In the midst of the most inauspicious winter in Neath RFC’s long and – until now – proud history, here is a warming Christmas tale to remind Neath supporters of happier times – of a bygone age when boardroom collapses mattered not a jot and playing the game, in all senses, was all that mattered.
At the end of April 1976, Neath RFC embarked upon probably its most ambitious journey of all time – an end of season tour to the sunny climes of the Caribbean with six games lined up in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
The 1975/76 season concluded early at Easter but several players were unavailable for the tour including Elgan Rees, Dave Morris, Kevin Bowring and Roy Evans. Still, under the managership of secretary Allan Benjamin, team secretary Mike Thomas and coach Martyn Davies, a strong party set out early morning for their Heathrow departure to the sun.
The first game was played on April 25 (a Sunday) and Neath made light of the extreme heat as they were far too strong for the Jamaica RFU President’s XV in a 90-6 win. The Blacks ran in 17 tries through Mike Jenkins (4), Alan Rose (3), Chris Lee (3), Don Davies (2), Martyn Davies (2), John Poole, David Lewis and Dennis Davey with Peter Davies (8), Poole (2) and David Lewis adding conversions for the following team :-
Wynne Davies; Mike Jenkins, Don Davies, John Poole, Alan Rose; Peter Davies, Martyn Davies; Glyn Shaw (Phil Langford), Mike Richards, David Lewis; Barrie Davies, Robert Hughes; Wilson Lauder, Chris Lee, Dennis Davey (Steve Williams)
Sunburn, hard-pitches and the usual exigencies associated with touring saw several players out of position for the second game against Montego Bay who were far more competitive. The game was eventually won 22-3 as Martyn Davies and Robert Hughes got tries, Poole converting two and kicking two penalties, and the team was :-
John Poole; Mike Jenkins, Don Davies, Aubrey Evans, Ken Collier; Peter Davies, Martyn Davies; Glyn Shaw, Malcolm Arnall, Dennis Davey; Robert Thornton, (Chris Lee), Barrie Davies; Steve Williams, Robert Hughes, Don Jones
In game three the Privateers put up firm opposition too as the Blacks got home 31-3 with 4 tries by Wynne Davies, Mike Jenkins, Don Davies and John Poole, on as a replacement in his old Welsh Youth position in the back row. Penalties were kicked by Wilson Lauder (2) and Peter Davies who also added three conversions. Neath fielded :-
Wynne Davies; Mike Jenkins, Don Davies, Aubrey Evans, Ken Collier; Peter Davies, Cliff Morgan; Chris Lee, Malcolm Arnall, Phil Langford (David Lewis); Barrie Davies, Robert Hughes; Don Jones, Wilson Lauder (John Poole), Steve Williams
The final leg of the Jamaican part of the tour saw Neath overcome the Jamaican Barbarians, known as the “Jaa-Baas” 41-21 with another 8 tries from Mike Jenkins (3), Alan Rose (2), John Poole, Peter Davies and Robert Hughes. Peter Davies converted two and kicked a penalty, John Poole added a conversion and the side was :-
Wynne Davies; Mike Jenkins, Don Davies, John Poole, Alan Rose; Peter Davies, Martyn Davies; Glyn Shaw, Mike Richards, David Lewis; Chris Lee, Robert Hughes; Steve Williams, Wilson Lauder, Dennis Davey
Moving on to Grand Cayman and a 52-3 win, the Blacks rattled up another 12 tries with two apiece for Mike Jenkins, Alan Rose, Don Davies and Glyn Shaw and single efforts by Wynne Davies, Malcolm Arnall, Wilson Lauder and Chris Lee. The unlikely assortment of goal-kickers employed resulted in only two being converted – by John Poole and Dennis Davey – for the following XV :-
Wynne Davies; Mike Jenkins, Don Davies, John Poole (Aubrey Evans), Alan Rose; Peter Davies, Cliff Morgan; Glyn Shaw, Malcolm Arnall, David Lewis; Barrie Davies, Robert Hughes; Wilson Lauder (Steve Williams), Chris Lee, Dennis Davey
The final game against the Grand Cayman President’s XV on May 6 was won by the same 52-3 margin, 10 tries being scored by Mike Jenkins (3), Don Davies (2), John Poole (2), Martyn Davies, Phil Langford and Barrie Davies with Peter Davies converting three and kicking two penalties. The team which completed the tour was :-
Don Davies; Mike Jenkins, John Poole, Aubrey Evans, Ken Collier; Peter Davies, Martyn Davies; Phil Langford, Mike Richards, Malcolm Arnall; Robert Hughes (Barrie Davies), Robert Thornton; Steve Williams (Mike Thomas), Wilson Lauder, Don Jones
Sadly, the Caribbean Tour signalled the end of the careers for two real Neath stalwarts as Barrie Davies and Ken Collier retired. Robert Thornton (Headingley) left the area while others departed The Gnoll soon afterwards including John Poole, Alan Rose and Donald Jones (Pontypridd) and Glyn Shaw who went north.
The rugby was not always too testing; the sun was always too hot – front row absences being the major concern ! The hospitality was lavish and those who toured fondly remember Neath RFC’s most exotic tour and a happy fortnight in the sunshine.
Materially modern club players may be better off but at the end of the day it’s the memories that mean most …