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.