Llandeilo Past and Present

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Short History of Llandeilo R.F.C

from the 1980 Canada Tour programme by Michael Samual
with additional material by Nick Day

Llandeilo Rugby Club Shield

What proof has the club that they were100 years old? This can be confirmed from facts found in the Carmarthen Journal which confirms that Llandeilo R.F.C. was in existence in 1871. It also mentions that some of Llandeilo's opponents during this time were Neath, Lampeter College and Llandovery College. But games between the sides were not as frequent in those days as they are now as transport problems caused a few difficulties.

Records show that games in those days were played on the Bridge Field but their baptismal season was marred following the death of a player and the club floundered. For a period no rugby was played in Llandeilo but the seeds had been planted and after a four-year gap, a group of enthusiasts rekindled interest in the game and despite bitter opposition from local inhabitants, a new ground was acquired which was known locally as the Gurrey Fach Field and rugby was restarted.

Competitive Rugby was first played by Llandeilo way back in 1877-78 season when they took part in the South Wales Challenge Cup competition. Together with Carmarthen, Cardiff, Talgarth, Merthyr, Brecon, Cowbridge Grammar School, Llanelli, Monmouth, Lampeter College, 10th Glamorgan Rifle Volunteers, Llandovery College, Pontypool, Newport, Neath, Swansea and Abergavenny, Llandeilo took part in this competition by subscribing two guineas to compete for the Challenge Cup which was worth fifty guineas.

But no success came their way. However, despite their lack of success in this new competition, the 1880s were illustrious years in Llandeilo's history, for in 1886-87 they reached the final against Neath, only to lose by a try which was scored after their young full back had been carried off with a broken collar bone.

But Llandeilo can lay claim that they were one of the founder members of the Welsh Rugby Union. Together with Swansea, Lampeter, Llanelli, Cardiff, Merthyr, Llandovery, Brecon, Pontypool and Bangor, they were present at the meeting which was held at the Castle Hotel, Neath on 12th March, 1881 which set up the Welsh Rugby Union.

Leading players during this period included Picton Phillips who became Chief Constable of Carmarthen. He also had two brothers who played for the town side in Johnny and Hugh Phillips. Other players who made a name for themselves during this period were George Davies, Morgan Richards, Tommy Jones, J. Vaughan (who later became Chief Constable of Bath), and Ned Roberts. The last named, a brother of the club's first secretary Willie Roberts, was a truly great clubman and of course a wonderful character who actually played his last game for Llandeilo at the ripe old age of 73.

Even to the present day their record between 1895 and 1901 has yet to be equalled. During this period, they enjoyed a remarkable run of success unequalled by any other West Wales club and only bettered by Newport. In three seasons from 1895 to 1898, they did not lose a single match and it wasn't until1902 that they were defeated in front of their own supporters.

Despite the fact that in those days very little rugby was played, Llandeilo richly deserved the title of Wales' leading second-class team.

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FIRST CAP

During that era, Llandeilo built up a proud tradition of being Swansea's chief nursery. Since those early days, a number of players have graduated in Swansea's team via this West Wales club with the last one being Wayne Lewis.

George Davies was the first player to establish the Llandeilo club on the map, for he joined Swansea in 1898 and became a Welsh international in 1899-1900,winning three caps against England, Scotland and Ireland during that season.

He won a further six caps playing in the1901 and 1905 Triple Crown sides.

Llandeilo's first-ever cap was a name which is almost unknown to the present-day rugbyite but to the older members of the Swansea and Llandeilo rugby clubs it is a name which will never be forgotten, for it is claimed that it was George Davies who invented the "dummy". It seems that he developed the dummy in 1895when he was skipper of the Llandeilo club and in a game against Pembrokeshire champions Tenby United, he celebrated the occasion by scoring six tries and three drop goals in a resounding 50-nil victory.

The bewildered Pembrokeshire side had never before encountered the dummy but they sportingly acknowledged George Davies' wizardry by carrying him off the field immediately the game came to an end.

George Davies' contribution to the history of the Llandeilo club has been immense, for he was one of seven brothers who rendered excellent service both on and off the field. Once, they formed a seven-a-side team and challenged any other seven brothers in Wales to play a game of seven-a-side. The Williams' of Pembrokeshire accepted their challenge but they were no match for the Davies 'and were soundly thrashed.

