Obviously, and quite appropriately, Aberavon’s flying start to the season (and, come to that, Llanelli’s fine opening-weekend win over Swansea) has been somewhat overshadowed by the sad passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, giving us all a sense of perspective as regards sport in general and Welsh club rugby specifically. However, within the comparatively limited context of these pages I wanted to begin here with a personal reference to the recent sad passing of a quiet, humble gentleman (in the absolute truest sense of the word) who graced, with great distinction, the rugby fields not only of Wales but of the rest of the rugby-playing world.
If I can beg your forgiveness at a moment of name-dropping, I found myself in the company of the late, great Phil Bennett at a handful of rugby-related social events back in the day, and I am certain that while I attribute to him the adjective “great”, he would himself have none of it; such was the character of the man who achieved so much, that away from the field of play he was a quiet, unpretentious man who, despite all he achieved in the red jerseys of Llanelli, Wales and the Lions (not to mention the black and white one of the Barbarians), would equally speak affectionately of Aberavon RFC, for whom he played a few times while making the graduation from youth to senior rugby, with only, he said, the fact that it ‘felt wrong’ to be travelling from Felinfoel through his home town to play rugby somewhere twenty-odd miles away eventually taking him back to Stradey Park to begin his senior career in earnest.
I, along with so many who had the privilege of watching him play, will surely remember the moments of pleasure he brought to us, even when turning out for Llanelli at the Talbot Athletic Ground as some of us will doubtless recall him doing. My own memories include one sunny April evening in 1979 when he turned on his special brand of magic to inspire his team to victory – despite the result one could only appreciate the special talent on display.
Rest in peace, Phil, from this particular admirer. You played the game you loved because you loved it, and many of us who also love it will remember your contribution with fondness.
On, then, to the here and now. Our last home game was three weeks ago, but somehow, with what has dominated life during the interim, feels like far, far longer. Bridgend, who seem to have become our de-facto opening-weekend opponents, were duly despatched, but detractors were able to point to the Wizards, having raced to a 45-nil lead, apparently taking their collective foot off the gas during the last fifteen minutes with the visitors running in two late tries.
Whether or not that perception of “foot off the gas” was correct, it was certainly not a feature of the match at Swansea five days later, when a tense and close-run first half was followed by a second half in which the Wizards didn’t concede a single point, with any doubt about the outcome removed by that superb Jonathan Phillips try shortly after half time, and touchdowns from Cameron Lewis and Stef Andrews underlining a clear determination to keep the pressure on right up to the final whistle.
You are, however (as the cliché goes), only as good as your last game, and we must remember that Llanelli also began their campaign by rattling up forty plus points, so this afternoon’s encounter promises a great deal.
Enjoy the game.