Team v Llanelli

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

Aberavon Starting XV:
Jonathan Phillips; Frankie Jones, Chay Smith, Joe Thomas, Stef Andrews; Aled Thomas, Rhodri Cole; Rhys Fawcett, Ieuan Davies, Chris Davies, Shay Smallman, Rhodri Hughes, Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt), Ashton Evans, Lloyd Evans.

Replacements:
Zac Fifield, Dan Edwards, Joe Gage, Luke Davies, Lee Purnell, Sam Pailor, Jordan Walters, Nicky Thomas.

Preview: Aberavon v Llanelli

Aberavon (6th – 10 points) welcome Llanelli (8th – 5 points) to the Talbot Athletic Ground this Saturday in the Indigo Group Premiership, kick-off at 2:30 pm.

In the Premiership this season, Llanelli have won one from four games so far. They kicked off their league campaign with defeats away to Carmarthen Quins (13 – 30) and at home to RGC 1404 (8 – 41). Their win came at home to Bridgend at the end of last month (26 – 14 bonus point win). In their last outing, Llanelli lost at Ebbw Vale (12 – 22).

In the Premiership Cup, Llanelli lost all ten of their pool games and lost to Aberavon 43 – 17 at the Talbot Athletic Ground back in September, and 28 – 22 at Parc y Scarlets in October.

Looking at the Premiership, in “attack”, Llanelli have scored 14.8 points on average per game (ranked 9th) and 2.0 tries (ranked joint 8th). In “defence” they have conceded 26.8 points on average per game (ranked 10th) and 3.5 tries (ranked joint 8th). Aberavon have scored 26.0 points per game (ranked 4th) and 3.3 tries (ranked joint 5th), and conceded 19.7 points (ranked 3rd) and 1.7 tries (ranked top).

Head-to-head, Aberavon and Llanelli have met each other 43 times in the Welsh National League (including play-off games), with the West Walians leading the series 25 – 16 with 2 games drawn. At the Talbot Athletic Ground, the Wizards lead 12 – 7 with 2 games drawn with Llanelli winning the last time the sides met at the ground (16 – 11 in 2019-20).

Looking back eighteen seasons ago to when the sides met on January 3rd 2004, the visitors scored early in the game when Welsh International wing Mark Jones sprinted 80 metres for a try under the posts. Centre Cerion Thomas added the extras. The Wizards clawed their way back into the game with three successive penalties by outside half Jamie Davies making the score 9 – 7 to Aberavon at the end of the first quarter. Thomas retook the lead for Llanelli with a try he converted but Davies reduced their lead to just two points with his fourth penalty of the afternoon. At the end of the half, Aberavon went back ahead when Davies scored a try to make the score 17 – 14. Thomas and Davies traded penalties early in the second half before wing Sam Greenaway crashed over for a try in the 68th minute to make the score 25 – 17. Thomas kicked a penalty late on but the Wizards came away with the 25 – 20 win.

The Wizards team that day was: Richard Lewis; Sam Greenaway, Darren Ryan (rep Aled James), David Hawkins, Ricky Price; Jamie Davies, Daniel Hawkins; Mike Harris, James Jones, Mark Thomas (rep Greg Dix), Dafydd Owen, Chris Gittins, Ceri Thomas (rep Jamie Summers), Richard Morris (rep Steffan Edwards), Howard Merrett.

The referee for Saturday’s game is Rhys Jones, aided by Wayne Davies and Dai Cambourne.

Match Report: Aberavon 17 – Merthyr 16

by Howard Evans

Aberavon are through to the semi-final stage of the Premiership Cup after an amazing finish to their home quarter-final against Merthyr.

With Merthyr winning 16-10 time was up, but Aberavon were still hammering away at the line and the match just went on and on.

On several occasions it seemed that a penalty try would not be given, but with somewhere near 86 minutes played, eventually one such score WAS given, though with a combination of the rain, the jumping and dancing of players and supporters and a large pillar that was helping hold the grandstand up, it was difficult to know what caused the decision in the end.

