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.