2021-22: Getting it all back up and running…
To begin with something of only passing relevance here, somewhere between the longitudinal positions of Bridgend and Merthyr Tydfil, it seems, there is a vertical line on the map that arbitrarily divides Wales into East and West. At least, in the context of the Indigo Group Premiership, that’s what I thought to be the case, until I glanced at a map and concluded that the line must be slightly off-perpendicular, as Colwyn Bay, home of RGC, is slightly to the West of Bridgend.
However, the powers that be have arrived at the decision that the team representing the entirety of North Wales – quite a responsibility, when you think about it – can be considered to be on either or both sides of the divide, and in the interests of balance should be considered part of the ‘East’ group, in contrast with the decision made some years ago when someone, in their wisdom, decided that the rugby up in the north of the Principality should fall within the Scarlets region.
No matter, however. In a kind of post-apocalyptic season where our beloved game has, at club level, had to get itself back up and running after a year and a half without any competitive activity, this new cup format has been something of a winner. There’s been no shortage of quality and entertainment, and a pleasingly full and varied programme of fixtures taking us through the Autumn months, with now the prospect of an eight-team knockout tournament to be slotted in between now and the end of the season. Getting this underway will be, from an Aberavon viewpoint, a home quarter final against Merthyr on January 22nd, coincidentally the team we were due to meet in a semi-final at Neath in 2019-20, shortly after that season was scuppered by the pandemic.
That Swansea aren’t among the qualifiers for the knockout stages is something I find quite surprising. They battled hard here at the Talbot Athletic Ground in just the second competitive match of the season, and while the result didn’t go their way the 27-14 scoreline in the Wizards’ favour in no way reflected their contribution to the match, particularly the strong finish they staged, in which Hanno Dirksen’s late try snatched from my grasp the prize of having forecast a final score of 27-9, with salt being rubbed into that particular wound by the fact that a certain brother-in-law had forecast 27-14 and smugly walked off with what was so nearly mine!
Again, more recently in the sweeping wind and rain at St Helen’s, the youthful All Whites were good value and none of us from Aberavon could have complained had the narrow lead they held going into the final ten minutes remained until the final whistle; as it turned out, the Wizards’ driving forward play, allied to two pieces of magic from a Rhodri Cole-Matthew Jenkins combination, took the final score to 20-30 which again failed to reflect the energy, effort and no small amount of quality on display from the home team.
Onwards we now go, however, into this season’s league competition, which has always looked like playing second-fiddle to the Premiership Cup, not least because the format (and, indeed, the length of what remains of this season) is that each of the twelve teams will play each of the other eleven only once. Apart from anything else this results in some teams having six home fixtures with others having only five, so there will always be a question mark over the eventual final placings and whether they represent a true reflection of the various team’s efforts.
All-in-all it is, however, a fair stab at getting the club game back on its feet, and I’m sure we can all agree that, whoever wins what during these strange times, it’s been a relief for us all to get out there and enjoy the game we love ‘in the flesh’, so to speak.
As for this evening, to the All-Whites of Swansea (and in particular to any old friends from my many years of working just a kick away from St Helen’s), a warm welcome is extended.
Enjoy the game.