The referee Aled Evans stated that it was “illegal wheeling of the scrum after Aberavon were driving forward”. So, one must applaud the replacement prop forwards Rhys Fawcett and Chris Davies for their magnificent efforts.

We often mention Rowan Jenkins and Geraint James, but Rhys, Chris, and also the powerful Jordan Walters and Nicky Thomas (both watching from the grandstand) are six very strong and good scrummagers.

There is no doubt that hookers Ieuan Davies and Luke Davies are a huge help as are the five men in the second and back rows. And one must also give full credit to Marc Breeze, who is the coach.

It was a game that had looked almost certain to be drifting away from the ‘Wizards’ with Gareth Thompson at fly half playing superbly for Merthyr, but somehow Aberavon gained the win.

Due to the conditions, few players stood out, partly because one has to be in the middle of the scrum to know and understand the push, drive and knowledge of the men in it.

To me, the biggest thing that will remain in my mind was that even when Merthyr drove them back, the home players never gave up hope of pulling off a minor miracle.

Merthyr were lively behind the scrum, but full back Ben Jones had to be helped off and will be a huge loss, while it was good to see Aled Thomas back in action for Aberavon and young Zac Fifield, a teenager from Cardiff, was given his first taste of senior rugby, just as his father Ian used to play.

Chris Banfield did well in the backs despite the ball being hard to handle, while skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves eased his way back to match fitness and Shay Smallman continues to improve.

Thompson, Banfield and Thompson again, all kicked penalties before Andrew Waite touched down another big Aberavon scrum drive. Banfield converted for 10-6, but Thompson struck again for 10-9 at the interval.

The lively former Bargoed wing Ashley Norton snapped up an early second-half try that Thompson superbly converted and then Merthyr tackled their hearts out.

Both Thomas and Fifield came on and passed with great width and speed, but Merthyr twice leapt high believing the game was over, only for the front row of Rhys, Ieuan and Chris to dig in and deliver the goods.

Cardiff, Newport and Aberavon are now in the semi-finals with Llandovery or Pontypridd yet to come, while it appears likely that the league match at RGC will be off in favour of the cup.

Score:
Aberavon 17 – 16 Merthyr

Aberavon Team:
Joe Gage (rep Jonathan Phillips 72 min); Chris Banfield, Chay Smith, Will Price (rep Aled Thomas 58 min), Stef Andrews; Joe Thomas, Rhodri Cole (rep Zac Fifield 76 min); Rowan Jenkins (rep Rhys Fawcett 55 min), Luke Davies (rep Ieuan Davies 70 min), Geraint James (rep Chris Davies 70 min), Shay Smallman (rep Rhodri Hughes 68 min), Sam Williams, Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite, Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt) (rep Lloyd Evans 50 min).

Notes:
Zac Fifield appeared from Glamorgan Wanderers RFC and made his debut for the club.

Aberavon Scorers:
T – Andrew Waite, Penalty Try
C – Chris Banfield
PG – Chris Banfield

Merthyr Scorers:
T – Ashley Norton
C – Gareth Thompson
PG – Gareth Thompson (3)

Referee:
Aled Evans

Man Of The Match:
1 – Rhodri Cole
2 – Geraint James
3 – Sam Williams

Time Line:
11 min: Merthyr – PG – Gareth Thompson (0 – 3)
14 min: Aberavon – PG – Chris Banfield (3 – 3)
17 min: Merthyr – PG – Gareth Thompson (3 – 6)
28 min: Aberavon – T – Andrew Waite & C – Chris Banfield (10 – 6)
38 min: Merthyr – PG – Gareth Thompson (10 – 9)
40 min: Half Time
41 min: Merthyr – T – Ashley Norton & C – Gareth Thompson (10 – 16)
74 min: Merthyr – Yellow Card – Sam Jones
80+6 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (17 – 16)
80+6 min: Full Time

