Neath secretary Mike Price can’t wait to watch the Welsh All Blacks in action as they return to the field for the first time in 513 days to kick-off their milestone 150th anniversary season.
Grassroots rugby is back in Wales this weekend as Covid-19 regulations continue to ease with Championship Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield action taking place for the senior men’s game.
In women’s rugby, there is the North Wales Cup, South Wales Cup and South Wales Plate with all those involved itching for the rugby to start.
Neath – who were founded in 1871 and whose last game was more than 16 months ago – travel to Tata Steel on Saturday in Pool C of the Championship Cup (kick-off 2.30pm).
The match will be the first of Neath’s 150th season as a club.
Price said: “It’s been difficult really because with this being our 150th anniversary we would have liked to have already confirmed some special fixtures for this season.
“We haven’t been able to do that because the league games haven’t been confirmed yet, but we are still very excited to get a special season kicked off.
“The supporters have already got a special range of 150th anniversary items on sale to mark the occasion and hopefully it will all go well.
“Neath last played a match on March 12, 2020 so it has been a very long time since then. All the players and supporters are excited and rating to go.
“We are looking forward to going to Tata Steel on Saturday which is not going to be an easy start for us. I was always confident we would get here. Neath has always been a rugby-mad town and will continue to be into the future. Regimes come and go, but the club will always be there.
“Moving forward I am very excited about the club’s future. The area could do with its fair share of quality rugby players and it’s our responsibility at Neath to bring them through.”
The return of grassroots rugby in Wales this weekend will see the first 15-a-side competitive matches take place since the first suspension of community rugby in March 2020.
The competitions will be played under modified laws to reduce contact around the scrum and maul in particular and there is a focus on staying local during the pool phases.
“It’s not been easy to prepare for the return of rugby, but all the teams are in the same boat,” Price added.
“Simple things like not having dressing rooms available and going straight home from training have been problematic. We’ve been very lucky to have had good weather this summer, but when it did rain the players had to go home dripping wet!
“It’s been a difficult build-up and we had a long period of doing no contact in training, but our head coach Pat Hogan has been putting the boys through it.
“We’re a bit behind where we’d like to be in terms of contact, but all the teams will be the same.
“There is not much doubt Pat is one of the best coaches there is at Premiership or Championship level. He is vastly experienced.
“We will have to play it by ear with the modified rules and see how it goes. It will be the same for everyone and it will take a little bit of getting used to for players and supporters.”