INTERNATIONAL Rugby League will be held in Llanelli for the first time in 16 years when Wales host Serbia in a Rugby League World Cup qualifying match on Saturday October 15 at Parc Stebonheath (kick-off 6pm).
The last time Wales played in this town was in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup when Wales edged out a Hazem El Masri inspired Lebanon side 24-22.
Wales played three full internationals at the Parc Stebonheath ground before the Second World War, beating France 41-7 in 1935 in front of a reported 30,000 crowd, before an 18-2 win over the same opponents in 1938 and a 17-9 win over England later that same year. All games were part of victorious European Championship campaigns for the Welsh.
Since the war, the stadium has primarily been used for football as the home of Welsh Football League side Llanelli Town AFC, but since 2015, it has been the fortress of Conference South Rugby League side West Wales Raiders.
Raiders’ director Andrew Thorne is looking forward to hosting such an important event in Wales’ first step to World Cup glory.
“I’m so pleased that the World Cup qualifier against Serbia is being played at Parc Stebonheath,” he said. “Trying to build Rugby League in West Wales has always been tough, but over the last two years with the support of Wales Rugby League, we have managed to grow participation in the sport and now have a junior pathway. With the game coming to Stebonheath, I can only see that this fantastic sport will grow even more in the West.
“This is sure to be a fantastic event and hope that the public in Llanelli and the surrounding areas come and support the Wales team on the start of their World Cup campaign.”
Meryl Gravell, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board member for Regeneration and Leisure, said: “It’s absolutely wonderful to have the Wales Rugby League national side coming to Llanelli to continue the hard work that West Wales Rugby League are doing for the local area.”
Wales are taking part in a three-team group this autumn in the attempt to qualify for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup finals in Australia. In addition to the home game against Serbia in Llanelli, Wales will travel to Italy a fortnight later. The winner of the group goes straight through to the finals with the runners up taking on the second place side from Ireland, Spain and Russia in a final challenge in Leigh on November 4.
Wales coach John Kear is looking forward to his side playing in Llanelli and believes that Serbia will be strong opposition, especially after recently playing a full international match in Australia involving both Serbian and Australian born players. “It’s exciting that we’re going to South West Wales,” he said.
“It’s an area we’ve not played in since the last World Cup in 2013 when we took on Cook Islands in Neath.
“I’m anticipating support and enthusiasm from all the sports fans around the area and I’m sure it will be well attended.
“It’s a big game for us as we need to get to the World Cup, there’s no doubt about that. It’s now getting to knock out proportions so every game is very important.
“Serbia are looking to strengthen and that’s why they played their recent international match against the Philippines in Australia through that. Brian Smith is with them too and he’ll make sure they will be well drilled. They will be a formidable challenge for us.”
Wales Rugby League have had links with Llanelli for over 100 years. No less than 46 players who have turned out for Llanelli RUFC or the Scarlets have played Rugby League for Wales, while at least 15 WRL internationals were born in Llanelli. This is something that Wales Rugby League chairman Brian Juliff is keen to celebrate.
He said: “I am thrilled that we are playing this game in Llanelli as it presents us with a great opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding heritage players that originated from West Wales.
“Supporting Andrew Thorne and his team of administrators and players as they continue to develop Rugby League in the region is a real pleasure, as I am fully aware of the huge amount of hard work and enthusiasm these volunteers bring to Wales Rugby League.
“Wales are the current European Rugby League Champions but we are very aware of the changing playing personnel that we will face in both qualifying games against Serbia and Italy due to our opponents’ intentions to field Australian based heritage players.
“We will, of course, stay strong to our belief that playing home grown players will continue to pay long term dividends and promote a sustainable and successful Wales Rugby League team.
“On that basis alone it would be hugely encouraging if our local supporters could fill the stadium and cheer our boys to success in this important first game. Cymru Am Byth!”
50 years on and Llanelli is still celebrating its most famous win!
REMINDERS of the ‘day the pubs ran dry’ in Llanelli have been creeping out of the woodwork for some time now and will reach a crescendo this week.
They have preserved the scoreboard at Parc Y Scarlets that registered one of the most famous club victories over New Zealand and 9-3 was instantly immortalised by Max Boyce’s emotive poem about the final score.