Paul Williams (Merthyr Programme Notes)

Plus ça change…

Welcome, all, to the Talbot Athletic Ground for the Wizards’ first home appearance of 2022 – a strange situation given that we are now steaming ahead through mid-February, but pandemic restrictions had to be observed by us all and I’m sure anyone who frequents the clubhouse here on a match day will appreciate the practical difficulties that would be presented by trying to limit entry to a maximum of fifty people, and one would also have to consider the likelihood of a quarter-final between Aberavon and Merthyr attracting in excess of the permitted 500 spectators. Those factors alone were sufficient to make the decision to postpone this (and other) matches something of a “Hobson’s choice”.

So here we are, on a Sunday afternoon – less than ideal for a many of us, it is appreciated, but there is now the small matter of the Six Nations tournament having got underway, even if those of us from the land between Offa’s Dyke and the Irish Sea perhaps wish it hadn’t. Further fixture disruption is anticipated, with Aberavon supporters (obviously) hoping for a win today despite such a result scuppering plans for a weekend in or around Colwyn Bay for a league match against RGC on March 26th, while Merthyr would be seeking to rearrange an altogether more straightforward trip down the A470 to Cardiff should events here this afternoon go their way.

On the subject of Six Nations rugby, last weekend’s TV coverage highlighted yet another change to the game as the governing body seek to make the front row of the scrum a safer place for hookers to spend their time. Don’t get me wrong, anything that reduces the likelihood of serious injury to anyone playing the game has to be a good thing, even though the fact remains that Rugby Union is still very much a contact sport, but I have to say that the explanation of the new measures being introduced as a scrum is formed, offered by one or other of the numerous commentators and pundits that appear to be an essential part of all sports coverage these days (oh, for a return to a lone commentator of the Bill McLaren standard, accompanied by just a single ex-player who could offer his considered viewpoint when invited) wasn’t the clearest, but subsequent research reveals that hookers now have to have a “brake foot”, which has to be placed ahead of their other foot to afford greater stability as the front rows come together, while props are expected to ‘chase their feet’ (i.e. walk forwards – not the easiest thing to do while sandwiched between a few hundred kilogrammes of large men pushing in opposite directions) if they find themselves going forward. If somebody had asked me a week or two ago which was my brake foot, I’d probably reply that it’s the same one that I use as my ‘accelerator foot’.

One has to hope that these measures will have the desired effect, but I am moved, not for the first time, to wonder why the powers that be don’t involve someone like Brian Moore – for me the most knowledgeable and informative of the small army of former players working in the media, with a background in the legal profession to boot – to provide advice on the technicalities of front-row play.

Today, however, is about club rugby, which increasingly appears to be where our sport’s traditional values are preserved. While the fully professional tier moves ever closer to (in my mind) American-style razzamatazz, here, at least, the concept of players, officials, supporters and their families mingling together post-match in a social scene that has been a part of rugby union that since I began watching Aberavon as a child (apologies to those who enjoy the ‘big game atmosphere’ at regional stadia, but each to their own, eh?) remains much the same as it ever was. As the wonderfully contradictory saying goes, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing).

Enjoy the game.

Howard Evans (Merthyr Programme Notes)

We are back in home action this Sunday afternoon when we welcome Merthyr to the Talbot Athletic Ground.

This quarter-final is one of two outstanding, while Llandovery have to play Pontypridd but, seemingly, if we win today, it will put our trip to RGC next month in doubt.

Battles between the ‘Wizards’ and Merthyr have been extremely interesting in recent seasons and, of course, we have seen wings Richard Carter, Stef Andrews and Jay Baker in action for both clubs. Richard is now in retirement; Jay is injured, but Stef should be raring to go – he usually is.

There is a fourth man who has played for both clubs as Merthyr’s splendid coach Dale McIntosh once turned out for us against Glamorgan Wanderers. Dale, is one of a rare breed of coaches, who are ready to speak to the media, whether his side has won or lost. And Dale also is never slow to praise his opponents.

