It is now mid-May and the rugby season for Old Penarthians in Specsavers WRU National League Division 3 Central (B) would have been complete.
The club have reviewed, what they call the strangest season on record:
There would have been the usual discussions about games won, games lost, opportunities missed or perhaps taken and the possible elation of a promotion or the disappointment of a promotion not achieved.
But this is not a ‘usual’ season and we all know that all our expectations have been cruelly altered by the pandemic we now face. In some way rugby is an incidental, it is a leisure activity that is enjoyed by mates and a vehicle to enjoy time away from work. But rugby is also an important part of the fabric of a community that gives players and supporters, club members and families an identity which they rely on.
Life is definitely different without a regular ‘rugby fix’ and the camaraderie of friends enjoying a pint but it is still relevant that the statistics of the season are shared and discussed for what ‘might have been’.
The bare facts are that the 1st XV played thirteen league fixtures, winning six, drawing one and losing six. The team also played and lost in the first round of the WRU Plate competition. Overall, the side scored 187 points, conceding 218.
Under the captaincy of Rhys Lakin, serving his third term in office, the Old Pens were placed seventh in the twelve-team league with 31 points. Runaway leaders when the season was curtailed on 7th March were Llantwit Major with 66 points. Tonyrefail were second with 44 points at that time but Caerau Ely with games in hand may have chased them down to gain the second promotion place.
Old Penarthians also had games in hand and only seven points separated the team in third position (37 points) and the team in ninth (30 points) but it would have taken a series of results to have gone the way of the Old Pens and a lot of wishful thinking to have seriously challenged for second spot.
That said the firmer grounds of spring would have favoured an attacking threequarter line which had already seen Chris Poole score 9 tries from his 13 appearances. It would also have allowed more freedom for Lakin, Liam Bevan, Jon Crimp, Nathan Smith and Nathan Facey to have freed their feet from the mud that had followed the team throughout their journeys to the Rhondda Valleys.
And it was the heavy ground and dreadful weather conditions, that had already disrupted the season, that met the team in their last match at Gwernyfed, north of Brecon, in a 10-5 defeat on a freezing afternoon of wind, rain and snow. Not a game that many of the players will want to remember as their last experience of rugby.
The season had started in September in much better weather on a festival afternoon of rugby at Llantwit Major where the U9s and U10s of both clubs played some warm-up matches. The involvement of the younger players in the club was to be a feature of the season as they regularly supported the seniors at home matches.
The Llantwit match was a benchmark of the performances that would be required and although the game was lost by 30 points to 7 there were signs of adventure which were mixed with some inconsistency.
It meant that coaches Simon Hurley and Anthony Davies had to work hard with the players to grow their confidence particularly after a second defeat away to Ynysowen a week later in the WRU Plate. However, the first win of the season came the following week against the same opposition with a resounding 27-0 victory. This was followed by an equally impressive win away to Cefn Coed the following week. A ground at which Old Pens have had little success in recent years.
Both matches featured tries by Louis Chandler who throughout the campaign showed grit and determination and was never known to take a backward step. He was ably supported in the back row during the season by Joel deClaire, Josh Allcock, Stuart Clarke and Matt Sutton (who also doubled up as a winger when required).
Due to the Wales internationals played in November and the appalling weather it meant that the 1st XV played only four more games before Christmas with wins against Llandaff and Treherbert, a draw against Tonyrefail and a loss to Caerau Ely.
The 22-22 draw at home against Tonyrefail was somewhat damaging to any aspirations the team had for success in the league but there was genuine spirit, that was apparent throughout the year, that saw the side come back from a 12-point deficit. Facey kicking the conversion to earn the draw as part of his 72 points for the season as top point scorer.
A week later at Treherbert the forwards were the ones to dig in deep to earn the victory with Tom Sidford, Sam Hall, Peter Bennett, James Roach and James Beaton all playing their part.
