reports rugby writer Huw S Thomas

Llandovery RFC’s ambitious plans to celebrate the 30thanniversary of the opening of their Church Bank ground and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the new stand have had to be put on hold because of the pandemic writes Huw S Thomas.

Plans to play a top Invitation XV in the autumn have been ripped to shreds by the virus but it takes nothing away from the club’s achievements, past and present.

A fourth place finish in this year’s Indigo Premiership  – above the likes of Pontypridd, Swansea and Llanelli – testifies to the current rude health of the club, one of 11 founder members of the Welsh Rugby Union on March 12 1881.

The purchase of land alongside the Tywi in the 1980s – when the club was then playing its home games on the Castle Fields and had its clubhouse at the old Great North Western Hotel –  was a momentous decision, a watershed in its history.

This decision eventually resulted in the construction of modern facilities and a new clubhouse was formally opened by Hermas Evans of the WRUs September in 1990.

In front of a large Church bank crowd, Llandovery played out an exciting 28-28 draw against the Golden Oldies who included Phil Bennett, JPR Williams and Dai Morris.(see report below).

The clubhouse and four pitches were a testament to the wisdom and industry of the committee who made the decision to move from their headquarters at The North Western Hotel to the 18 acre fields at Church Bank.

30 years later, it begs the question of how many clubs in Wales can boast  a clubhouse, 500 seater grandstand, quality floodlights and four pitches?

As the only committee member  who also happened to be employed as the local authority Building Surveyor , current President Handel Davies  was tasked with drafting the design proposals and preparation and submission of both the Planning and Building Regulations applications to the Dinefwr council.

Once the consents were duly obtained Davies met with all local builders in turn and along with others they were cajoled and persuaded to ‘do their bit for the club, the town and the community’.

Ieuan Ingram prepared the substructure, floor slab and drainage, Evans Bros built the walls of the superstructure, the players lifted the roof trusses and roof tiles into position during training nights. John Morgan installed the windows, Roy and Vince Scott Jones completed the interior plastering, Rusty Jones took charge of the external rendering.

There were, too, many examples of largesse from local businessmen and tradesmen which meant that the material costs were in the region of just £40,000 whilst virtually all labour costs were gratis, many an unheralded DIY clubman picking up a paint brush, electric drill or scrubbing brush.

And in August 1995, a brand new grandstand was erected, much of the vision, inspiration, spadework and construction the work of Phil Davies, a surveyor, former prop and future club President.

The club owes more to him than is imaginable.

It was he that secured a six figure grant from the Sports Council and through his close contacts with the construction industry got sponsorship and grants from a myriad of firms and companies.

It is not unfair to say that without his efforts and good office, the stand project would have been unlikely to have come to fruition.

The roofing for the stand and covered enclosures along with the erection of safety barriers around the ground weregenerously provided by Llanwrda based firm Adclad , under owner Eirian Davies.

The 500 seater stand was opened with a game against professional side Llanelli who in front of a 2,000 crowd fielded seven Welsh internationals.

Llandovery rose to the occasion the occasion by winning 12-5 with tries from No 8 Dai Wigley and fly half Dai Lloyd-Jones.

Celebrations were completed on September 12 1995 when the new stand was officially named “The Dr Tyssul Williams Stand” by Ann Williams, wife of the late GP and club President

There followed a game against a strong Swansea side that included Aled Williams – youngest son of Dr Williams – and other internationals in Mark Taylor, Chris Anthony, Steve Moore, Richard Moriarty and Colin Charvis.

Hooker in the All Whites side which won 40-12 was one Euros Evans, the current Drovers coach

The club can safely say that its qualification for the new 1990-1991 Heineken Leagues was the great watershed in playing terms, the start of a steady and exciting climb up the leagues, eventually leading to entry into the Premier League for season 2003-2004.

That the Drovers have stayed in the top flight of semi pro rugby for 17 years and twice won the Welsh Cup barestestament to the rise of the club as a force in Welsh rugby below the fully professional level.

“We thought it time to jog our memories on how far we have come by celebrating the 30th anniversary of the opening of our new clubhouse in September 1990.” said club President Handel Davies.

“Alas the virus has stopped any hopes of celebration but it does not stop us from acknowledging the efforts of so many hard working people of those years under the Chairmanship of Eifion Morgan – with  brother Towyn as Secretary –  that made our future so exciting.”

“I have a family connection in what went on, as my late father in law Dr Tyssul Williams was Club President at the time and after his untimely death, the Church Bank stand was named after him in 1995.”

In his notes from the Llandovery v Golden Oldies match programme of 1990, Dr Williams praised the then current players who had been instrumental in the club gaining access to the new National Heineken Leagues following a top six finish in the previous year’s WWRU Section A table.

The clinching game was a 16-7 home win over Felinfoel, a try for hooker Wyn “Chippo” Morgan and four penalties from full back Hywel Jones bringing home the bacon.

Llandovery so joined Division 3 of the Heineken Welsh National Leagues in the nation’s new playing restructure, that historic first game of 1990 being away to Cilfynydd.

The team on September 22 1990, was Hywel Jones; Richard Morgan, Alun Thomas, Huw Thomas,  Arwel Rowlands; Carwyn Williams, Adrian Davies; Dai Thomas. Wyn Morgan, Arwel Evans, Wyn Williams (c) , Ian Jones, Elfyn Jenkins, Nigel Clarke, Gerald Lewis

Replacements Huw Morgans, Chris Davies, Emyr James.

Llandovery lost 13-6 but, coached by Stan Liptrot and Geri Davies, they went on to gain promotion that first season including a double over mighty Tumble and in the ensuing years success followed success with promotion secured  to the First Division for season 2003-2004

That the Drovers  are still there  after  17 years in the face of competition from Wales’s greatest old clubs – Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Llanelli and Pontypridd to name but a few – is testament to the wise counsel  and decisions of its  officials, the excellence of  a succession of coaching teams and the skill, fortitude and loyalty of many talented players .

Llandovery won the WRU cup in both 2007 and 2016 as well as posting a remarkable record at seven a side , winning the WRU National 7s in 2014-2015-2016-2017, four successive years in which they beat all comers with some brilliant displays.

Given the current pressures and demands of keeping the side in a strong position in the Premiership, the days when the side was made up of all local boys may have gone.

Indeed what club in the Premiership and the Championship and even lower down the leagues can boast an all local boys XV?

But Llandovery RFC has kept its identity as a small, ruralcommunity, close knit, West Walian, Welsh speaking club of honest traditional values with a thriving Junior Drover sectionthat continues to nurture the likes of current Wales prop WynJones

The club has attracted and continues to attract many of its players from the Tywi, Amman, and Gwendraeth Valleys.

Schools such as Bro Dinefwr (the amalgamation of Pantycelyn HS, Llandovery  and Tregib CS, Llandeilo), Llandovery College, Ysgol Dyffryn Aman and Ysgol Maes Y Gwendraeth have provided many a key player to the ongoing success  of the club.

Players from Welsh speaking enclaves such as Lampeter, Aberaeron and Crymych are also willing to travel to be part of the family atmosphere, enjoy the camaraderie  and improve through the ever astute coaching of Euros Evans and Gareth Potter.

Long may it continue.

Ymlaen Y Porthmyn