Paul Williams (Newport Programme Notes)

Food for thought

The prospect of us hosting the great Newport club prompted me to start thinking of how much rugby union in Wales has changed during my lifetime. This was always among the biggest of big fixtures on the Aberavon calendar and I recall some terrific matches played in front of capacity crowds. Those were the days when, twenty minutes before kick-off, there’d be a plea over the public address system for people to please move closer together in the grandstand so that the people still queueing outside could be accommodated.

Sadly those days are long gone, and even more sadly Newport RFC, one of the historically senior Welsh rugby clubs, mostly now ply their trade away from their traditional home. We were privileged to be able to play them at Rodney Parade earlier this season, but it seems such occasions are very much the exception rather than the rule.

In Wales the formation of the regions – unbelievably twenty years ago – would seem to have been the catalyst for the game to change beyond all recognition, but that restructuring of the domestic game was itself triggered by the advent of professionalism some years earlier, officially in the mid-1990s but in reality something that had been rumbling on far, far longer, with the game’s top stars having been expected for many a long year to maintain standards comparable with those of top professionals in other sports, despite the strict restrictions of the amateur code. I shall refrain here from saying too much about the result of Welsh rugby’s “regionalisation” other than to say that, from where I’m sitting, they are looking less like regions and more like the “superclubs” that were advocated by many during the early 2000s.

People will, quite justifiably, point to a pretty successful run for Wales on the international stage since 2003, but as the past year or so has unfolded we find ourselves looking at the very real prospect of a Six Nations whitewash – the remaining matches against a rejuvenated Italy in Rome and the impressive but unpredictable French in Paris offer no reason for optimism, so please forgive me if I leave my Wales hat hanging on the hook and keep my Aberavon hat on (metaphorically speaking, of course – I don’t actually own any hats) as even the recent inconsistencies of the injury-ravaged Wizards generate rather more hope in my heart and mind.

So, on to the matter in hand – and the question of whether either the Wizards and the Black and Ambers can rise to the heights that this fixture has historically scaled. Both clubs have experienced highs and lows this season, but at their best should be capable of putting on a show worthy of the occasion.

Enjoy the game.

Many Happy Returns

Everyone associated with Aberavon RFC would like to wish a very happy 9th birthday to Cefin Thomas for this coming Monday. Cefin is quite literally a lifelong Aberavon supporter, having been brought to an Aberavon match by his parents when he was just a few days old, and has hopes of one day pulling on an Aberavon jersey and running out onto the Talbot Athletic Ground on an occasion such as today. Meanwhile he’s developing his already considerable rugby skills playing for Taibach RFC Juniors.