40 years ago who beat the mighty Llanelli team? Pembroke County RFC did!

There was nostalgia aplenty and terrific camaraderie galore as a group of hugely talented players from 40 years ago met up for a special dinner at The Mariners Hotel in Haverfordwest to recall the amazing Pembrokeshire County team’s victory at Stradey Park against a Llanelli team that was packed with talent and had legendary Welsh international Phil Bennett leading their attack at No 10.

It was on Wednesday, 8th November, 1978, that coach Tony 'Beefy' Philpin took his squad of 18 players to challenge an immensely strong Llanelli side, the forerunner of today's Scarlets, and created a shock result that left fellow Welsh regular second row Phil May distraught alongside the likes of winger Andy Hill, centre Roy Bergiers, Narberth 's former flanker Roger Price, scrum half Selwyn Williams (another from Pembrokeshire), flanker Dennis Davey (a star later on with Neath) and No 8 Hefin Jenkins as household names across the Principality.

Guests made welcome on a special night

Reporting on the game was a young Geoff Williams (now head of BBC Wales Sport) and so it was appropriate that he should be a guest for the evening, alongside British Lion centre Peter Morgan, Gordon Thomas (Sports Editor of the Western Telegraph) and Bill Carne (PembrokeshireSport.co.uk), who were cordially welcomed by Gethin Evans, who in the match had formed a terrific front row with Phil Scurlock and Brian 'Ginger' Davies, who skippered the county side.  

Williams acted as MC  and during a sumptuous meal invited players and coach to recall the game and as well as some lovely stories there was some off the cuff  banter that showed 40 years hadn't dimmed their friendships.

Leg-pulling aplenty – and Bowen is praised by all

There was mention of half backs Gelli James and Billy Martin, who played pivotal roles, with both having their legs pulled, as outside half Martin was teased about the falsehood that he didn't tackle as hard as some in the side, like centres Lee Jones (later with Pontypool) and Martin Walsh (still causing mayhem in St Davids!)

James also recalled another match of the same era at Pontypool where the announcer named him as 'Jelly James' and even his team-mates were chuckling throughout the match.

Richard ‘Stag’ Jones (Narberth) had hoped to play in the back row for Llanelli alongside fellow Otter Roger Price but he was forced to sit on their replacements’ bench as he was refused permission by Llanelli to play for his county instead – and was reminded of the fact during the evening!

Everyone involved spoke of the massive contribution made by full back Geraint Bowen, who started out at Narberth and went on to play for Llanelli and Wales - and sealed a 15-12 success with four penalties and a dropped goal, as well as covering well at the back with Tony Brace (Tenby) and Peter Mitchell (Milford Haven RFC, who is now domiciled in Southampton)

‘Beefy’ paints a superb scenario

Also travelling from 'up the line' were centre Lee Jones and replacement utility back Dai Griffiths, whilst coach Philpin had journeyed down from Ystrad Mynach and spoke superbly of his involvement, where he said that once the players were on the field he relied on their natural ability and commitment to fly the Pembrokeshire Flag with pride.

He was also full of praise for the support he received from County Officers of the calibre of Garth Parker and Tony Davies (both Narberth), Lloyd Evans (Tenby) and Winston Lewis (Whitland).

The respect between him and the players was evident and his comments about the demise of county rugby should be listened to by the big wigs at the WRU!

Match details

For the record, Bowen missed an early long-range effort but then landed his next two attempts and followed up before half time with a third shot on target and a neat dropped goal as Llanelli responded with a try from winger Michael Owen, which Bennett converted.

Bowen added another penalty after the interval and although the home side tried desperately to snatch the verdict all they could muster was a late try by Dennis Davey, which Bennett again goaled to take them to 12 points, since a try was only worth four points in those dim and distant days.

It led to a frantic finish but outstanding covering by Nigel Merroney and Phil Ive (both Tenby), plus Lenny Scourfield (Pembroke Dock Harlequins) halted promising moves, whilst lineout men Steve Holmes (Milford Haven), Ossie Boswell (Quins) were joined by Ive and Scourfield in denying May his expected share of quality line-out ball. Sadly, Messrs Merroney, Ive, Boswell and Scourfield were unable to attend and mention was made by their coach about their various contributions up front, plus Roger Brace (Tenby) at the back.

But replacements Griffiths, Dai Bennett (St Davids) and Ieuan Nicholas (Narberth) were able to be there and like their colleagues had a great evening of nostalgia!

One of the undoubted highlights

One of the undoubted highlights of the evening was the question and answer session involving Peter Morgan, where the British Lion modestly told of his start as a youth player at Haverfordwest, his memories of playing alongside ‘greats’ like Bennett and Ray Gravell with The Scarlets and discovering that he had been picked as a Lion to go to South Africa when Dai Miller wound his car window down in the centre of Haverfordwest to tell him the good news.

Asked about the great players he encountered as team mates or opponents and he named the likes of Ollie Campbell (Ireland), Clive Woodward (England), Danny Berger (South Africa), Hugo Porta (Argentina) and Jim Renwick (Scotland), with Fergus Slattery (Ireland), plus French back rowers Rives and Skrela as the toughest opponents!

It nicely rounded off a memorable evening befitting of a memorable win when a Pembrokeshire side travelled to Llanelli and beat the mighty Scarlets on their own patch at Stradey Park – and those involved can still enjoy a lovely walk down ‘Memory Lane’ to celebrate the fact!