LLANDOVERY – TOWN AND GOWN BEST IN WALES


Llandovery’s win over Newport in the Premiership play off final gives further ballast to the town’s claim as the leading rugby town in Wales at the current time writes Huw S Thomas

The claim of the Carmarthenshire town, population 2,000 – is one made on firm foundations

Llandovery College had already been crowned U18 champions of Wales back in April but now the Drovers – the town’s semi professional side – has completed the remarkable treble of winning the Welsh National Cup, finishing top of the Premiership table and becoming the Premiership champions after  beating Newport 14-7 in the play off final.

This unprecedented town and gown success for the small market town on the banks of the Tywi is no fluke.

The College has been producing international after international ever since the game started to be played in Wales back in the age of Queen Victoria, honing the talents of the likes of Cliff Jones, Rees Stephens, George North and Alun Wyn-Jones.

It is likely that some form of rugby football was played in the College not long after its foundation in 1848 and it is recorded that the St David’s College Lampeter –  Llandovery College game was the first competitive game of rugby in Wales in 1866.

158 years later, no fewer than 49 former pupils have played for Wales, the latest prop Harri O’Connor in the 2024 Six Nations.

LLANDOVERY COLLEGE CELEBRATE THEIR 28-13 WIN OVER YSGOL GLANTAF IN THE FINAL OF THE WELSH SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES CUP

This year, the College became the first school – rather than sixth form college – to win the Schools and Colleges Cup when they beat Ysgol Glantaf 28-13 at the Principality Stadium

The Lilywhites overcame the Welsh language comprehensive four tries to two in a ding dong of a game between the top two U18 sides in the country.

But if that was a huge achievement, it is overshadowed by the feat of the town’s Drovers.

Only one team – Pontypridd – has won all three titles in the same season – WRU Cup, Premiership table topper and Premiership play off champions since the semi-pro Premiership started in 2003-2004

Pontypridd did their Triple Crown in both 2013 and 2014 and they are now joined on the roll of honour by Llandovery, a founder member of the WRU in 1881..

The Drovers had won the Cup in 2007 and 2016, won the Premiership play off in 2023 but it was beyond everyone’s dream that they might emulate Pontypridd..

In their annus mirabilis the Drovers won 27 games in 29 league and Cup outings, playing with an adventure and ambition that few could match

There was regret that their inspirational captain Jack Jones – an Old Llandoverian and grandson of former Wales lock Brian Thomas – was ruled out of the play off final against Newport after suffering a bad neck injury in the semi final against Cardiff but his team did him proud in a thunderous contest of the highest quality.

The two best sides in the Premiership, a clear first and second in the table, slugged it out, toe to toe, in a fine finale before next year’s revamped Elite Development Competition takes centre stage.

Tries from centres Adam Warren and Rhodri Jones against one from prop Josh Reynolds edged the Drovers home 14-7 in front of the biggest Church Bank crowd of the century.

DO NOT USE AGAIN - Huw Evans Agency pic
11.05.24 – Llandovery v Newport, Indigo Premiership Play Off Final – Llandovery Club Captain Jack Jones is presented with the Indigo Premiership Trophy by Nigel Walker, WRU Executive Director of Rugby

WRU Executive Director of Rugby, Nigel Walker, was a man delighted at what he had seen.

“The speed and intensity of the game must be the template for our new EDC league” said Walker.

“Skill levels, fitness and tempo were high and it was a great example of where the semi pro game will benefit the regions.”

“Hats off to both teams, there was little in it all the way with the Llandovery defence magnificent in restricting Newport to the one try.”

Coach Euros Evans, modest, unassuming and careful with his words took it all in his stride

“The success has been built on firm foundations” said Evans who is now in his ninth year at the helm of the ship.

“We have gradually improved year by year, built up a squad of talented and hard working individuals and moulded them into an attractive side.”

“ Virtually all the players are Carmarthenshire boys, educated in local schools and colleges  – Pantycelyn, Llandovery College, Tregib, Bro Dinefwr, Amman Valley, Maes Yr Yrfa, Gwendraeth, Coleg Sir Gar and so on.”

Evans was too modest to say that over half of the current Drovers squad were, at one time or another under his wing as Director of Rugby at Coleg Sir Gar and that many of his former pupils followed him up to Church Bank.

“Under the influence of coaches like Gareth Potter and Tom Hancock, we have brought an adventurous and ambitious approach to the game, creating a style that is particular, free flowing and pleasing to the eye.”

“Most of the players are Welsh speaking, more so than any other team in the Premiership and that too has created a great camaraderie in the squad.”

“We have also been very lucky in a back room staff second to none. Without the expertise of people like physiotherapist Dave Woollard, analyst Noah Potter and kitman/psychologist Joc Walters, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

“The players have stayed loyal to us despite offers from elsewhere. I believe that they are genuinely fond of the shirt and the club.”

“It was marvellous to see a player of the class of international centre Adam Warren returning home to the club after many successful years with the Dragons and his appointment to the staff at Llandovery College was a classic case of how town and gown benefit each other.”

Evans would not signal out any other current players but long serving props Berian Watkins, Llyr Green and Jamie Hughes, centre Rhodri Jones, wing Aaron Warren, scrum half Lee Rees, utility back Jack Maynard, lock Jack Jones, back rowers Joe Powell and Stuart Worrall have been great servants over the years.

All these have made well over 100 appearances for the club, in some cases over 200 and they have been key to the recent success.

They are all arguably at the peak of their careers, having honed their skills under coach Evans into producing a style of rugby that has thrilled and entertained home and away supporters alike.

Evans has also given youth its head with Scarlets teenagers centre Macs Page, hooker Harry Thomas and prop Josh Morse involved on a regular basis with Page’s brilliance in attack a talking point in Welsh rugby circles

Statistics from the Premiership confirm Llandovery’s excellence

In the regular season, the Drovers won 22 of their 24 games, scored 833 points, conceded just 389 and ran in a remarkable 117 tries

In the Cup they performed quits brilliantly in routing Aberavon and Ebbw Vale before beating Merthyr 20-18 in the Cup final at the Principality Stadium.

To show that the side were not all flash and dash, the pack under the abrasive Jack Jones, had a hard edge up front and hooker Taylor Davies – another who rejoined the club after a professional stint at Parc Y Scarlets – crossed for 18 tries in the 24 games to become the Premiership’s regular season top try scorer.

Euros Evans (pictured above left), a former hooker with first class Swansea must take huge credit for the way that the catch and drive line out has not only worked in Davies eighteen times but made scores for a number of other forwards.

Llandovery College coach Nathan Thomas who is one of the few Welshmen to win a European Cup Final when at Bath, has fond memories of turning out for the Drovers at the end of his career.

“I loved playing for them when I was at the Scarlets and we as a school are delighted to be a small part of their current success.

“Adam {Warren}has combined his work with the College backs by being the stand out centre in the Premiership and our fitness and conditioning coach Osian Edwards has also done a great job with the Drovers ”

 

“Adam has been a role model for players – both at the College and for the Drovers.”

Thomas – a pupil at the College in the 1990s – was a delighted man.

“To be the first school to win the competition crowns a great campaign for us” said ex Wales back row Thomas.

“And for the town to win the treble with Adam in its ranks rounds off a marvellous year for town and gown – the Lilywhites and Drovers have done all of us proud.”

What other town in Great Britain – let alone Wales – with a population 2,000, can get anywhere near its success as a rugby hotbed?