What happened on that dank day in Llanelli on Tuesday, 31 October, 1972, has passed inot the realms of myths and legends – along with the 15 players, six replacements and head coach.
What Carwyn James, the mastermind of the 1971 British & Irish Lions victory in New Zealand, and his inspirational skipper, Delme Thomas, managed to achieve on that day will never be forgotten.
Some of the team have sadly passed on, most notably JJ Williams and Phil Bennett in recent years, but Delme, fullback Roger Davies, flanker Gareth Jenkins and try-scorer Roy Bergiers were paraded on the pitch before the Scarlets played Leinster in the URC last weekend.
They delighted old and new fans alike by talking about that great day per-match and will be centre stage later this week at a special dinner to formally celebrate the 50th anniversary of the most famous day in the history of one of the world’s most famous clubs.
“It has always puzzled us why the other Welsh clubs who beat the All Blacks before us haven’t made more of a fuss about their victories. I’m not sure why everyone remembers what happened the day we won, but it is always a pleasure to recall what happened,” said Gareth Jenkins.
“The game was televised, Max Boyce was making rugby even more popular through his songs, poems and humour and the British newspapers seemed to have discovered rugby as a sport to follow in greater depth.
“The game was played against the backdrop of the Lions having won in New Zealand on their 1971 tour and that played a huge part in the interest taken in the game.
“Everyone wondered if Carwyn James, as our coach, could conjure up some more magic with his club side. He was a man ahead of his time in rugby terms and he masterminded everything.
“There was romance and prestige involved in playing and beating the All Blacks. We were all amateurs in those day – half the team were working in the steel process and others were miners – and Llanelli was very much a working-class town.
“I can still vividly remember the whole day. It was the most physical game I’ve ever played in – we’d never experienced anything like it as younger players.
“The All Blacks have always been formidable, and they were quite formidable that day! It was an experience and a half to have played in such a brutal game and come away with a result.
“It was special, very special, although we made a decision as a group of players that we would only meet every 10 years to celebrate.
“I think this will be the last time we get together. Some of us have already passed on and who knows who will be left to mark the 60th anniversary!”
It is one of those strange quirks of fate that more fuss has been made of Llanelli’s great day in 1972 than of the 1935 victory by Swansea, or the 1953 triumph of Cardiff and the 1963 Newport victory over the All Blacks. Memory fades over time, perhaps, but the special moments remain ingrained and get passed on to new generations of fans.
Ian Kirpatrick’s New Zealand party were still smarting from their 2-1 series defeat on home soil by Carwyn’s magnificent pride of Lions a year earlier. Delme and Derek Quinnell had been part of that squad and were among five players who would graduate from the victorious Llanelli side to face the All Blacks in the Welsh side that met them later in the season.
No fewer than seven of the Scarlets’ side played for Wales that season and three more won Wales B honours. They were a strong outfit, but were they up to beating the New Zealand?
The All Blacks kicked off their tour with a routine 39-12 victory over Western Counties at Kingsholm the previous Saturday, while Llanelli hadn’t played for 10 days. Their dress-rehearsal had been a 21-16 defeat at London Welsh on 21 October.
That month they had also been beaten at Neath and in September their colours were lowered at Cross Keys (18-6) and Hendy (18-16). Four days after their famous win they went to Richmond and lost, 18-9!
But in the biggest game of most of their lives the Llanelli players more than measured up to the All Blacks and changed from local heroes into living legends.
“We had a great side. Think of the names; Derek Quinnell, Bennett, Barry Llewellyn, Gareth Jenkins, Ray Gravell, JJ Williams,” recalled Delme.
“I remember telling them before we went out on the field that of all the honours I’d won in my career, I was willing to give them all away for that one game.”
“It’s always special to play for your club, especially against an international side, and I’d never experienced anything like it in my life down at Stradey that day – the atmosphere that day was incredibly special, and I think that helped the players a hell of a lot.”
If the atmosphere was white hot, the action was equally hot. A second minute penalty from Bennett hit the post, Lindsay Colling’s clearance was charged down by Roy Bergiers and the centre dived on the ball to score.
“I still have visions of that moment. They are in slow motion – the kick hits the upright, I charged down the ball and it goes over the line and just says to me, ‘come and get me’,” recalled Bergiers.
“As I ran back, in disbelief really, I thought to myself that now the battle really starts.”
