I think most of us will remember this 2021-22 season as something of an oddity, with a new format that seems to place greater emphasis on a new cup competition than the league, which was reduced to what I regard as half a competition, with the ‘home or away, play one-another only once’ fixture list making for a somewhat less than level playing field.
Emerging from the darkest days of a global pandemic was always going to be a challenge, none more so in sport than that facing the players returning to action after a year and a half without any game-time. Whether this season’s format is to be permanent going forward, or consigned to the history books as a means of re-launching the game at club level, remains to be seen. As usual the Welsh rugby rumour-mill is doing its usual thing with all kinds of theories as to how the club game will go forward, but we shall await, with interest, word from official sources.
The most important thing is surely to have a structure that provides regular fixtures throughout the eight-month season. Players need to play regularly, supporters need to be kept interested and, over arching all of this, clubs need to remain commercially viable, with sufficient home fixtures to generate the revenue that is obviously so essential. Sadly the weather has played a somewhat negative part in the strive for continuity in recent months. To a degree, last week’s match against Cardiff contrasted the home side, whose season had continued unabated through the darkest Winter months (perhaps having use of a synthetic playing surface has helped, though I believe rugby was always meant to be played on grass – but that’s an argument for another time), with the Wizards who had completed only one league and one cup fixture since the turn of the year. Anyone who has played the game will tell you that, train as regularly and as hard as you like, but it’s no substitute for regular game-time.
Looking ahead, however, we’re now steaming steadily towards the season’s business end, hopefully now having put the worst of the weather behind us as we find ourselves in the month of March (although many an Aberavon supporter will laugh at that assumption if they happened to be at Beddau on St. David’s Day 2003). Events at Church Bank, Llandovery this afternoon will determine who we’ll be facing in the Premiership Cup semi-final two weeks from now at a neutral venue yet to be confirmed. Our recently postponed home match against Llanelli will now take place next Friday evening, while our trip northwards to take on RGC 1404, having been displaced by our involvement in the aforementioned semi-final, is currently the subject of discussions. We visit Bridgend on Good Friday afternoon for the fixture that was postponed back in December and, amid all this, of course, is the result of that semi-final providing the potential for a cup final appearance on a date yet to be announced.
Is all that clear? No, I thought not… I was struggling to understand it as I wrote it! Anyway, to this afternoon, and our third encounter of the season with Carmarthen Quins, one of our most consistently tough opponents over the past couple of decades. Thankfully we were able to visit their picturesque home on a bright and sunny early-season Saturday, with the return leg of that cup pool stage taking place on a gloomy November evening that got even gloomier with a few minutes left to play with half the floodlights going out!
Enjoy the game.