The famous Llandovery College v Christ College game is back for the first time since 2012 writes Huw S Thomas.
The two famous rugby playing schools resume battle at Llandovery today (Saturday 11 February) (KO 11 30 am) after a hiatus of 11 years.
It will be the 125th match between the two Welsh independent schools.
The fixture that started as far back as 1879, two years before the formation of the Welsh Rugby Union, was last played in 2012 but was stopped at the request of Christ College, Brecon who had begun to suffer regular defeat at the hands of their old public school rivals.
But now, talks have been going on between the headmasters Gareth Pearson (Christ College) and Dominic Findlay (Llandovery) as well as the Head of Sport at Brecon John Patterson and Master in charge of rugby at Llandovery Nathan Thomas – in an effort to restore the famous fixture.
Llandovery College Warden, Dominic Findlay, reflected the view of many of the current players and old boys of both schools.
“We are delighted to renew rugby links” said Finlay.
“All being well will hope to move towards a full Brecon Day experience with younger age groups playing as well as girls hockey “
“Overall, we are attempting to start the process – with the game on the 11th- – of adding to the traditions that so many have benefitted from in years gone by.”
“We look forward to welcoming players, staff, parents and Old Boys and Girls from both Colleges to Tredegar Close which has seen so many great games between the two schools.””
The first putative steps towards “rapprochement” came in 2021 when five experimental matches were played between the two schools at neutral Cardiff Arms Park.
This was followed by an “A” XV fixture at Brecon which saw the home school win 19-15 and there was sufficient optimism in the Christ College ranks that they would once again be competitive.
The inter school clash that former Western Mail Sports Editor, the famous JBG Thomas came to call “Wales’s Own Varsity Match” has been played over three centuries and JBG considered it to be the annual highlight of the schoolboy game across the length and breadth of Great Britain.
“Fierce, frantic and wonderful” were the words that the great Times journalist Vivian Jenkins used to describe the annual encounter, himself playing for Llandovery in their 11-6 win over the Brecon school in 1928.
Writing in the Brecon-Llandovery Centenary match programme in 1979, Jenkins explained the mystique of the game and its everlasting legacy.
He insisted that the tension and pressure that he experienced before the game was greater than that he had known either as a Welsh international or British Lion.
“This time honoured match between our two schools has forged a bond between the Old Boys of both that lives on remarkably in after years. Mutual respect, I dare say – ‘To honour, as you strike him down, the foe who comes with fearless eye’
It was that missing bond that has anguished the former pupils of both schools but back room efforts have now resulted in renewal of fixtures after a 11 years absence.
In 2013 Christ College Head Emma Taylor put out a statement explaining that the intense approach of Llandovery to the game had created a mismatch and it would be better to suspend fixtures.
One of the main reasons for the increasing gap between rugby at the two schools had been Llandovery’s decision to give sixth form rugby scholarships to promising players, often U16 internationals.
That started in the mid eighties with the foundation of the Carwyn James Rugby Scholarships, in honour of the former British Lions coach who had been a master at Llandovery 1956-1968.
The first recipients were Luc Evans and Matthew Lewis who were in the Llandovery side that beat Christ College 19-0 in the 100th game in 1988 in front of TV cameras and an estimated crowd of 5,000 spectators.
Both went on to have distinguished rugby careers, full back Evans getting a Welsh cap in 1991 and fly half Lewis narrowly missing out when at Bridgend.
It was the heavy defeats of 2010 (48-8), 2011 (38-0) and 2012 (43-10) that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and stressed the ever increasing difference in preparation, physique and class.
But now, in latter years, Christ College has begun to develop close bonds with the Cardiff Blues, aimed at developing rugby talent
Christ College’s relationship with Cardiff Blues provides a direct link to coaching expertise, strength and conditioning programmes, performance analysis and player welfare support for the school’s first XV.
John Patterson, Christ College Brecon’s Director of Sport, said: “We were delighted to be working in partnership with Cardiff Blues to enhance and expand our existing rugby provision to benefit current and future students. This is hugely exciting for the school and adds a first-class rugby programme to the outstanding educational opportunities that we offer.”
The probability is that the gap in standards has narrowed considerably so that both parties now acknowledge that the famous old fixture should return.
That is confirmed by the fact that Christ College have beaten Millfield 29-12 this season whereas Llandovery lost to the Somerset school 33-19.
“The fixture has been part and parcel of the Welsh rugby scene for nearly 150 years” said Llandovery coach Nathan Thomas who played in the back row for Llandovery against Brecon in 1992 and 1993
There has always been a Breconian or Llandoverian in one of the only three ever sides to beat New Zealand.
There were four Old Breconians in the Welsh team that beat New Zealand 3-0 in 1905 – Willie Llewellyn, Arthur Harding, John F Williams and Teddy Morgan who scored the only try of the famous game.
And three Llandoverians – Viv Jenkins, Arthur Rees and the brilliant Cliff Jones – were in the next Welsh side to beat the All Blacks 13-12 in 1935.
And in 1953, Llandoverian Rees Stephens of Neath was outstanding in the 13-8 win – the last time, 70 years ago, for Wales to beat the mighty Blacks
Many a Lion had his first taste of competitive rugby at one of the two schools.
Nine Breconians and nine Llandoverians have played for the Lions with Alun-Wyn Jones becoming the first Llandoverian to be elected captain for the 2021 tour of South Africa.,
Christ College’s Arthur Harding, Willie Llewellyn, John F Williams, Teddy Morgan, Jack Jones, John Dyke, James Tuan Jones, Wille Morgan played pre war as did Llandoverians WH Thomas and VGJ Jenkins.
In the post war era, Llandovery has provided in Stephens, Kingsley Jones, Geoff Evans, Alun-Wyn Jones, Andy Powell and George North whist OB Rob Ackerman gained a Welsh cap in 1980 the same year as he left school and was a British Lion within three years.
And Christ College can also boast of Jim Roberts who represented the Great Britain Paralympic Rugby team at the Rio Paralympics.
Together, the schools have produced no fewer than 18 British Lions and 65 Welsh internationals with no doubt more to come, so it is now time again to rekindle old relationships, make new friends and put the Llandovery College – Christ College into its great place in the Welsh sporting calendar!