Paul Williams (Merthyr Programme Notes)

Fielding a team

When I was a child, standing on the terraces at the Talbot Athletic Ground, rugby was a 15-man game. The concept of replacements had yet to reach the sport of Rugby Union, and only when I was in my teens did the nomination of two replacements, who were to take the field only in the event of a player being injured and unable to continue (which needed to be confirmed by a doctor) could either take an active part in proceedings.

Nowadays it’s a 23-a-side sport, with tactical substitutions galore taking place, and even special laws governing those whose expertise lies in the mysterious dark places known as the ‘front row’. All of which doesn’t half put pressure on coaches and medical staff when what feels like half the squad are carrying injuries of one kind or another.

Some years ago I wrote an article in these pages entitled ‘Holby City RFC’, bemoaning an injury crisis that had beset the Wizards ahead of a home fixture with Newport. On that occasion the dwindling fit members of the squad rose to the occasion and earned a memorable and unexpected victory.

I’m not certain, this time around, whether ‘injury crisis’ adequately describes the non-availability of key members of the Aberavon playing staff. January was always going to be a tough month on the field, and having seen an already-depleted squad suffer further setbacks last weekend, one must wonder whether even the fictional town of Holby’s impressive medical institution would cope with such an influx of patients.

However, we must soldier on. After all, it’s only the league-leaders to be faced today.

Talking of the ability (or otherwise) to field a competitive team, I noticed during the past week or two that the question of evening fixtures up at Colwyn Bay has again reared its ugly head, on this occasion due (not that the reason affects the reality of the situation) to the RGC 1404 v Pontypridd encounter being originally selected for live television coverage.

Thankfully common-sense eventually came to the fore, but those of us who follow such developments online will have seen a great deal of nonsense emanating from the North Wales coast, not for the first time this season, to the effect that RGC 1404 have to travel regularly to South Wales and have no problems with player availability.

Now I don’t pretend to know the circumstances surrounding the playing staff at RGC, nor am I fully conversant with how they are funded, but to the untrained eye it does appear that a fair proportion of their squad are full-time rugby players, and they are not forced to operate within the constraints of semi-professional rugby, whereby players have jobs to go to, and knocking off work on what is a normal working day does not make turning up at Colwyn Bay by, say, 6pm on the same day a viable proposition. Sadly, despite previous similar fixtures having been unavoidably rescheduled to early Saturday kick-offs during the Autumn internationals, the message still hasn’t got through that the Principality Premiership is, and has been since its inception, a semi-professional tier. Clubs, by and large, are not funded to anything remotely like a level whereby players can routinely earn a living as professional sportsmen, and those who make the decisions (not to mention those who criticise from afar when people are unable to get time off to play at an impossibly inconvenient time and location) need to be a tad more mindful of the financial restrictions and practicalities surrounding the vast majority of clubs competing at this level.

Rant over. Welcome, for the second time this month, Merthyr. Enjoy the game.

Merthyr 21 17 0 4 612 340 86
Cardiff 21 16 1 4 647 430 81
Pontypridd 20 16 0 4 714 357 78
Ebbw Vale 21 15 1 5 474 348 71
Llandovery 21 13 1 7 572 381 66
Aberavon 20 13 2 5 440 382 63
Newport 21 12 2 7 526 489 63
Rygbi Gogledd Cymru 1404 19 10 0 9 496 410 56
Carmarthen Quins 22 10 0 12 456 420 53
Swansea 20 10 0 10 467 416 51
Llanelli 21 6 1 14 411 546 34
Bridgend Ravens 19 6 0 13 362 472 33
Cross Keys 20 5 1 14 432 648 33
Bedwas 21 5 1 15 441 614 30
Bargoed 20 3 0 17 361 683 18
Neath 19 1 0 18 287 762 3