On Saturday (August 13th), the Cwmtawe Sevens are coming to Neath !
To mark their arrival, Neath secretary Mike Price looks back at a little-remembered sevens tournament which was staged at the famous old Gnoll Ground 45 years ago – the Neath RFC Centenary Sevens.
The Neath RFC Centenary Seven-A-Side competition was one of several unique events organised by the Club’s Steering Committee to mark Neath becoming the first of the senior Welsh clubs to celebrate their 100th birthday in 1971/72.
The tournament was played on Saturday, 4th September, 1971 to kick off Neath’s centenary season and it embraced eight teams representing all corners of the British Isles.
The seven guest teams were the crack Scottish side Gala, the Irish Wolfhounds, England’s Public School Wanderers, Penarth, South Wales Police, a Snelling Sevens VII and last-minute entrants Aberavon Quins who replaced the West Wales RU Presidents VII.
Neath had a sound sevens reputation to defend as they had won the Welsh Snelling Sevens title twice in 1964 and 1970 and the home side was expected to mount a strong challenge.
The first game saw Penarth open proceedings against a strong Public School Wanderers team whose England international outside-half Tim Dalton (Rugby & Coventry) scored the opening try – in fact, it was the first 4-point try at The Gnoll under the new scoring system adopted that season.
Also included in the PSW team was Neath prop Glyn Shaw, a future Wales international. The presence in the elite team of the coal screener from Seven Sisters prompted one Neath supporter to bellow “And which Public School did you go to, Shaw ?” With such witty encouragement, the PSW team ran out comfortable winners by 24-12.
Other first round games saw Gala (fielding four Scottish internationals) too strong for Aberavon Quins in a 28-nil win and the Irish Wolfhounds matched that score against the Snelling Seven while Neath had a tougher time against South Wales Police who were beaten 24-14.
The Wolfhounds provided something of a shock in the semi-final when they sped into a 22-nil lead against the favoured Gala side who staged a great comeback after the interval but fell agonisingly short at 22-16.
Neath, to great acclaim from the home supporters, reached the final courtesy of a 28-6 win over the Public School Wanderers through tries by skipper Martyn Davies (2), David Parker, Dave Morris and Wilson Lauder who kicked four conversions.
The afternoon also featured schools competitions. The secondary schools tournament saw Neath GS, Llanelli GS, Cardiff HS and Port Talbot battle it out and it was fittingly won by Neath Grammar School who hammered their Llanelli rivals 28-4 in the final.
The junior title saw the Under-11’s of Catwg defeat Blaenhonndan 12-nil in “10 minutes of sheer joy” – a tie which no doubt made for some interesting conversations between Neath captain Martyn Davies and committeeman Norman Biggs who taught at the schools !
The scene was set for the final which was watched by what the late Wally Thomas of the “Neath Guardian” described as “a multi-coloured, shirt-sleeved crowd – with a goodly number of colourful women among them.”
The Wolfhounds, comprising 4 Irishmen and 3 guest Welshmen, raced into a 12-nil lead but Neath hit back after the interval with two tries by the “scintillating” David Parker and another by David Jenkins, Wilson Lauder’s conversion providing the edge for a 14-12 victory for the home side.
Four hours of enjoyable rugby had produced 60 tries and a “dream ending” for the All Blacks VII of : David Jenkins, Wynne Davies, David Parker, Martyn Davies (captain), Dave Morris, Norman Rees and Wilson Lauder.
Neath’s Centenary season could not have wished for a better launch and, in the last game of that celebratory year, Neath beat Llanelli 15-9 at the National Stadium to become the inaugural winners of the WRU Cup.
Older supporters well remember that day; younger supporters and current players are well aware of it too as it is part of their heritage.
But few make the connection and remember that winning their Centenary Sevens meant that Neath started and ended the season with silverware !