Neath became Welsh rugby’s first post-war champions when they won their sixth Welsh championship in 1946/47.
When the Second World War ended in the summer of 1945, the country now under Attlee’s Labour Government was eager to see a return to normality.
Welsh rugby hastily resumed and, after a couple of early blips, the Welsh All Blacks were soon up and running, winning 32 and losing only 8 of their first season’s games – one of those in a mighty close game at The Gnoll against the New Zealand Kiwis.
Significantly, Neath ended that 1945/46 season when no prizes were at stake with a 20-match run of victories so the Blacks were primed for a tilt at the first post-war championship title.
Hooker Cliff Williams succeeded his fellow Ystradgynlais product Tom James as captain for 1946/47 and, despite a long winter freeze that saw the country come to a standstill, Neath hardly put a foot wrong as their pack powered them towards the title.
But Llanelly were always in contention and so it was on Saturday, May 10, 1947 that the two outstanding club sides in Wales met at The Gnoll to determine the destiny of the title and here is how the “Western Mail” succinctly and rather under-statedly described the battle :-
– NEATH UNOFFICIAL CHAMPIONS –
– Neath *1-2-9 Llanelly +2-0-7 –
– * Penalty + One Penalty One Dropped –
– Attendance 12,000 –
Neath proved themselves worthy champions of the unfficial Welsh Rugby Union (table) and retained their ground record when they defeated Llanelly by nine points to seven at The Gnoll.
The Neath victory was more decisive than the score suggests for they outplayed the Scarlets in all aspects of the game and the issue rarely looked in doubt.
Neath played as they have been playing all seasonas a team and are without question one of the soundest teams in the country
In view of their teamwork, it would be unfait to single out any one player for praise but credit must be given to the Neath captain and hooker Cliff Williams who is retiring from the game after today’s game against Maesteg.
This veteran forward has held the pack together and hooked consistently well – on Saturday he got the ball back from the scrummages 34 times as against Jeffreys’s (sic) 16. He will be missed in the Neath pack next year.
For Llanelly Ron Williams, fly half, Jim Davies, full back, and Griff Bevan, in the pack, did all that could be expected of them but these three alone could not stop the victory march of the “All Blacks”.
Much against the run of play, Llanelly scored first when Griff Bevan landed a good penalty goal from 35 yards out in the 25th minute. Within 10 minutes Neath drew level when Tom Randall wuith a grand kick converted a penalty.
The sides crossed over on level terms but the hammering the Llanelly pack had taken in the loose during the first session was soon evident and in the 49th minute John Jenkins, a strong-running wing three-quarter, dashed over in the corner after receiving from John Thomas, for an unconverted try.
Two minutes later, a delightful passing movement, in which forwards and backs took part, culminated in the long-legged flyer Horace Edwards scoring a picture try near the corner flag. Tom Randall failed to goal.
Llanelly soon revealed that they had a sting in their tail when Ron Lewis dropped a goal four minutes from the end.
Following the final whistle, cup final scenes were enacted and thousands of spectators invaded the field to congratulate the first post-war Rugby champions.
Neath’s record at the top of the unofficial table now reads Played 39, won 31, lost 3, drawn 5, 534 points for, 151 against.
The teams listed in the programme were :-
NEATH – Viv Evans; J.W.D. Jenkins, John Thomas, D.P. Jones, H.O. Edwards; Alf Duenas, Harold Parker; Les Davies, Cliff Williams (captain), Les Anthony; D.G. Swain, Tom Randall, Roy John, Tom James, Morlais Thomas
LLANELLY – J. Davies; P. Rees, E. Edmunds, A. Lewis, G. Lewis; R. Lewis, H. Greville; G. Bevan (captain), G. Jeffreys, J. Cole; S. Williams, A.W. Kelly; E. Jones, O. Williams, N. Nicholas Referee – Mr. V. Parfitt (Newport)
The “Western Mail” report highlights Neath’s teamwork and it was a real team effort achieved without the services of several key forwards like the injured international Rees Stephens, trialist T.H. Bevan and and pre-war international Cyril Challinor.
Neath celebrated (too) hard and lost 3-4 to Maesteg and the close-run final table – now upped to include 14 teams – read :-
P W D L FOR AGST %
NEATH 40 31 5 4 537 155 83.75
Llanelly 40 31 4 5 501 172 82.50
Cardiff 44 34 4 6 552 211 81.82
Maesteg 36 27 4 5 357 157 80.56
Newbridge 37 25 5 7 378 137 74.32
Pontypool 32 22 3 7 266 136 73.44
Newport 42 25 8 9 368 229 69.05
Swansea 35 19 3 13 349 232 67.85
Pontypridd 32 17 4 11 245 222 59.38
Aberavon 34 17 5 12 262 180 57.35
Abertillery 29 12 5 12 145 128 50.00
Penarth 28 11 6 11 193 242 50.00
Bridgend 36 13 6 17 241 257 44.44
Cross Keys 38 11 4 23 243 275 34.21
Neath would wait 20 years for their next (seventh) championship title which will be described here next week.