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Neath RFC

Cross-border exchanges between Welsh and English clubs used to proliferate until the advent of leagues and, before their coming, Neath regularly used to play ten or more such games per season.

Sadly such clashes are all too rare these days but on Saturday evening (kick off 7.00pm), supporters will be afforded the opportunity to glimpse out-of-the-ordinary visitors when Neath entertain leading London club Richmond at The Gnoll.

It has been over 30 years since Richmond last visited Neath and their welcome is all the fonder for the long absence.

The fixture brings together two of the oldest rugby clubs in the world as Richmond are the second oldest club in England while Neath is, of course, the oldest club in Wales.

Formed in 1861, Richmond are the senior of the two clubs and played Blackheath in 1864 whereas the first recorded game in Wales saw Neath host Swansea in 1872 – although there is hard evidence that rugby football was played in Neath as early as 1864.

Neatly, the fixture comes some 75 years since our clubs first met and it will be good to see the famous red, gold and black back at The Gnoll.

As long ago as 1948, Richmond won the first encounter 9-6 in London before that defeat was handsomely avenged 22-6 at The Gnoll the following season.

The clubs continued to meet annually thereafter until the arrival of leagues in 1990, Neath winning the last game in the series.

Longer-serving supporters will remember names like Jeremy Janion, Chris Ralston and Tony Bucknall – England internationals all.

And Richmond always seemed to have a high concentration of Oxbridge players in their ranks too including the admirable Brian Stoneman, perfector of the line-out peel.

During their professional days, Richmond “attracted” Neath stars in Alan Bateman, Adrian Davies, John Davies and Barry Williams who joined after the 1995 Lions tour.

That all ended with the loss of their “benefactor” which spelled disaster for Richmond who were banished to the bottom of England’s “pyramid” but they re-bounded quickly and settled into the RFU Championship for many years before their relegation at the end of last season.

During the summer they have signed a dozen or so new players including a couple of overseas stars as well as Neath’s Luc Jones who has returned to the capital.

Saturday’s evening kick off is later due to cricket being played “next door” but it has the double advantage of allowing supporters to watch Wales-South Africa international beforehand or perhaps even to take in a local fixture first.

After beating brave Builth Wells 52-14 last weekend, Neath expect a tough challenge on Friday and Neath supporters can look forward to the probability that a couple more new faces will be unveiled. MP