Paul Williams (Pontypridd Programme Notes)

Autumn Blues

While that may sound like the title of an album by Eric Clapton or one of his pals, it may more appropriately and accurately describe the feelings of your average Welsh rugby supporter following a somewhat less-than-successful November for the national team, amplifying demands for wholesale changes to Welsh rugby’s governance and structure, amid which those of us involved with club rugby hold our breath and await the reappearance of a virtual finger pointing accusingly at the Premiership which, we are constantly being told, does nothing to prepare up-and-coming players for a future at the top level.

Time, I think, for the case for the defence to be heard. The Wales captain was one of many who cut his senior rugby teeth here with Aberavon. Justin Tipuric, whose credentials, despite the recent disappointments, speak for themselves throughout a lengthy and distinguished international career including two Lions tours, made his Aberavon debut in August 2007 as a teenager recruited from Trebanos Youth before going on to play with distinction for the club. His graduation via regional to international rugby took place in parallel with that of Ashley Beck, while James King followed hard on their heels. Another current Wales Player, Adam Beard, followed a similar path more recently. To a degree, even more recently, however, a player who must surely stand out as a rare success within the context of Wales in 2022, followed a slightly different path. Jac Morgan initially emerged from a successful Wales U18 team and began his senior career as an Aberavon player before his inevitable elevation to the regional game and beyond came along.

One thing in common shared by all the above named is an acknowledgement of the part played by our club in their success stories. Plenty of other Premiership clubs have similar tales to tell, yet whenever the national team is experiencing a bumpy ride, here is where the finger of blame tends to point.

On a related note, we extend our warmest congratulations to Joe Hawkins on his Wales debut last weekend. Joe came within a whisker of playing for Aberavon just before the pandemic, only to be denied by an outbreak of mumps among the Swansea squad. Father David and uncle Daniel were, of course, stalwarts of the Aberavon team back the day, while grandparents Brian and Stephanie remain regular attendees at Aberavon matches.

On a more local note, ‘Autumn Blues’ might accurately describe our feelings here at Aberavon following the reversal of the Wizards’ storming start to the season. An arguably over-exuberant and ultimately disappointing Friday evening encounter against Ebbw Vale saw what felt like an endless queue of battered and broken bodies heading for the medical room and thence on to hospital, and that was followed by the long trip to Colwyn Bay two weeks ago where a somewhat patched-up Aberavon team produced a very creditable performance against the odds to push a strong RGC team all the way. It marked, incidentally, the 200th appearance of Stef Andrews in Aberavon colours. Sadly such a milestone couldn’t be marked with a victory, but never mind Stef – only another 99 to go after today to get to your 300th!

This afternoon’s encounter here is the second (and last) of our WRU Challenge Cup pool matches and will decide who goes through to the semi-final stage of the competition in the new year. At the moment the three-team table has Aberavon top on five points, Bridgend second on five points, and Pontypridd third on two points. Bridgend, having played both their matches, are effectively out of the running, being unable to improve on second place. A victory for Pontypridd, however, could see them leapfrog everyone and qualify, depending on what (if any) bonus points Aberavon might salvage, and even then it could come down to tries scored or points difference, so it’s very much “all to play for” this afternoon.

Enjoy the game.