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Modern Neath rugby 1950s +
Welsh caps 1947 - 1957
(most capped Welsh forward at the time)
of Neath Athletic RFC
of the most influential figures in post-war Welsh rugby is Neath’s
Rees Stephens. This
is his journal dated November 14th 1944 to
Jun 1 1946. Included in the journal are many newspaper cuttings, photos
and mementos from Rees' life as a student mining engineer (his father
Glyn owned mines in Resolven and Tonmawr) and rugby footballer. This
period of his remarkable life includes his first match for Wales against
the NZ Services XV, the Kiwis. The journal has survived a fire at 'The
Dorothy Hotel' Neath which was once owned by Stephens family.
EXTRACTS FROM REES' JOURNAL
Rees' first match in 4 years.
"Saturday Sept 22nd 1945 - Up colliery in morn & did pay books as Lloyd away early. Left about 12 o'clock as playing for Neath against Cardiff. First match I've played in for 4 years so expect I shall be out of training. Had a massage with Thomas before game. Kicked off punctually at 3.30 & we were all over them especially the forwards. I scored a try from a line out but got knocked out in crossing. Eventually after a good and fast game we lost by 11 - 9 but it should have been a draw. Saw Jackie Matthews, Trew Hart & St John Rees after the match. Feeling rather stiff. Had a good tea and off to flics with Mike and then went to bed early."
Match Report from the Cardiff game
Rees is approached by a Rugby League scout.
Rugby League scouts were the scourge of Welsh Rugby from the inception of the 'Northern Union in the 1895/6 season until the game turned professional in 1995. Many a Welsh player was lured away by the promise of big bucks, Rees Stephens was no exception.
"Saturday Oct 13th 1945 - Up early and had breakfast with Doug then took him to station to meet 9.5 train. Haydn Vernon there to see him off. Took Haydn home and then took togs to be pegged. Phoned colliery, everything OK. Left Neath for Newport by bus & arrived there about 2.30. Quite a large crowd there. Lovely pitch but very heavy. In the first few minutes they scored 2 lucky tries and this upset the whole side. Anyway after a good game of open football they won 22-11. After bathing a Leeds scout asked G Hughes and myself if we would like to "GO NORTH". I told him to "GO TO HELL". Arrived Neath about 8.15 after talking with Frankie all the way down. Saw Tom and after a walk I buzzed off home as tired."
First match for Wales
First match for Wales against the NZ Services XV "The Kiwis". After the war caps were not awarded until the resumption of the Five Nations in 1947. Although picked for Wales Rees was not capped at this game.
"Saturday January 5th 1946 - Up about quarter to eight. Packed bag. Had breakfast. Dad ran me down to catch the 9.5 train. Packed with people. Stood all the way up and talked with a fellow in the ???? who turned out to be Frankie Williams cousin. reached Cardiff about 11 & saw Graham Hughes. Strolled around and had a cup of tea in a cafe. met Ivor at 12 as arranged & went to have some sandwhiches. Back to dressing rooms to report for forwards meeting, but couldn't do much. started changing at 1.30 and off to field at 2.30. Introduced to Premier of New Zealand Mr Peter Fraser and General Freyburg V.C. Wales kicked off. Just missed 2 pen goals in first quarter of an hour by a hairs breath. Half time 0 - 0 and we had their run but a hard game so far. Finished up 11-3 after a faulty kick by our full back , Sherratt their wing catching the ball & scoring between the posts. They then had two penalty kicks kick on knee. Had lunch in club room & had autographs. Gave my address to C A Meates their wing. Home by 6 train. Bed early."
match programme pasted into journal
The majority of rugby players in Wales were manual workers, heavy industry and mining were the major employers. Conditions were harsh, all men in these industries run the risk of injury or even death. Ken Hardwicke a colleague of Rees' at Neath paid the ultimate price at the colliery in which he worked.
"Friday February 15th 1946 ........................ when I got down heard some terrible news which seemed incredible. Young Ken Hardwicke our wing three-quarter had been fatally injured at a local colliery and it knocked the stuffing out of me & all the rest of the boys. Saw Harold Parker in the evening and talked over it. He is a reserve for next Saturday's game. Bed Early."
Rees has then pasted a photo of the Neath team that faced the Kiwis into his journal.
