By Huw S Thomas, with thanks to Brecon and Radnor Express
May 21, 2023, will go down as the greatest day in the 145 year history of Llandovery RFC – the Drovers.
At Cardiff Arms Park they won the Indigo Welsh Premiership title with a convincing 24-8 win over high flying Cardiff.
The capital club had finished top of the regular season league but – in the final play off – second placed Llandovery upset the odds with a famous victory of heart, style and skill.
Up to that day, there had been three great days in Llandovery’s history.
On Saturday December 8, 1984 at the Castle Sports Ground, the club operating in Section A of the West Wales League got through to the last 16 of the WRU cup for the first time with a 21-6 win over first class side Pontypridd.
Captained by centre Geraint Williams, the side, urged on by a record crowd, never let Pontypridd settle and a try by flanker Elfyn Jenkins plus 17 points from the boot of fly half Carwyn Williams carried the day.
17 of the 22 man squad were products of the Llandovery Youth team , proof indeed of the important role of the youth section in any club.
Two momentous WRU Cup wins followed in 2007 and 2016 with both finals played at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff.
On Saturday April 28, the club – under captain and lock Arwel Davies – won its first ever WRU Cup, then called the Konica Minolta Cup, with a last gasp win over hot favourites Cardiff.
The Blue and Blacks, with one Jamie Roberts at full back, led 18-13 before the dramatic conclusion
The Western Mail reported
In a rousing Konica Minolta Cup Final, the Drovers trailed 18-13 but a try in the eighth and final minute of injury time by replacement prop Endaf Howells – at the end of the very last movement of the game – sent the magnificently vocal band of some 1500 Llandovery supporters into raptures of unbridled delight.
In their first-ever appearance in the WRU Cup final, Llandovery had played with bravery and bravado to shrug off the disappointment of going behind for the first time as late as the 79th minute to squeeze past Cardiff in an extraordinary finale.
The Drovers became the first side outside the old elite merit tables club to win the WRU Cup – to the list of Neath, Llanelli, Newport, Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff, Pontypool, Pontypridd now add Llandovery.
Then, on Sunday May 1, 2016 hooker Luke Lewis led the Drovers to a 25-18 victory in an all Carmarthenshire Swalec Cup final beating their old rivals, Carmarthen Quins in a tumultuous, nerve- tingler of a game.
Tries from future British Lion Wyn Jones, scrum half Rhodri Davies and replacement centre Craig Woodall plus 10 points from the boot of fly half Jack Maynard brought home the bacon.
The Carmarthen Journal reported
Coach Euros Evans had accurately predicted a tight and tense match between two clubs who knew so much about each other. “We lifted our game after being under a lot of pressure from an ultra competitive side who got in our faces and stopped us going forward,” said coach Euros Evans. “We were never at our best but the vital try by scrum half Rhodri Davies just after half time was a huge boost.”
Of that winning squad in 2016 centre Rhodri Jones, wing Aaron Warren, fly half Jack Maynard, scrum half Lee Rees, prop Berian Watkins, flanker Stuart Worrall and hooker Dafydd Hughes gained further fame on May 21.
In what must be the most memorable day in Llandovery history, they were all in the starting line up against Cardiff with Warren making two tries for Rees to send his side on to the 24-8 win.
Whereas the wins over Pontypridd (1984), Cardiff (2007) and the Quins (2016) were great achievements, they were knockout Cup games whilst the 2023 triumph was the culmination of a long hard season of 22 competitive games.
The Drovers won 18 and lost just four games all season in wind, sun and rain, doing the double over some of the world’s most famous clubs, including the likes of Llanelli, Swansea, Pontypridd, Bridgend and Ebbw Vale.
They also had the distinction – under the inspired leadership of lock Jack Jones – of beating Cardiff on three occasions, 19-16 in the Cup pool stage, 37-20 in the league and 24-8 in the Premiership play off final.
The only defeat against the Blue and Blacks was in the league 29-26 at the Arms Park after a series of close range attacks in the dying minutes had failed.
Coach Euros Evans, a man of few words and rare smiles, broke character in rating the achievement, the greatest in the club’s history.
“Any one can lift their game for one match and create a shock but to be consistent throughout the season, whilst staying true to our philosophy of open, entertaining rugby takes the achievement to a new level.” enthused Evans.
“We were delighted for some of our long serving players who have been so loyal to us over a decade or so and the title will be testimony to their commitment and love of the club.”
“Our greatest satisfaction as coaches was to see the team perform so well in a showpiece game in front of cameras and show the country that the Drovers style of play marks them out as something special in the game.”