For Aberavon, there is a need to get the strongest 15 out on the park, being something that for several reasons has rarely happened this season. Outside half has been a hard position to fill, but Joe Thomas has done his level best.

What with the pandemic, injuries, isolation and Ospreys selection or their training ideas, Aberavon have suffered and must also congratulate our props Rowan Jenkins and Geraint James for both turning out for Cardiff Rugby for two European matches.

So, it has been hard for Jason, Lyndon and the remainder of the coaching team to get their strongest sides out and skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves has just had a few seconds on the pitch this season!

I do not like Sunday sport, but I think we all just want to get out of our ‘bubbles’ and watch two strong sides battling it out.

Welcome to the strange world of Welsh club rugby.

Action Replay (Merthyr Programme Notes)

Pontypridd 16-25 Aberavon
Indigo Premiership, January 29th 2022

by Paul Williams

There was a time, not so very long ago, when victories at Sardis Road were rarer than hens’ teeth, not just for Aberavon but for anyone visiting the home of Pontypridd RFC. Back-to-back wins therefore, practically unheard off, certainly amongst Aberavon followers, who would have recalled a 15-16 victory there in November 2019 as being their first such win since September 2011.

On this occasion, however, despite the first half being a very tit-for-tat affair in terms of scoring, Aberavon looked the more likely winners throughout, with their irresistible scrummaging power paving the way to victory, with the home side having to rely on opportunism rather than their customary all-action style.

That said, over a quarter of the match was over before either team troubled the scorers. A tantalising kick ahead saw the home side concede a five-metre scrum, and after a couple of resets after the home pack had found themselves shunted backwards, referee Ben Whitehouse ran out of patience and awarded the Wizards a penalty try after the Pontypridd scrum had caved in once again.

The seven-point lead was short lived, however, as Dale Stuckey, widely recognised as one of the best Premiership wingers, leapt high to claim the restart and send flanker Cally James clear, with Jake Lloyd’s conversion levelling the scores. Aberavon full-back Jonathan Phillips then went racing clear in midfield, but was called back with the line at his mercy for a forward pass, but after Chris Banfield and Lloyd had trading penalties, a period of sustained Aberavon pressure ended with scrum-half Rhodri Cole, on top form, made a half-break before handing on to Banfield, who did well to claim the try despite the best efforts of the home defence. The conversion drifted wide, but the Wizards were good value for the half-time score of 10-15, having looked the more inventive side.

Aberavon began the second half with another example of their scrummaging power, pushing the home pack off their own ball with number eight Andrew Waite picking up and racing over from short range for Banfield to convert. Shortly afterwards Pontypridd, having lost hooker Nathan Huish early in the first half, saw replacement hooker Ieuan Morris withdraw, meaning that scrums thereafter would be uncontested, which somewhat nullified a major area of Aberavon superiority. Nonetheless the Wizards stuck at their task, and although two penalties from Lloyd reduced the arrears to 16-22, as the match moved into its final stages the visitors who remained on top, and a final penalty from Banfield made it 16-25 as time ran out.

Further good news for Aberavon came when talisman skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves emerged from the bench for the closing stages, making his first appearance since early March 2020, and came through unscathed.

Jac Morgan Getting Capped

Everyone involved at Aberavon RFC will be delighted with yesterday’s announcement that Jac Morgan will win his first Wales cap at home to Scotland tomorrow in the Principality Stadium.

When Jason Hyatt signed him first he made an immediate impact both on and off the field, very popular within the dressing room he quickly settled in and grew in stature with every game.

In the period he was with us he played 22 games before re-signing for the Scarlets who amazingly had released him just before Jason signed him for the Wizards.

So there’s the evidence that the Premiership can be a proving ground and one that can and does continue to help with player pathway, Jac’s time with us was vital in his personal development and we are very proud to have played a small part in that journey.

