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ANOTHER GREAT SEASON AT CHURCH BANK

By Gareth Salt | 14/06/2018

It has been another great season for the Drovers writes Huw S Thomas.

Playing open and adventurous rugby, the Tywi Valley club finished second in the Principality Premiership and reached the semi finals of the WRU National Cup.

Under the astute guidance of Head Coach Euros Evans and his lieutenants Simon Davies and Gareth Potter, they won 22 of their 29 Premiership games, 10 out of 14 in the pre-Xmas phase one and 12 out of 15 in phase two

They did this on a playing budget that was dwarfed by that of Premiership League and Cup winners Merthyr, with a small but ultra competitive squad of players in the image of their quality No 8 and skipper Richard Brooks.

The fitness of the squad was a key factor in the latter part of the season when they had to play 11 fixtures in just 49 days after the cancellation of games through bad weather in the post Christmas period.

A lot of credit must go the strength and conditioning coach Lloyd Phillips and his assistant Sam Collins, physiotherapist Dave Graham-Woollard and assistant Ian Robbins along with Ruth Morgan.

They kept the squad together and - if not always in one piece – miraculously strong enough to face the demands of so many games in April and May.

In their last six Premiership games, Llandovery racked up a total 29 points out of a possible 30 with five maximum points hauls against Neath, Carmarthen  Quins, Bargoed, Swansea and Llanelli and just one four point win against RGC.

The Drovers had every opportunity to get to the WRU Cup final after impressive victories over Llanelli and Cross Keys but with a continual supply of ball in the semi final of the WRU Cup they pounded away at the Newport defence only to be denied by heroic Black and Amber defence, losing 16-12.

The side had a good balance of adventurous enthusiasm behind the scrum, a well organised defence and some tough characters up front when the heat of exchanges was at its highest.

Skipper Richard Brooks was one of those rare leaders who forever had the glint of battle in his eye in inspiring those around him and his leadership was a vital part of the team’s success.

Lock Jack Jones had a season that would have even drawn admiration from his late grandfather and Wales lock Brian Thomas, forever in the thick of things, carrying hard and defending even harder.

On the opposite ends of their careers, locks Joe Powell and Bryn Griffiths never shirked a thing.

Powell has a big future through his mobility and speed whist the 36 year old Griffiths - now in the twilight of his career - can be considered one of the very best signings made by the club when he joined in 2012 from professional outfit Doncaster Knights

There was an embarrassment of riches in the back row and whoever played alongside Brooks – Stuart Worrall, Shaun Miles. Lewis Ellis-Jones, Duane Eager or Emyr Price - were great grafters, good tacklers and fine support players.

The front row lost Greg Cunniffe and Dean Howells to injury but a promising bunch of very young props in Berian Watkins, Llyr Green, Jamie Hughes, Scott Jenkins and Dexter Thomas stepped into the breach and held their own against many an experienced and wizened scrum operator.

With normal improvement under the guidance of former hooker Euros Evans and former Llandovery front row stalwart Andrew Jones – now Team Manager – they will be certain to make their mark next season.

When Dafydd Hughes was available from the Scarlets the all action hooker was immediately first choice but new signing Ricky Guest used his vast experience to play a huge part in helping his young props develop whilst Matthew Moore never let the side down when in the No 2 shirt.

Behind the scrum, there was skill, speed and invention from any number of players.

In Lee Rees and Jack Maynard, Llandovery had arguably the most dangerous half back combination in the league.

Rees was all dart, dash and devil at the base of the scrum with his quickly taken tap penalties often causing mayhem in opposition defences.

Maynard was confident and composed at fly half, controlling the game with an old head and blessed with the ability to sell a delicious dummy against unsuspecting defenders.

Needless to say his kicking out of hand and off the ground was invaluable and many a tight game would not have been won were it not for his ability to kick the goal or conversion under pressure.

He scored 253 points in the season – five tries, 60 conversions, 34 penalties and two drop goals in passing 200 points for the third consecutive season since joining in 2015.

Rhodri Jones again proved himself one of the best centre in the Premiership, sharp, decisive and  intelligent with a knack of picking the right angle against tight defences and was well supported by the improving Ryan Evans.

Aaron Warren thrilled the Church Bank crowd with his daring runs out of attack, having great balance and strength to resist many a tackler and was the leading try scorer with 10 tries.

Fellow wing Lee Williams who joined from Carmarthen Quins proved an excellent signing.

His reading of space and time was second to none, his positioning good enough to save many a try when coming off his wing to snuff out the final pass.

Rhodri Wall developed well at either wing or centre and ex-Trebanos fly half Kristian Jones was a tremendous asset, fitting in at full back or fly half on or off the bench.

Former Llandovery College pupils Corey Baldwin and Tomi Lewis proved themselves talented and dashing runners when available from U20 and World Sevens tournaments respectively.

Great credit must go to the coaching triumvirate of Evans, Davies and Potter who have taken the club to new heights in the last three years through intuitive assessment, pragmatic recruitment, astute tactics and selection allied to an insistence on playing an open style of game that is the envy of many clubs.

Next season is a huge test with the bottom four being relegated but with all the players bar two returning to Church Bank the squad will be up and ready for the challenge to secure their place in the Premiership.

 

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