"Saturday February 16th 1946 - Up colliery in morning & did some homework. Down about 12 & had food & off to field where we play Llanelly. All the players felt it about young Ken & all of us had white armbands around our jersey and all stood for 2 mins on the field before the kick off. Good game to watch and all the forwards and backs played well - something like the Kiwis - slinging the ball about and playing open football - we won 25 - 9, in the last 3 games we have scored 92 pts to 12 against. Had a nasty kick on the knee - limping most of the game - should really have come off - After the game had a massage with Thomas & stayed in the rest of the evening so didn't see Tom or Frank. Had another rub with Tom about 9. Cardiff lost their record to Newport 7 - 3"
|Happy Christmas from Rees - this card was sent to journalist JBG Thomas, the illustration is by the sister of current Neath secretary and historian Mike Price. The caption "Charge of the Black Brigade" relates to an incident in a Neath v Cardiff match at the Gnoll. The match kicked off to the cries of 'charge' from the Neath forwards as they launched themselves towards the Cardiff pack. (WRM-0277)|
Local artist Haydn Ford has caricatures adorning the walls of nearly every rugby club in the area. This is a booklet published in the 1950s which contains caricatures of Welsh rugby personalities, the proceeds of the booklet went towards the building of the YMCA in Neath, a stone's throw from the Gnoll. The introduction is by Billy Thomas MBE, further information on this great Neath character can by found in Mike Price's history on the Neath RFC website. Hadyn also published a similar booklet with caricatures of the 1948 Australian cricket tourists.
|front cover||intro by Billy Thomas||caricatures of Bleddyn Willimas, Ken Jones & Neath player Rees Stephens||
Ivor David, referee, Courtney Meredith & Roy John, Brian Sparks & Dai Meredith.
|25 September 1962 - Neath faced a Glamorgan County XV to celebrate the opening of the new grand stand. (WRM-0222)|
|Neath v Llanelli 6th May 1972. The inaugural WRU Cup Final saw a dominant All Black pack lay the foundation for a 15 - 9 victory over the star studded Scarlets. (WRM-RR)|
Aberavon/Neath 0 - South Africa 22
A comedy of errors unfurled at the Talbot Athletic ground as the combined team were thrashed soundly by an awesome Springbok midweek side. The opening act saw the Springboks jog around while the national anthem was played. Unfortunately for the organising committee the wrong song had been played, instead of the anthem "Sarie Marie" a delightful South African ditty came over the loudspeakers. The South Wales Echo reported "It was rather as if the serried ranks at Twickenham were upstanding whilst Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green was being played. Not to be outdone one member of the team much to his amusement found that on tackling Ryk van Schoor he was left with a pair of shorts in his grasp while the cheeky Rhodesian tobacco farmer sprinted almost the length of the field to the howling laughter of the crowd. There was not much fun for the home team during the rest of the afternoon as Springbok wing Marais ran in three tries for the tourists. Almost the same team were to go on one week later to run up a record score against Scotland 44 - 0. (WRM-221/187)
NEATH RFC 1989/90
Neath’s greatest side was the 1989/90 side led by Kevin Phillips that
won the WRU Cup, the Western Mail championship (Neath’s 10th
such success), the Whitbread Merit Table and Anglo-Welsh Pennant.
Welsh All Blacks carried virtually all before them. Only Bath
(when Neath were depleted
due to Wales
calls), Llanelli and then
world champions New Zealand
lowered Neath’s colours.
rugby produced by Neath was simply awesome. In two games fewer, they
just failed to emulate the world record-breaking feats of the previous
year’s side of 1,917 points and 345 tries. Those world records still
stand but the 1989/90 side got within 50 points (1,866) and one try
(344) of their immediate predecessors. The points record might well have
tumbled had not injury restricted Paul Thorburn to 205 points for the
season but outside-half Paul Williams compensated with 284 including 17
tries. Jason Ball scored 136 points including 21 tries while his
brother-in-law to be Colin Laity got 16
Edmunds clocked up a remarkable 45 tries and came as close as anyone
ever has to beating Dan Jones’ record of 59 Neath tries (73 in all
games) in 1928/29. Rupert Moon scored 30 (5 at Maesteg) despite sharing
the No.9 shirt with Chris Bridges (13). Allan Bateman got 22 tries while
fellow backs Chris Higgs (12) and Jonathan Griffiths (10) also figured
regularly on the score-sheet. Of the forwards, Rowland Phillips bagged
16 and Mark Jones 13 while front-rowers Andrew Thomas (12) and prop
David Joseph (11 including two hat-tricks) figured heavily too.
fewer than 10 players were capped by
during the season : Paul
Thorburn, Allan Bateman, Alan Edmunds, Brian Williams, Kevin Phillips,
Jeremy Pugh, Gareth Llewellyn, Phil Pugh, Martyn Morris and Mark Jones
while Chris Bridges and Glyn Llewellyn won their first caps on the
summer tour to
strength was crucial – internationals like Adrian Davies, Rupert Moon,
Jeremy Pugh, John Davies, Gareth Llewellyn, Derwyn Jones, Lyn Jones,
David Pickering and Phil Pugh did not make the Cup final XV. Neither did
wonderful players like Graham Davies, Mike Whitson, Paul Jackson, Lloyd
Isaac and Adrian Varney.
wonder many consider it Neath’s finest team of all time – it really
was a remarkable squad !
|A No 15 jersey worn by Paul Thorburn, circa late 1980s, Rugby World June 1990 with a centre page spread of Neath, Team of the Year and the Schweppes Cup Final programme, Neath v Bridgend which Neath won 16 - 10 (WRM-0352/0206/0224)|
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