On a personal note I am absolutely delighted for Jac and his family who have been hugely supportive of him in his career to date, it’s a great story and I have little doubt that Jac will give his all for the red shirt tomorrow, he will certainly make us all at Aberavon very proud –  I’m sure all of Brynamman will feel the same way as well.

Good Luck Jac, you fully deserve this opportunity and everyone at Aberavon will be right behind you tomorrow.

Andrew

Team v Merthyr

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

Aberavon Starting XV:
Joe Gage; Chris Banfield, Chay Smith, Will Price, Stef Andrews; Joe Thomas, Rhodri Cole; Rowan Jenkins, Luke Davies, Geraint James, Shay Smallman, Sam Williams, Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite, Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt).

Replacements:
Zac Fifield, Aled Thomas, Jonathan Phillips, Ieuan Davies, Lloyd Evans, Rhodri Hughes, Rhys Fawcett, Chris Davies.

Preview: Aberavon v Merthyr

Aberavon take on Merthyr at the Talbot Athletic Ground this Sunday in the quarter-final stage of the Indigo Group Premiership Cup, kick-off at 2:30 pm.

Merthyr finished the pool stage of the competition in third place in the East division after winning five of their ten games. They lost three of their opening four games as they went down at home to Ebbw Vale and away to both Pontypridd and Newport, but beat RGC 1404 at The Wern. They won four of their final six pool matches, completing the double over Cardiff, winning at Ebbw Vale and home to Pontypridd, whilst losing away to RGC 1404 and at home to Newport.

In the other quarter-final matches, Cardiff beat Carmarthen Quins and Newport beat Bridgend last month, whilst Llandovery will be home to Pontypridd in the other quarter-final match.

In the Indigo Group Premiership, the Ironmen have played three games with them winning two of them. In December they gained a bonus point home win over Ebbw Vale, whilst at the end of last month, they had a bonus-point win at Swansea. In their last outing, last weekend at RGC 1404, the Ironmen went down 19 – 42 after the game was tied at 19 – 19 at half-time.

Looking back to when Aberavon and Merthyr met at the ground five seasons ago, the Wizards came back from being 14 -17 down at half-time to win 24 – 17. The Ironmen got on the scoreboard early in the game when wing Teri Gee scored a try that was converted by Matthew Jarvis. It wasn’t long however before the home side tied the scores when James Garland scored a try that he converted. Halfway through the opening half Joe Tomalin-Reeves touched down for the Wizards second try. Garland added the extras. Jarvis pulled a penalty back for the Ironmen before a try by scrum-half Rhys Downes, converted by Jarvis, made the score 17 – 14 to the visitors at half-time.

At the start of the second half, Aberavon went back in front thanks to a try by Ben Jones. Garland converted. The next score didn’t occur until late in the game when replacement Steffen Williams kicked a penalty to make the final score 24 – 17.

The Aberavon team that day was: Joe Gage; Matthew Jenkins (rep Jon Phillips), Rheon James (rep Cameron Clement), Will Price, Stef Andrews; James Garland (rep Steffen Williams), Jacob Flynn; Rowan Jenkins (rep Mike Burgess), Luke Davies (rep Ieuan Davies), Jon Thomas (rep Rhys Forse), Ian Moore (capt) (rep Sam Williams), Ben Jones, Nathan Brown (rep Ben Davies), Luke Joseph, Joe Tomalin-Reeves.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Aled Evans, aided by Elliot Mayor and Richard Brace.

Pritchard Leaves with Immediate Effect

We are sorry to announce that David Pritchard has left Aberavon with immediate effect. Pritch played 262 games for the club over 14 seasons and was a very popular player both with supporters and his team mates. For a number of seasons in his time with us he was without doubt the best scrum half in the Premiership.

His recent struggles with fitness and Covid (which he contracted last year) allied with increasing commitments with work and his young family have culminated in this decision.

It goes without saying that everyone at the Wizards will be sorry to see him leave after such long service at one club.

Thank you sincerely for the 14 seasons Pritch, best wishes to you and your family going forward.

Andrew