The matches immediately after Christmas saw a narrow defeat to Llantwit Major by 16-13 in match that could have gone either way up until the final whistle. Two wins against Ynysowen and Cefn Coed even put a smile on the face of 1st XV manager Chris Thorne as the team were well placed in the division with games in hand on their rivals.
That smile was however swept away in the three matches that concluded the season with defeats against Llandaff North, Tonyrefail and finally Gwernyfed. There were opportunities in two of theses matches to change the results but it was not to be and so season 2019-20 was fading away before the competition was finally cancelled.
The WRU made the decision at an early stage and were decisive to say that all Community Rugby would be halted and there would be no promotion or relegation. That may seem unfair on some clubs, like Llantwit but overall rugby at this level should be about the challenge and playing for enjoyment and not necessarily about promotion. The Old Pens will certainly enjoy the resumption of the rivalry against Llantwit again next season.
Overall, the season could be considered ‘promising’ but the team lacked consistency and experience in key positions that will be required to meet promotion aspirations next year. That said there was a nucleus of players and 10 of the players played in 10 or more matches. Jon Crimp and Nathan Facey played in all 14 matches and the forwards with most appearances (12) were Josh Allcock, Louis Chandler and Luke Crockett.
The second XV were led again this season by Alex Lewis and the team featured a mix of the experienced and the not-so-experienced. The experience being offered by Lee Brennan, Neil Margetson, Peter Harry, Gareth Boulton, Dan Godfrey and Scott McCarthy. The youthful exuberance provided by amongst others Jack Margetson, Rhys Thomas, Michael Rogers, Rob Adams, Matt Stingl and Scott Phillips.
Not forgetting James ‘Nuggets’ Williams (who sits somewhere in the middle of these categories) and Richie Moir, a former Old Pens 1st XV player, now registered with Rumney RFC who is always ready and willing to play when not participating for his parent club.
Their playing record is currently not available but the team will still be in CADRU league 1 again next season
So, a disrupted season is concluded and no one is quite sure when the next season will start. The WRU are being proactive and providing weekly updates on the progress towards a resumption in play but are governed by political decisions as well as practicalities of safely reintroducing a contact sport like rugby.
In the meantime, the Club has participated in a Virtual Welsh Cup organised by Welsh Premiership Rugby and All Wales Sport. 128 teams took part and thanks to the voting support from members, supporters and friends the Club reached the last 16 of the competition, eventually losing to Abercwmboi, who themselves lost in the final to Morriston.
Along the way the Club promised to make a donation to charity based on the number of votes cast and over £400 has now been passed to the Cystic Fibrosis Better Life Appeal
During the competition Old Pens beat Cardiff RFC which was a small compensation for a defeat to Cardiff RFC in the Welsh Cup ‘proper’ in March 1995. It does not seem 25 years ago that the Club entertained a Cardiff team at Cwrt-y-vil that contained fourteen international players in their starting line-up.
It is also very poignant that the captain of the Old Penarthians that day was Peter Goodfellow and it was with extreme sadness that Peter passed away recently after a battle with illness. He will be much missed by all the clubs he played for, but particularly Old Penarthians and Penarth RFC and there was a fitting tribute along the route of the funeral procession by members from both clubs, young and old, who paid their respects to a fine sportsman.
And so to next season. Old Penarthians obviously want to get back to playing rugby and to opening the club premises but as noted in recent messages from the chairmen to all members, the Club will only operate when all safety procedures are in place that meet government and WRU guidelines. The Club wants to build on the success of their Mini & Junior programmes and the newly formed Women’s rugby Section and are looking forward to the rebirth of a Youth XV but this will only happen when it is safe to do so.
In the meantime, Old Penarthians asks everyone to take care, stay safe and they look forward to welcoming you back soon.
Nathan is the Operations Director and one half of Vale Breakfast on Bro Radio. You'll hear him reading local news, hosting at local events and presenting our facebook live videos.