Good afternoon one and all. First time for me to say that in these pages since… well… 2018. A home match at 2:30pm on a Saturday afternoon – what a marvellous phenomenon. Yes, I know we’re in the middle of the Six Nations Tournament and international rugby, inevitably, must have the shop window, but I’m sure I’m not the only one with decidedly mixed feelings about the live broadcasting of Principality Premiership matches on Friday and Saturday evenings, particularly during the darkest Winter months in plummeting temperatures after the Sun has set. As one who can recall shrugging off the cold without a thought during my younger days, I have to admit that spending a couple of hours of a January evening out in the open air has become a far less attractive prospect with the years relentlessly advancing. These are, of course, purely personal feelings and I happily admit that there are counter arguments regarding the commercial benefits of the Premiership gaining greater exposure from live TV coverage. Still, an unusually benign February will hopefully give way to an increasingly pleasant March (unlike exactly a year ago today when ‘The Beast from the East’ swept across the country causing a modicum of chaos) and we can see out the season in pleasant Spring conditions.
So we welcome Bargoed, whose position in the table is a very poor reflection of the performance they put in on their home turf back in October to earn a thoroughly deserved victory over the Wizards. That things have since not gone their way is something of a shame, not to mention a complete mystery. They were, on that occasion, a team that looked capable of competing with the best that the Premiership could offer. I say we welcome them and mean it sincerely, as we were afforded an off-field welcome that was in the finest traditions of Welsh club rugby, and I’m sure we can today reciprocate in similar fashion, with the ‘rugby family’ ambience for which we at Aberavon are known very much to the fore. These are the values that have made the club game in Wales so special throughout the generations.
The Wizards, meanwhile, seem to have steered themselves away from a rocky start to 2019, and most recently picked up a valuable four league points in the soaking drizzle of the usually picturesque but on this occasion grey and damp Carmarthen Park. Hardly a spectacular affair, but victory was earned by playing the conditions to perfection and, make no mistake, an away win by any score is a good one.
The strata above the club game in Wales, meanwhile, are a complete paradox. With the national team having shaken off the indifferent form shown in Paris and Rome and changed up several gears to put the neighbours from across the Severn to the sword, the media have immediately gone into overdrive with suggestions of another Grand Slam and talk of being genuine World Cup contenders later this year. Hopefully at least some of these predictions will bear fruit, and along with the rest of Wales I should be delighted to see it happen, but there meanwhile remain certain dark clouds on Welsh rugby’s horizon.
The regional game remains shrouded in uncertainty at the time of writing, with the WRU considering options for the implementation of what they seem pleased to call ‘Project Reset’, as they seek to improve on a decade and a half of underperformance on the European stage. The timing of all this is perhaps strange, as players currently jumping through all kinds of hoops in pursuit of international success could, I am sure, well do without having to do so against a background of doubt as regards where their regional futures lie. We are, after all, considering people’s livelihoods here, and we must also remember the relationships between Premiership clubs and the various regional academies. So we sit and await with interest as discussions go on.
Enjoy the game.