Paul Williams (Pontypridd Programme Notes)

If you’re reading this, you can now uncross your fingers…

The short, dark days of January are a time when so many of us look for something to lift the gloom that all-too-suddenly follows the hectic overindulgence festival that dominates the year’s closing weeks. And so we turn to our habitual Saturday afternoon activities to keep ourselves amused. Or that’s the theory, at least, and 2023 began in decent enough fashion with the Wizards at home to Swansea. Alas, a week later, the fixture at Llanelli had fallen victim of a clash with a Scarlets’ fixture, so we all gritted our teeth, turned to what televised rugby was available, and looked forward to a pleasant trip to Carmarthen Park a week later… until the eve of the event a surface better suited as a venue for ice-hockey than rugby put paid to any hope of the match going ahead.

So… hopefully… we come to today, having spent the week with fingers crossed that conditions are more in keeping with the imminent onset of February rather than a retrospective look at the past few weeks. Our third encounter of the season with Pontypridd beckons with, unusually, each side having scored an away victory with the Wizards taking the league points on a glorious autumnal afternoon at Sardis Road before exiting from the cup at home against a dogged and deserving Pontypridd team. So we have been hoping upon hope, with international rugby taking centre stage over the coming weeks, that we can squeeze in this one home fixture before embarking on five barren weeks with only a sparse ration, in terms of club rugby, of away fixtures. Indeed, towards the tail end of a season that, for us, has been front-loaded with home games, we now face the prospect of just three more on the schedule, with only the possibility of play-off qualification potentially adding to that number.

Away from the Indigo Group Premiership and all who sail in it, some interesting (or possibly disturbing) talking points surrounding the sport we all love have come to light in recent weeks. First up was the WRU decision that amateur clubs will be allowed to field teams consisting of as few as twelve members, a move apparently intended to reduce match postponements resulting from player unavailability. While it’s good to know that the powers that be in Wales are concerned that clubs are struggling to field full teams, I’m not convinced that this is anything more than sticking plaster, and there really should be an attempt to establish why so many clubs are apparently struggling, rather than just allowing the situation to continue.

Secondly, we have the RFU now deciding that all tackling must be no higher than waist level in the English community game. Again, concern for player safety is most welcome, but there are surely questions that need to be asked here. For instance, what happens when a promising player representing a community team moves up into the game’s higher echelons. Suddenly having to learn an entirely new tackling technique according to the level at which they find themselves playing sounds to me like a high-risk policy, while on the other side of this particular coin it may become a barrier to ambitious players seeking to play at a higher level if they don’t have experience of the considerably greater physical demands of the elite game, with top clubs potentially being reluctant to recruit from lower down the leagues. Apparently tens of thousands have added their signatures to a petition opposing this proposal, and no less a voice than Nigel Owens who, let’s be honest, knows a thing or two about what is and isn’t acceptable on the field of play, has expressed serious doubts about the move.

A conversation I had with a long-retired former Welsh international player just a few days ago touched on these (and other) issues, and he expressed the fear that, with these and who knows what other measures may be introduced in the future, the game will have died within the next twenty years.

For all our sakes I hope not. Rugby, and particularly the club I have supported since childhood, means far too much to me, and I know that applies to many, indeed most, of my fellow supporters.

Anyway, back to this afternoon. Welcome, Pontypridd, once again to the Talbot Athletic Ground.

Enjoy the game.