Neath’s third Welsh Championship title win was their most comprehensive yet.
In 1928/29, former Army boxing champion Tom Evans and his men took Welsh rugby by storm and, so dominant were they, that they bore the hallmark of champions long before the end of a glorious campaign.
In fact, such was their superiority and the fact that the “Western Mail” championship operated on a percentage basis it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly when the championship was won other than by the beginning of April it was no longer possible for other clubs to fit in additional fixtures to overtake the All Blacks – and then only if they slipped up badly.
And Neath were not about to fall on any banana-skins as they embarked upon a 13- match victory charge which sealed the title for the Blacks in no uncertain terms.
An early Easter provided the launch-pad. After beating Cross Keys on Good Friday, poor Edgware felt the “blacklash” as Neath, switching forwrad George Barclay to emergency full back, thrashed the Londoners 35-3 scoring 9 tries through centre Emrys Jones (2), forward Hector Davies (2), schoolboy protege Arthur Hickman (2), wing Dan Jones, scrum-half Jimmy Owen and centre Glyn Daniels, Emrys Jones converting four.
Easter Monday visitors Glamorgan Wanderers were similarly treated in a 37-5 victory which this time featured 8 tries as wingers Dan Jones and Hickman bagged hat-tricks, others coming from Owen and Emrys Jones who converted five and kicked a penalty in a 16-point haul.
That most free-scoring of Easter-tides saw Neath’s tally rise to 109 points in three games as Abertillery were blasted 37-3 on the Tuesday. A further 9 tries were registered by Hickman (his second hat-trick in two days), Neath Rovers’ scrum-half Abraham Thomas (2), Hector Davies, Daniels, international Tom Arthur and Barclay with Emrys Jones converting five to become the first Neath player to reach 200 points in a season and the Monmouthshire side whose pursuit of Neath had petered out before Christmas were well beaten.
Maesteg made things much tougher the following Saturday as Neath won 15-8 with tries by Hickman (2) and forward Albert Davies, Emrys Jones kicking two penalties in a 15-8 success. Young Hickman was showing devastating finishing power and he made it 10 tries in four games as he crossed for a further brace, even eclipsing Dan Jones who scored the other in an 11-6 Wednesday win at Penarth. Emrys Jones kicked one conversion and was partnered at centre by Harold Hayes, borrowed from Aberavon.
Neath geared themselves for a big assault from Newport but the Usk-siders were dismissed 13-nil through tries by Dan Jones and forwards Dai Evans (later lost on HMS Hood) and Albert Davies with Emrys Jones converting two as the home forwards took control in the second-half.
An end of season Midlands tour awaited the champions. The Blacks beat Burton 23-9 at Peel Croft, scoring 7 tries and then journeyed on to the delights of Derby and an engagement with their former full back policeman Len Shipton and Chief Constable Rawlings. Two tries each for those prolific wings Dan Jones and Hickman, another by Arthur Lemon and two conversions by Emrys Jones gave Neath a 19-6 win but full back Phil Lloyd dislocated his shoulder.
Tom Arthur was provisionally sounded out as to his availability for the 1930 British Isles tour to New Zealand but had to decline as the Glamorgan force would not allow him leave of absence and his wife’s earnings from her sewing business in Russell Street would not alone have been sufficient.
Still, the burly Neath policeman was to the fore as Neath won 25-6 at Pontypool where a tough young forward Glyn Prosser of Glynneath came into the team. Dan Jones stole the show with a 4-try burst and Glyn Daniels also crossed, Emrys Jones converting three and centre Harry Rees dropped a goal.
Neath had a heavy police presence in their ranks at the time and their next game was played in aid of the Police Fund for Poor Children. There were two distinct forces operating in the area at the time, the Neath Borough Police which catered for the town and the Glamorgan County Police which served the largely outlying rural areas.
The Neath Police provided the opposition in midweek but “neither side took it too seriously” as Neath ran out 31-17 victors skipper Tom Evans and Glyn Daniels converting two of the 9 tries by Dan Jones (3) and forwards Dai Evans (2), Harold Jones, T.H. (Tonna) Morgan, Arthur Lemon and Albert Davies.
A 21-3 win at Pontypridd followed, tries being scored by Glyn Daniels (2), Hickman, Ivor Thomas and Harold Jones with Emrys Jones converting three. Then tries by Dan Jones (2), Hector Davies and Emrys Jones who converted two ensured a 16-3 win over Abertillery whose try was scored by Albert Fear.
Neath were far from full strength as they ended the season with a 17-10 win over Cwmavon. And they went down 8-9 for a second time at Cardiff where Dan Jones scored his amazing 59th Neath try of the season – a world record which has stood the test of time. In all games, Dan advanced his tally to a memorable 73. Hector Davies got another and Emrys Jones converted but Cardiff stole it late on when Welsh international wing Gwyn Davies got their third try.
Neath’s magnificent season ended when they journeyed to nearby Briton Ferry whose new dressing rooms at the Grandison Hotel were opened by Alderman J.B. Williams. Home celebrations may have been muted as Neath cantered to a 34-nil victory, Hickman again showing his potential in crossing for four tries and Hector Davies getting three. Ivor Thomas touched down too with Emrys Jones converting three and dropping a goal.
That brought to an end an amazing season. Of the 49 games played, 42 were won, 3 drawn and only 4 lost. Records tumbled : the 930 points scored was a world record which would stand the test of time; Emrys Jones’ 261 points was a Neath record which would survive longer than most; Dan Jones’ 59 tries will in all probability never be beaten while Howie Jones’ feat of scoring 6 tries in a game against Western Counties would not be broken for over 80 years.
With 21 tries in all, Howie Jones finished second to Dan Jones in the try-charts but really the team could attack from anywhere and had other prominent scorers too in Glyn Daniels (20), Hector Davies (20), Arthur Hickman (19) and Jimmy Owen (14).
The “Western Mail” table had its critics but Welsh talent was concentrated in its top clubs (an ideal circumstance for the regional age ?) who nearly all beat opponents from across the border and thus ended in credit and the final table made especially good reading for Neath men – over 17 perentage points ahead of their nearest challengers.
Tom Evans and his men could be proud of a job well done ! :-