Season 2019/20 has rightly been brought to an abrupt end – and the depth of the Coronavirus Crisis could not have led to any other outcome.
As regards next season (whenever it starts), the WRU has confirmed it will be “same again” with no promotion or relegation at the end of this.
For Neath, that means a 2019/20 fifth place finish behind Pontypool, Bargoed, Bedwas and Cardiff Metropolitan and we can have few arguments with that.
Compared with season’s past, 2019/20 was hardly vintage but, looking on the bright side, it was infinitely better than that “annus horribilis” of 2018/19.
There is a long way to go in terms of restoring pride and status but importantly Neath RFC is heading back in the right direction.
The season started with the first of three warm up wins. London Welsh were the visitors and, while warm August sunshine may have replaced the Christmas frost and snow which traditionally accompanied the fixture, a good time was had by all.
Anyway, it was nice to see the Exiles at The Gnoll, so too Resolven and Swansea and, into September, the side seemed in pretty good shape starting with wins over Trebanos in league and cup and against Ystrad Rhonnda.
Then came a hiding at Pontypool and the wheels rather came off in October with defeats by Bedwas, Cardiff Met and Maesteg Quins before back-to-back wins against Cross Keys, again in cup and league, and wins against Beddau, Ystalyfera and Tata Steel.
But the only consistent thing about the side was its inconsistency and defeats by Narberth, Ystrad Rhonnda and Pontypool were sandwiched by wins over Trebanos and – perhaps Neath’s best of the season – the victory at Bedwas (or to be precise, Ystrad Mynach).
It was probably the high spot although reaching the last eight of the WRU National Cup was an achievement in a year which ended badly with heavy home defeats by Bargoed and Cardiff Met. Still, supporters enjoyed visiting new (and old) haunts and will look forward to returning next year.
The coaches were as frustrated as anyone …probably more so. Next season, the inconsistency must be ironed out – and one area that must be remedied is the defence which leaked too easily and too often. A greater commitment to the tackle all round is called for !
For the record, in all games – league, cup and non-league – the Blacks played 24 games – the lowest in non-wartime seasons since 1889/90 when the later capped Dr. E.V. Pegge was captain. So Dr. Pegge meets Aaron Bramwell … hmm !
Of those 24 games, 14 were won and 10 lost and the Blacks scored 552 points with 513 against. 74 tries were scored with David Griggs (13), James Roberts (10) and Luke Griffiths (8) leading the way.
Jordan Rees (5) and Tomi Antozzi (4) were next ahead of Nicky Griffiths, Callum Hall, Scott Malone, Liam Tobias who scored three each.
Ben Atkins, Jacob Blackmore, Sion Crocker, Ben Griffin, Jon Hill, Elis Horgan and Matthew Pearce all bagged two while Macauley Griffiths, Dan Guarneri, Ifan James, Jake Lewis, Rhys Morgan, Ross Pritchard, Jarrad Rees, Ben Uphill crossed the line once.
All told, that is 24 try-scorers ! Few players failed to make the list which suggests the team has plenty of try-scoring potential.
49 conversions were kicked by Luke Griffiths (20), Callum Hall (14), Dan Guarneri (12), Jordan Rees (2) and Matthew Jones (1).
And 28 penalties were goaled by Luke Griffiths (16), Callum Hall (5), Dan Guarneri (3), Jordan Rees (3) and Iesyn Morgan (1).
Luke Griffiths (128) finished top points scorer with David Griggs (65), Callum Hall (58) and James Roberts (50) topping the half-century.
Off the field, progress was made. The Clubhouse has been given a makeover and was booming again until the Coronavirus Crisis forced a shutdown. As for The Gnoll itself, floodlights have been updated, a new outside catering block installed and a new scoreboard too. Above all, our playing surface remains the best and the envy of all visitors – from Bloemfontein to Dublin and all stops in between !
Our thanks go to everyone involved – players, coaches, medical and back-up team and all other helpers – no names as omissions might offend. In turn, the squad would thank the supporters who get behind the team in all weathers.
Now, as the country enters a prolonged period of Coronavirus Crisis, we must hope that everyone emerges unscathed and that we will all be back whenever rugby resumes.
While the WRU says it will be “same again”, things will probably never be quite that. From big to small, clubs’ outgoings will probably exceed income and, after the winter storms, some were already sailing close to the wind.
Even with the “forbearance” of the banks, money will not be as plentiful around the Game in future and people’s priorities will inevitably alter.
No rugby and no meetings mean I will be able to make up some of the headway lost during last season’s exigencies and crack on with the Club History.
With no “live rugby”, God willing, we’ll try to keep everyone informed, even entertained, via the web-site.
In the meantime, keep safe and keep well, everyone.