Bennett converted to make the score 6-0. Estimates of how many fans were at the ground range from 20-26,000, but they all erupted when the try was scored.
It helped the home cause that New Zealand full back Joe Karam missed two kicks before making it third time lucy to gather his team’s only points. He would go on to kick five penalties in the 19-16 win over Wales, eclipsing Bennett’s four for his country a few weeks later.
That made it 6-3 at the break. You could cut the tension with a knife as the All Blacks forwards battled for supremacy in a bruising and often brutal forward battle. Eventually, the Scarlets won another penalty eight minutes from time and up stepped Andy Hill.
His kick from the 10 metre line earned him the most significant of the 207 points he scored that season and ensured the tourists had to score twice to win the game.
When Bennett brought the game to an end with yet another magnificent kick to touch, it seem as though the whole of Llanelli ran onto the pitch. New Zealand had been beaten on Welsh soil for the first time since Newport’s 3-0 triumph in 1963.
“At the end of the game Barry Llewellyn cam up to me and said we should carry off Delme on our shoulder,” recalled Derek Quinnell.
“That was the last thing I wanted to do after playing 80 minutes against the All Blacks. But he got him up there somehow and once I’d had enough I couldn’t drop him down because there were so many people around us.”
The images of Delme being carried off shoulder high by his teammates, arms waving amid a sea of jubilant fans has become one of the iconic images from that great day.
“The boys played exceptionally well and we were slightly lucky that we caught them in the first game in Wales which was the right time. They didn’t know what to expect,” added Delme.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful day. Being carried off Stradey Park after the game was one of the greatest moments in my life.
“I’d played 15 seasons in Llanelli but to have beaten the All Blacks meant everything – because to me they are the rugby nation of the world, particularly in those days.”
Barry beat Reds on penalties in League Cup
LLANELLI Town were eliminated from the Welsh Blood Service League Cup by old rivals, Barry Town United, on a penalty shoot-out in this second-round tie.
They will be disappointed to have gone out of the competition in this manner as the previous week at Canton Liberal in the JD Welsh Cup, they had been successful themselves in progressing in a similar manner by converting all their kicks, but this time both Louis Gerrard and Sean Cronin failed to hit the target, while their opponents, apart from one failure and some heroics from Reds` keeper, Scott Coughlan, ensured their entry into the next round.
Looking back at the overall game, the hosts could well have secured a result in normal time as they outplayed their opponents, who were relegated from the Welsh Premier at the end of last season, for long periods but still lacked that vital cutting edge which could well have brought dividends.
An early chance arose when Nathan Logan was found by James Parry whose delivery into the middle was deflected for a corner taken by Ryan Bevan, and his in-swinger forced Michael Lewis in the Dragons` goal to turn it over the top.
The half progressed with both sides virtually cancelling each other out, having plenty of possession but without offering a tangible goal threat, with both defences well marshalled limiting any potential scoring opportunities.
When they did occur, the home side looked the more likely to achieve a breakthrough, and Jamie Baker might have done better when he directed his header over the visitors` goal following a Josef Hopkins cross to the far post which was directed back into the middle.
The visitors were offering little in the way of a goal threat, and Coughlan was having a relatively quiet game, the only occasion he was called into action being a sprint off his line to clutch the ball at the feet of Drew Fahiya when he pursued a clearance to the edge of the box.
A long range effort by Jordan Cotterill was safely dealt with by the Reds` keeper, but at the break the contest remained scoreless.
An early home threat led to a strong run by Miles John culminating in him finding Tim Parker, but he was quickly closed down by the Dragons` defence and the move fizzled out.
A long throw by Adam Robbins into the box was headed down and met by Baker whose effort was just off target, and a similar scenario arose when Cronin met another Robbins missile but headed inches wide.
The hosts were by now dictating matters and outplaying their opponents but still were lacking that final killer ball to unlock the defence, the nearest chance arising when Gerrard met a near post delivery, forcing Lewis into a save to divert it clear.
With time running out, the Reds were desperate to end the contest in normal time, but the visitors held out to ensure the tie would be settled by the way of penalties.
Gerrard was first up, but Lewis saved his kick with some ease, and when Cronin struck the woodwork with his attempt, Reds` hopes were already vanishing. The visitors` Kayne McLaggon, Liam Warman, Evan Press and Troy Greening all netted, with Hopkins and Bevan just about keeping the home side alive, and when Coughlan denied Gavin Beddard, an unlikely comeback was on the cards, before he was desperately unlucky when he parried the final kick by Greening only to see it drop over his head into the net.
