left with a well-deserved victory built around an impressive forward pack that controlled much of the second half and looked well equipped to take on the Premiership’s best. It has, however, been a strange, stop-start season, and with no threat of relegation (which would have created a grossly unfair situation given the ‘home or away’ nature of the league competition, with half the clubs having one fewer home match than the other half) it has provided the option for clubs to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses rather than chase success in something of a half-hearted league. I share the views of many of my fellow Premiership supporters in hoping we can return to a proper play-one-another-twice league format, and also a more traditional knock-out tournament, as the hopeful quest back to normality in all walks of life continues. Club rugby needs consistency in order to thrive, and while the surreal landscape of the past couple of years was always going to wreak havoc with the game’s traditions, we need to see things settle back into a regular and equable structure for all our sakes.

It would be remiss of me not to mention here the recent loss of a true Aberavon RFC stalwart before signing off. While I know that this is referred to by others elsewhere in these pages, Cliff David, former player, lifelong supporter, former Club Treasurer, Life Vice-President and Trustee was also a man I could rightly call ‘cousin’, but more than all of this he was a kind, gentle, humorous and generous soul who was never, ever anything other than cheerful, even during spells of ill-health during his latter years. His presence in his customary seat behind me in the stand at home matches will always be missed.

Enjoy the game, but please spare a thought for Cliff, who will without doubt be smiling down on us all.