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SWANSEA'S THANKS

As a reward for having the services of George Davies, Swansea sent their full team with the exception of W. J. Bancroft to play Llandeilo in a benefit match. Bancroft was the referee of this game in which Swansea played an international three quarter line in Dicky Trew, G.Davies, Danny Rees and Frank Gordon, with the famous James brothers at halfback. The Welsh champions were trailing4 points to 3 only minutes to go before Scrines scrambled a try for Swansea which enabled them to take the lead which they retained to win a most exciting match.

But there was a change in the fortunes of the club during the early 1900s with old players having to retire through old age. New players took their place but they were not as good as their predecessors and consequently the standard of play deteriorated. But despite the fact that enthusiasm was lacking, there were a couple of outstanding personalities that emerged such as Livingstone Davies and the Fuller brothers.

Rugby came to a standstill from 1914 until 1919 but on the cessation of hostilities in 1919, rugby returned to Llandeilo with many of the players being the ones which had played prior to the time when rugby had been forced to end.

This was an historic year for the club, for thanks to the kindness of their president and benefactor, the Rt. Hon. Lord Dynevor who had always been a staunch supporter of the club, Cae William became their home.

Billy Walker and George Brown were at the helm during this time and they served the club as joint secretaries. But they had a difficult task in front of them trying to revive the club to its former stature. There were not many outstanding players during this era but two excellent forwards came on the scene in David Rees and Granville Evans, with Wyndham Davies representing the Royal Navy.

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A LOW PERIOD

But it wasn't long before interest in the game waned completely especially during the difficult times that befell the country during that time. The advent of Association Football within the county saw a number of promising young players switch allegiance with the result that for the second time in their history Llandeilo were forced into temporary liquidation and their membership of the Welsh Rugby Union lapsed.

From 1925 when rugby ceased to be played in Llandeilo, there was a gap of nine years in which the game wasn't played. But thanks to a person by the name of Vaughan Roberts, who was the son of Captain Willie Roberts, the club's first secretary, and with the help of some other keen rugby supporters as well, rugby was reformed and the first game was played in 1934 against Haverfordwest, another rugby club which had suffered a similar experience as themselves.

From 1934 until the outbreak of the Second World War, an outstanding personality in the club was Bertie Crooks who with Vaughan Roberts played no small part in consolidating the game within the town and the surrounding agricultural community.

But it took a long time for the club to recover but during this period Llandeilo found some good quality players in Isaac Thomas, Will Thomas and Reg Jones. On their fixture list during the 1938-39season were Swansea, a team which had retained fixtures with the club from the beginning of rugby in the town.

Llandeilo Team 1937-1938

The above picture was kindly supplied by Mr Wyn Jones. It is a team photo from the 1937/38 season. Mr Jones's late father, John Llewelyn Jones, is in the middle row second from the right. Can you put names to any of the other players?

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JUNIOR UNION

After World War II, it was unanimously agreed that rugby be started once again and entrance to the Llanelli and District Junior Rugby Union was sought with a positive result.

This proved a wise decision for within a few years Llandeilo were in receipt of their first trophy when in 1953-54 they won the Llanelli and District Rugby Union Knock-out Cup. Blaenau were the side which they met in the final at Ammanford and the result was a 6 points to 3 win. Skipper was Alun Evans and that evening the captain and the players paraded the Cup through the streets of the town accompanied by a large contingent of supporters and headed by two jazz bands.

By now, Llandeilo had been re-admitted as Welsh Rugby Union members. This took place in 1949. From the late 1940s progress was rapid and membership broke all existing records. A number of persons played a major part in their revival after the war, persons such as Major D. M. James, Vaughan Roberts, W. J. Harries, Elfryn Thomas, Rex Harries and Glyn Beynon.

Other persons who played a major role in rebuilding their playing strength were Tom Evans, George Davies, Eric Brown and Will Jones.

Rugby Team 1957/19581957/58 Click for larger image

Season 1957-58 was considered as one of their best ever seasons since the first one after the war, when in 1946 they only lost four out of 17 games under the captaincy of Howard Williams.

This was the season in which they just failed to score 300 points in a season in which they played 32 games, won 18 of them, drew 6 and lost the other 8, scoring289 points and conceding only 136.