This was the first defeat for the Reds in a run of twelve matches, and they have a chance to quickly redeem themselves against the same opponents when they travel to Jenner Park on Friday evening for a JD Cymru South league fixture, with a 7.30 p.m. start.
Reds hit Aber for six to go top
Following the weekend fixtures, Llanelli Town now occupy top spot in JD Cymru South following the Friday evening demolition of Abergavenny Town to more than make up for their opening day home defeat at the hands of their opponents in the MG Cup – their only loss to date.
They extended their overall unbeaten run to ten matches during which time they have racked up 25 goals while conceding only 3, and on this showing can be considered one of the favourites for promotion come the end of the season – although there is still an awful long way to go.
The close season signings by the management team of Lee John and Dylan Blain are reaping the benefits, with every member of the squad playing their part in ensuring each performance is played to perfection, demonstrated by the latest success when the goals were shared between six individual players.
Results elsewhere also went in their favour, with nearest rivals, Cambrian & Clydach Vale, crashing to a shock home 4-1 defeat at the hands of Pontardawe Town, allowing Barry Town United to now claim second place two points adrift of the Reds following a 3-1 defeat of Taffs Well.
The opening twenty minutes were scrappy with neither side really offering much in the way of clear-cut chances, the only real threat arriving from the visitors` Joshua Bell who forced Scott Coughlan to divert his effort around the upright, which turned out eventually to be their only shot on target throughout the contest.
Two home goals in the space of as many minutes then changed the whole complexion of the match, with the opener arriving in a somewhat bizarre fashion when a speculative Ryan Bevan effort from 25 yards on target prompted goalkeeper Suleimane Susso to attempt to volley it clear, but he missed it completely, leading to the softest of goals in the 21st minute.
Within a minute, the lead was doubled following some good build-up play which culminated in Tim Parker gaining possession before swivelling to drive his finish into the bottom corner.
Now comfortably in control of proceedings, the hosts were giving their opponents plenty to think about, and might have gone even further ahead when Keane Watts was sent clear by a ball over the top by Kyran Steadman, but he screwed his finish off target.
A Nathan Logan cross destined for the head of Parker was just nicked away from by a defender, while Susso did well to push clear a well-directed effort by Bevan.
The Reds continued to pressurise their opponents who for the most part were chasing shadows, with both Logan and Parker seeing their attempts blocked, and when they took a quick free kick, the finish by Bevan rebounded off the upright.
Inevitably, the lead was increased five minutes from the break following a corner to the far post which was directed back into the middle, leading to a scramble in front of goal, with Adam Robbins eventually getting the final touch to stab home the loose ball.
Comfortably ahead at the interval and dictating play, the home side continued in the same vein following the restart, with Watts seeing his strike from a narrow angle come back off the outside of
the post, before the visitors` task became even tougher when they were reduced to ten men on 55 minutes following the dismissal of Norton Ferreira for a second yellow card by referee Teifion Cook.
Parker directed a header into the arms of Susso when he met a Robbins delivery, before the Reds made a change with Jamie Baker being replaced by James Parry after 56 minutes.
Nine minutes later came further personnel changes with Thomas Hillman and Taylor Marsh on for Steadman and Robbins, and within four minute of this they struck again when a ball driven low into the goalmouth led to a fumble by Susso, allowing Watts the simplest of tap-ins on 69 minutes.
Two minutes later, and what was already a losing cause for the visitors became even worse when they were down to nine men after a deliberate hand-ball in the box by Efu Kazadi, leading to his dismissal and the award of a penalty which was easily converted by Josef Hopkins.
The Reds then suffered a blow when Watts went down injured in the box and had to be helped off the field obviously in some discomfort, Louis Gerrard taking his place.
Susso made a great save to deny Hopkins, but who was then instrumental in laying on the Reds` sixth three minutes from time, putting Hillman clear to finish clinically and complete the rout.
A simply outstanding overall display by the home side, and they will hope to replicate this form when they travel on Saturday to Cardiff to take on South Wales Amateur side, Canton Liberal, in the second round of the JD Welsh Cup.