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Neath RFC

Having won the title in 1909/10, the challenge for Frank Rees’ men at Neath was to do it all over again in 1910/11.

However, four pre-Christmas defeats by Leicester, Pontypool, Newport and Cardiff put the Welsh All Blacks on the back-foot and, even after winning their first overseas game at Stade Francais, Neath were second in the table to Cardiff at the end of March.

As April broke, neighbouring Aberavon were determined to make it tough for Neath – especially after a clairvoyant at Port Talbot’s Grand Theatre predicted that the home side would win 11-3 !

The soothsayer got it hopelessly wrong though. Although Bill Perry and Will Hopkins (both local constables !) had to “leave the field” with Perry being struck on the head by an irate Aberavon supporter, a Shon Evans try edged Neath home 3-nil – a verdict they deserved according to the “Druid” who wrote, “There could be no mistaking the superiority of the All Blacks.”

“Lucifer” complained in the “Gazette” of the lengths Neath went to in order to get out their best available side with Idris Jones arriving by motor-car and just making kick off while Jim Birch caught a train from policing the riots at Tonypandy !

Scrum-half Shon Evans was ranked one of the best in Wales. He had seen off the brief challenge of W.L. Morgan who instead went to Cardiff and was subsequently capped for Wales.

The Neath scrum-worker crossed for a hat-trick when Neath avenged the previous year’s defeat in a 9-nil win over London Welsh and Neath’s title hopes were boosted by Cardiff’s defeat at Gloucester.

The charge for the championship was now well and truly on and, for the second successive season, Bridgend were beaten for the fourth time (19-3) in a season through Good Friday tries by forwards D.H. Davies, Tim Jenkins, Fred David, centre and captain Frank Rees and winger Hopkin Harris with full back Fred Rees dropping a goal for good measure.

Neath were very much Bridgend’s nemesis but the following week the Mid Glamorgan side did the Blacks a huge favour when they killed off the title challenge of Swansea.

The “exceedingly tough morsels” of Headingley fought hard but capitulated 18-nil at The Gnoll on Easter Saturday as skipper Frank Rees, wing Trevor John, D.H. Davies and outside-half Jack Brennan ran in tries, three converted by Fred Rees.

The stylish full back converted two of the five tries on Easter Monday when the All Blacks beat Belfast Collegians 19-3 on a hard pitch in front of a 5,000 crowd.

The visitors fielded seven Irish internationals – five forwards in W.S. Smyth, Paddy Smyth, try-scorer William Tyrrell (later Sir), Herbert Moore and Charles Adams and two wings Cyril O’Callaghan and Joseph Quinn while full back W.E. Crawford was capped between the wars.

Home tries were scored by Shon Evans (2), Frank Rees, forward Tom Thomas and another fine young forward who would become a Neath legend, Glyn Stephens whose elder brothers Jack and Tom had played for the Club.

Stephens had earned a schoolboy cap; big and fast, he would be capped at senior level in 1912 and he became the first Neath player to captain Wales and was later President of the WRU while his son Rees gained 32 caps, was a British Lion and a Welsh selector.

Easter debuts were also handed to Morgan Lloyd (brother of Tom) and Will Hopkins – three highly promising forwards and the emergence of such “clever reserves” delighted the “Druid” of the “Cambtria Daily Leader” as Newath homed in on the title.

Glyn Stephens’ dramatic arrival on the first-class club scene saw him then score two tries on Easter Tuesday when the All Blacks beat Ferndale 22-nil and there were other tries from Brennan, Wales international T.C. Lloyd, Shon Evans and forward Neville Moore on a rare appearance, Fred Rees converting two.

The stage was set for the last big shoot-out of the season when Newport came to The Gnoll which was rather apt considering how the previous season ended and, just as they had a year earlier, the newspaper previews hailed the game the “championship decider”

It was nip and tuck all the way through as Newport sought to wrest the title away from the Welsh All Blacks. A 10,000 crowd was enraptured as the Neath pack rampaged with the internationals Howel Davies, Jim Birch, veteran D.H. Davies and T.C. Lloyd took the fight to Newport who gave as good as they got.

Glyn Stephens stood out as an international on the making but it was scoreless until Wales reject Jim Birch got the deciding try in the second-half and full back Fred Rees converted – this time even the “Western Mail” could not distort the figures and had to concede that Neath were indeed worthy champions.

Skipper Frank Rees missed the match due to injury so vice-captain Fred David led the following Neath team to victory :-

Fred Rees; Trevor John, Idris Jones, Dai Parry, Edgar Thomas; Jack Brennan, Shon Evans; Fred David (captain), Howel Davies, Jim Birch, D.H. Davies, Tom Thomas, T.C. Lloyd, Glyn Stephens, R.K. Green

Champions again !