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WEST WALES RUGBY

Season 1954 was an historic landmark in the history of the Llandeilo Club for they became members of the West Wales Rugby Union. Some of the pioneers who had been fighting for this higher status were persons such as Don Jones, David Hughes, Elfryn Thomas, W. J. Harries and Reg Butt.

But their progress in the West Wales Rugby Union has not matched up to expectations and the last ten years have produced most disappointing displays with more games being lost than won. In1969-70 they only managed 41 points in18 championship games which itself was a record until Pontardawe broke it two years later.

Failure to field a regular side also contributed to some of the records which they set up in the same year. Hendy, for example, scored 77 points against them without reply on 15th November 1969 at Hendy. This was a West Wales record until Pontardawe came on the scene. But Hendy was not the only side to score over 70 points against them that season. Kidwelly also managed the same feat for they defeated them by 71 points to nil at Kidwelly in their penultimate champion-ship game of the season.

But there was a vast improvement the following season with some very close results. After defeating Vardre United at home by 9 points to 3 in their opening championship game of the season, they won their third championship point when they held Burry Port to a pointless draw at home. Skewen, Morriston and Llandybie defeated them by just three points to nil.

Season 1971 -72 was their best for many years, for that year they ended with five victories and 11 championship points with Pontyberem, Penygroes, Llangennech and Ystalyfera (twice) being defeated. The last time which they completed the double was against Ystalyfera.

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TWO IMPORTANT LANDMARKS

Rugby Team 1958/91958/59 Team. Click for larger image

But during this intervening period, the club celebrated two important landmarks. In 1969, Llandeilo's new clubhouse was opened. This is situated not far from their ground and the Old Victoria Hotel was renovated into a modern club house which was a joint venture with the local cricket club.

There had been talk but no action for many years in Llandeilo about obtaining their own clubhouse but the three persons who kept on about having a home of their own were Alun Lewis, Dudley Lewis and Glyn Beynon. Mr Ivor Jones who was President of the Welsh Rugby Union carried out the official opening.

But the most important landmark in the history of the Llandeilo club came just a couple of years later when they celebrated their centenary and in so doing, they became the first West Wales club to do so.

To mark the occasion, Llandeilo played against a Welsh Rugby Union President's XV which had been selected by Rhys E. Williams. The two teams which played on that day, Tuesday llth April, 1972 were, for Llandeilo: Wyn Evans, Gwyn Lewis, Robert Evans, Ross Beynon, Philip Thomas, Warren Davies, Chris Webb, John Gwynne, Glyn Jones, Ivan Kirkup, Andrew Plowman, Malcolm Jones, Raymond Thomas, Keri Bowyer and Lloyd Williams.

The President's XV were: Don Davies (Tycroes), Viv Jenkins (Bridgend), Roy Bergiers (Llanelli), W. Billy Raybould (Bridgend), John Bevan (Cardiff), Lyndon Thomas (Bridgend), Wyn Jenkins (Bridgend), Chris Charles (Llanelli), John Lloyd (Bridgend), Mel James (Swansea), Steve Thomas (Bridgend), Robert Thomas

(W.S.S.R.U.), Clive Dyer (South Wales Police), John Mansfield (Bristol University) and Tom David (Pontypridd). The result of the game was a win for the visiting team who won by 46 points to 3with wing John Bevan scoring four excellent tries. Llandeilo's three points came from a penalty goal by Warren Davies

Since their centenary, the most significant developments which have occurred at the club is the fact that the Llandeilo Athletic Club which is run jointly by the local rugby and cricket club did some two years ago purchase Cae William which comprises of one rugby field and cricket field with sufficient area in which to extend the outfield on the cricket area and also place a second rugby playing area. This has cost something in excess of £25,000 a fine achievement as the Athletic Club has only been in being since 1969.

With more players being available to play each week, a second XV was formed tour years ago, and two seasons ago they joined the Llanelli and District League which comprises of some thirty odd second teams.

An important milestone was reached during this year when Llandeilo played Le Conquet, their twin town in Brittany, France. It is hoped to make a return visit to them towards the end of next season.

