Paul Williams (Pontypool Programme Notes)
The Long Wait
If it seems like years since we saw once-regular visitors Pontypool at the Talbot Athletic Ground, it is because that’s exactly what it has been… and they have been sorely missed. Going back to those good old days when Welsh club rugby ruled the roost, great Pooler teams would arrive here on a Saturday towards the end of November, and we would be treated to a battle royal in which the legendary Faulkner-Windsor-Price front row would do battle with the likes of Clive Williams, Morton Howells or Billy James, John Richardson or Barrie Lewis, while behind them Allan Martin and Billy Mainwaring would face up to John Perkins and Steve Sutton. The respective back-rows were similarly matched; Chris Huish, Jeff Squire and Mark Brown versus Ogwyn Alexander, Phil Clarke and Richie Davies. The result of those encounters was, not surprisingly, a case of two great packs battling for every scrap of possession and the result almost inevitably decided by no more than two or three points. No quarter was asked, none was given, either on the field of play or in the clubhouse afterwards.
Sadly the wind of change that has blown through our sport since those days has seen the club game suffer what in human terms would be classed as life-changing injuries, and Pontypool RFC, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, suffered more than most. A costly dispute with the WRU was followed by a series of table-topping seasons in a lower division, with promotion being denied by a series of rule-changes until, at long last, they have arrived back amongst the top tier of the club game. For the time being, at least, as we now face the prospect of another tier as the latest shake up draws ever nearer.
All of the above, of course, is so familiar to those of us who’ve been around Aberavon RFC for two or more decades, as the process endured by Pooler and their long-suffering supporters runs parallel to what we went through prior to the creation of regional rugby, hailed at the time by a certain Mr Moffat as being the panacea to put right all that was wrong in Welsh rugby… hmm. Back here in the real world, it’s been a long wait (punctuated only by a disappointing promotion/relegation playoff) but today we have Pontypool and their loyal followers here at long last.
Meanwhile, here at Aberavon, we’re at the start of what will be something of a transitional phase with new faces appearing in the Wizards’ lineup, all of whom have emerged with credit from our opening two matches. With several long-serving squad members having hung up their boots the coaching staff have evidently been busy during the close-season filling those vacancies while staying true to the Aberavon tradition of encouraging and developing young talent, which is what is expected of us by the powers that be. As supporters, we should be applauding this while tempering our expectations as what is now a much younger squad settles in and begins to flourish. Focusing on the here and now is all very well, but squad recruitment is essential for the long-term future well-being of the club. I shall cite just one example of that policy paying off. If a certain youthful hooker hadn’t been picked up straight from youth rugby several years ago, the “warrior” (to quote a Jason Hyatt description of him earlier this week) that is Luke Davies would undoubtedly have been plying his trade elsewhere. Anyone who witnessed his single-handed destruction of a Bridgend driving maul, followed immediately by his burst up the touchline, long clearance kick and follow-up tackle, would surely agree that that would have been a crying shame!