Crunch month for local rugby teams says Fraser Watson

In his latest column, Fraser Watson looks at Boxing Day rugby, an historic win at The Gnoll, Josh Macleod and a crunch month for local sides......

Boxing Day traditions:

With many great rugby traditions evaporating, it was good to see so many local clubs hosting games on Boxing Day.

Aside from the annual Bishop Cup at Llangwm – Pembroke, Pembroke Dock Quins, St Davids, Cardigan, and Narberth all had a match (of sorts) and encouraged the old boys to dust off the boots.

Since the old Pembrokeshire League disbanded it hasn’t been feasible to schedule a full set of league fixtures the day after Christmas, and with most club sides having to play on the 28th you can understand players being reluctant to go full tilt for a friendly affair.

But as long as they’re organised properly, there is definitely scope for clubs arranging veteran or even second team matches between themselves. Boxing Day rugby gets the crowds out, reinvigorates a few so called has-beens, and invariably gets the beers flowing afterwards.

The rugby family are real:

Speaking of Boxing Day, there was a poignant occasion in Narberth where a Dicky Parry XV took on the home side.

Parry was a popular figure in local rugby circles and his death in March 2016, following a battle with Motor Neurone Disease, was met with widespread sadness.

The above condition is one that currently resonates will all supporters of the oval game thanks to the public courage shown by Doddie Weir, and sure enough all funds raised from the game at the Lewis Lloyd went to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. That charity funds research into Motor Neurone Disease and provides help for those with the condition.

The occasion was boosted by the appearance of former Welsh international Ian Gough. He retired from the professional game in 2015 and is now far more likely to be seen on a bike than in a rolling maul, but him taking the time to give something back to such a worthy cause speaks volumes.

It also proves one thing. The notion of the ‘rugby family’ is a very real one.

History matters:

The days when Neath RFC were considered among the elite of Welsh rugby are long gone. A club dwarfed by the regional structure and financial miss-management; the famous white cross emblem doesn’t carry the aura it once did.

But grounds like The Gnoll remain steeped in history, and the fact that no Pembrokeshire side has ever won there speaks volumes.

Until now.

Narberth’s 22-20 victory in South Wales on Saturday was a special moment for players, coaches, and supporters alike to enjoy. A colloquial and passionate crowd remain behind the All Blacks and to win there you still need to follow the old rugby adage of ‘hearts on the sleeve, heads in the fridge’.

The Championship is a much tougher league this season and you need mental fortitude on the road. Narberth showed that on Saturday and went home having made a bit of history to be proud of.

Best of the west:

The annual festive derby between Scarlets and Ospreys ended up so one sided that even for home supporters at the Parc, it was almost an anti-climax.

But what it also did was showcase two of Pembrokeshire’s best young prospects.

Ryan Conbeer added two more tries to his growing tally but once again, there was another standout performance from Josh Macleod at openside flanker.

Macleod, still only 23, has had to be patient for a regular spot but the Rugby World Cup presented him with an opportunity he has grasped with both hands. And like Conbeer, if he continues to hit such levels then whispers of a call up from a certain Mr Pivac will start to grow.

As for that West Wales derby, despite the margin in the result there was appearances for the Ospreys from Simon Gardiner and Rhys Fawcett while Rob Evans, James Davies, and Sam Parry would surely have been named in their respective squads if fit.

It’s good to see so many from our neck of the woods involved.

Crucial cold snap coming up:

It’s not easy for amateur sides to get going after Christmas. Training has been disrupted, some players start January overweight after too much turkey, and others are still sweating out jaeger bombs.

Add to that often freezing conditions and it’s inevitable that for some, apathy sets in.

But for many of our clubs a crucial month lies ahead.

In the Championship, Narberth have a favourable run of fixtures and a chance to push up towards the top four. In Division One West, Whitland’s next two games are against the sides first and third, while Crymych and Pembroke especially start 2020 in a relegation dogfight. In Two West Fishguard, Tenby United, and Milford all find themselves in the bottom five, albeit not that far off the top half either, and in Three West A there are still five sides in the race for the title.

Hitting the ground running after the festive period is essential. Especially as come February, further disruption lies in wait via the Six Nations.

We are about to sort the men from the boys……