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1980 - Present Day

Following the Canadian Tour, the 80s saw the club consolidate. Many of those who toured Canada, although Llandeilo born and bred, had moved away from the area to attend university. This had always been the case, despite the fact that the coalfield was a mere 5 miles away at Llandybie, many opted for further education and never returned. For some reason Llandeilo had the reputation of being what Welsh speakers called " Crach " (there is no literal translation of this term but superior is about the closest one can get) and many spread their wings over the border.

In the 80's the town had few major industries, Brockington and Scott and Dyfed County Council being the major employers in the town. Despite this, the 80's saw a change in the fortunes of the club with the return to Llandeilo of a handful of players after university. It was decided to change the club colours from green to the original black and white. A new coach, Peter Jones, was appointed and he brought some much-needed drive to the club. With the half backs Wyn Jones and Andrew McCutcheon returning to the club and some new blood on the committee things were looking up and in the 86/87 season they won Section E of the West Wales Rugby Union Championship. It was also decided to reform the junior sections, which in turn provided a fruitful nursery for the future. Whilst not exactly taking West Wales rugby by storm the results in the 80's was a far cry from the dark days of the 70's.

The last decade of the millennium saw a degree of success on the field but unfortunately, controversy off it! By 1993 the club found itself in the Premier Division of the WWRU for the very first time, but in the early months of 1993 it was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. As with every club, raising funds was of paramount importance and in 1992 the club entered into negotiation with a company called Glassco and various other companies. However, the deal entered into by the secretary resulted in the monies not being forthcoming. Eventually the WRU and police were informed and the Welsh media got hold of the story. On investigation it transpired that the club had a higher allocation of International Tickets than the committee had been led to believe. Tills amounted to 22 tickets per game. Sadly, Joe Harries, the secretary who had been a staunch member of the club since1946, had no option but to resign. The wholly regrettable affair seemed to have been resolved. Geoffrey Craig was found guilty of obtaining services by deception and ordered to pay the club £847 in compensation at Knightsbridge Crown Court in April 1995. However, this was not the end of the matter; the minutes of the committee meeting of 18th Nov 1996 record "correspondence from the City of London Magistrates Court writing off the £847 balance from Geoffrey Craig was noted with disgust". The whole affair had dragged on for nearly 5 years.

The 95/6 season saw the introduction of the National Leagues. Llandeilo were placed in Division 6 West. The monumental change of the 90's was the introduction of professionalism. Llandeilo had always prided itself on its amateur status, travelling expenses excluded, but did explore the possibility of paying players on a "win bonus" basis. This was short lived, as when the side did win, the players immediately put their winnings into the 1st XV "beer kitty" and the venture inevitably" died a death"!

Between Llandeilo CS School and Llandeilo RFC, several prominent players of that era came through the system. Current Welsh International Luke Charteris began his career with Llandeilo Under 8's. Other players that have gained international honours were Simon Davies - Llanelli (Wales B), Ian Jones (Llanelli, Wales B and Wales tour of Australia '92), Rhodri Davies (Harlequins, Richmond and London Scottish).

This rich vein of talent continues into the new millennium with Matthew Jacobs (Welsh Colleges), Gareth Morgan (Llandovery, Worcester Academy and Welsh Schools), Andrew Davies (Welsh Deaf), Aaron May (Welsh Schools and current Wales Under 19 full back), Martin Thomas (2006) : all Llandeilo players at one time.

The year 2000 saw a major new facility opened at Cae William in the form of the "Millennium Stand". This impressive structure has seating for 100 people; a covered walkway; 6 dressing rooms and spectator facilities in the well appointed upstairs bar. Here many mementos of the clubs illustrious past are on display.

Despite playing in Division 4 West in the lower echelons of the ASDA National League, the club can be justifiably proud of its 135 year history. Whist the media in Wales tend to focus on the likes of Llanelli, Cardiff and Swansea/Neath (Ospreys) and Newport Gwent Dragons, let us not forget clubs like Lampeter Town, Llandovery, Bangor and Llandeilo who were founder members of the WRU back in 1881. Whilst having no aspirations to play at the highest level in me Premiership, we will continue to nurture the rich vein of talent that comes through the clubs junior sections. With the club celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2021, what does the future hold, tucked away in this beautiful backwater of West Wales? Next time you see a rugby player throw an outrageous "dummy", just think of its origin. At least George Davies exploits were reported in the local press at the time, which is more than can be said for a certain William Webb Ellis.

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