First and foremost, here’s hoping for some mild-ish weather this evening, rather than the icy blast that decimated the Principality Premiership programme last weekend; one’s ability to endure an hour and a half or so of Winter temperatures is far greater during the daylight hours of a Saturday afternoon than when sunset causes them to plummet on, say, a Friday evening. So here’s hoping, also for an early onset of Spring so that we can see out the season in relative comfort during the times we spend sitting in the stand or standing on the terraces.
Here’s hoping, too, for a match that will typify encounters between our two great clubs. We were treated to something special on a sunny afternoon early last October when a high-scoring display by both teams yielded a total of eleven tries and a final score of 35-38 in the Wizards’ favour. Aberavon supporters will remember two tries apiece from scrum-half Iwan Temblett and hooker Luke Davies, with the latter bagging one of his with a long touchline sprint that he finished with all the aplomb of a wing-threequarter. The Newport contingent, meanwhile, would have enjoyed watching Matt O’Brien directing play during a final quarter resurgence that almost turned a twenty-point deficit into a position agonisingly within touching distance of what would have truly been a victory snatched (yes, it’s spot-the-cliché time!) from the jaws of defeat. Such close encounters between the two clubs have been pretty regular occurrences during my half-century-plus of supporting Aberavon, and it’s one tradition that I would dearly love to see continue long into the future during these times of change where our sport’s history and impact on culture and community appear to count for little.
Recent weeks have seen Aberavon pick themselves up from a disappointing start to 2019 (hardly helped by a sequence of difficult fixtures), but the televised league victory over Merthyr certainly raised spirits here at the Talbot Athletic Ground. An encounter that was more attritional than spectacular, it nevertheless made for compulsive viewing, and it was appropriate that, while tempers occasionally flared, it was the team that showed the greater discipline who prevailed. Indeed, on watching the televised recording, in addition to an obvious liking for high tackles amongst the visiting players it became clear, as the game unfolded, that while the Aberavon players would respond instantly to a call from the referee to, say, release the ball when a ruck had formed, the man with the whistle often had to repeat himself more than once before their opponents would do likewise, leading to what Merthyr coach Dale McIntosh referred to as a “ridiculous penalty count” when expressing his frustration not with quality of the officiating but with the actions of his own players.
“Chief” McIntosh was, afterwards, typically magnanimous in defeat, congratulating the Aberavon players as they left the pitch following the debrief and warm-down. Sadly, not everyone reacted that way; the large group of Aberavon supporters who gathered outside the changing rooms to applaud off the field not only their own heroes but also their opponents were treated to a mercifully brief demonstration of petulance by a certain visiting player.
In contrast, and as mentioned by my good friend Howard Evans elsewhere in these pages, we had the pleasure of the company of Newport RFC legend Brian Jones and his wife in the stand for this fixture towards the tail-end of last season. He was every bit the gentleman off the field as he had been on it during his playing days, a fine example of another of our sport’s great traditions that hopefully will not completely disappear.
Enjoy the game.