Preview to Pontypridd (H)

18/01/2013

0940 Friday - BREAKING NEWS - following heavy overnight snow the 11am pitch inspection was brought forward and the game is now OFF. Will leave the preview up for anyone who wants to snuggle up on the sofa and read it instead!

The Green, Green Grass of Home... or Walking in a Winter Wonderland?

Jersey head to the musical hotbed of Pontypridd this weekend, with two words of qualification dogging their every move: weather permitting.

It looked likely that heavy snow would bring about the cancellation of the game, but at first light in Jersey, with a decision taken to close the schools after hours of hesitation, the news was that the game remained ON until an 11am pitch inspection. News of that when we have it, but until then, business as usual.

It remains to be seen whether the green green grass of Sardis Road - yes, Ponty is the birthplace of Tom Jones - can be glimpsed, or whether it's covered in a thick white carpet.

Jones the Voice isn't the only big musical name from the town - Evan and James James, writers of the Welsh National Anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, are other famous singing sons, and more recently the rock band Lostprophets also hail from the 'capital city' of the Rhondda Cynon Taf.

A trip to Sardis Road, also known as the House of Pain, is a unique experience in rugby, and it remains to be seen whether this is something the Jersey squad will encounter this weekend or at a future date. News of whether the game goes ahead will be communicated as soon as possible, with @jerseyrfc Twitter your premier bet.

News from the Jersey camp
Jersey head to South Wales - weather permitting - this weekend with a strong squad looking for the win over Pontypridd that eluded them on home soil earlier in the season.

The Island side may be out of contention in the British & Irish Cup, but the pool 5 tie offers the chance for an important scalp which would boost morale in the build-up to the crucial RFU Championship tie against Rotherham next weekend.

Director of rugby Ben Harvey is denied the services of key forwards Nathan Hannay and Guy Thompson due to injury, but otherwise has selected his strongest-available starting XV.

There are four changes up front from the disappointing home cup defeat to Leeds last weekend - Hannay and Thompson are replaced by Dave Markham and Graham Bell respectively, while props Sean McCarthy and Jon Brennan return to the fray.

The back-line is more settled, with just a single change as Ashley Maggs comes in to replace Ed Dawson.

"We felt we were unfortunate not to beat Ponty when they came to us in October [the match finished 20-20] and we felt our dominance wasn't rewarded," stated Harvey. "This game offers a chance to put that right - it's a brilliant opportunity against one of the classic Welsh sides and will be a real experience for our young squad."

With heavy snow forecast in South Wales this morning, Jersey were awaiting news of a late morning pitch inspection ahead of setting off later in the afternoon.

Jersey squad, sponsored by Locate Jersey and jersey.com
1 Sean McCarthy
2 Charlie Clare
3 Jon Brennan
4 Dave Markham
5 Rob Anderson
6 Paul Rodgers
7 Kingsley Lang
8 Graham Bell (capt)
9 Nicky Griffiths
10 Ross Broadfoot
11 Donovan Sanders
12 Tom Cooper
13 Dai Bishop
14 Ashley Maggs
15 Mike Le Bourgeois

Replacements
16 Richard Barrington
17 Dave Felton
18 James Gethings
19 Eoghan Nihill
20 Brendan O'Brien
21 Ed Dawson
22 Glenn Bryce

Any previous? (Part 1)
Ponty fans had been following Jersey's progress in National One last season, already planning possible away-trips in 2012/13. And lo, it came to pass, with the Islanders winning promotion and the two clubs being drawn together in the B&I.

A large contingent of Welsh supporters, perhaps in the region of 600, came over for the game. They saw Jersey take a 13-7 lead into half-time thanks to a Nicky Griffiths' try and eight points from the boot of Mike Le Bourgeois, but Dai Flanagan landed two kicks to level it, before a penalty try restored Jersey's lead (20-7). Replacement Tom Pascoe scored the tying try for Ponty with five minutes to play as part of a three-minute cameo appearance that saw him injured and replaced soon afterwards.

Pontypridd in 2012/13
The 'Valley Commandos', the reigning Principality Premiership Champions, began their season in fine form with a 28-3 win at Cross Keys, and then put Bedwas to the sword at Sardis Road, winning 55-27. Carmarthen tested Ponty more than most the following week, with Ponty winning 24-16 - one of the two dropped bonus points. In the following three weeks there were wins over Bridgend (45-35), Neath (64-15) and Swansea (29-3).

Following the B&I games against Jersey and Leinster 'A', the latter won thrillingly 25-23 with a last-minute try by Dafydd Lockyer, Ponty returned to league action and suffered a 20-19 defeat at Newport. But the ship was righted in November with wins over Aberavon, Cross Keys and Llandovery. The weather meant just two games in December, the back-to-back cup wins over Leeds by 24-30 (at West Park Leeds) and 25-8 (at Sardis). The New Year began with a convincing 36-3 home win over Neath.

In the B&I last week Ponty were level at 9-9 approaching half-time at Donnybrook. But tries after 39 and 41 minutes by impressive centre Brendan Macken were enough to take the hosts out of reach for a final score of 21-9, Dai Flanagan scoring all his team's points.

The Ponty 1st team squad is made up almost entirely of Welsh-born players with an emphasis on youth. The captain is lock Chris Dicomidis, who has also played for the Cyprus national team through his paternal grandfather. The Cypriot national side are called the Moufflons after the horned sheep that is a national emblem on the Mediterranean island (but might be considered a bit kinky in Wales).

Ponty's squad features an entirely new front row to the unit who played in Jersey. Skipper Dicomidis misses out through injury, while former Welsh full-back Gareth Wyatt is selected at number 15. Wyatt represented his country against Tonga in 1997 and Romamnia six years later - former Jersey Player-Coach Ben Evans played in the latter game.

15.Gareth Wyatt. 14.Owen Williams. 13.Adam Thomas. 12.Gary Williams. 11.Matthew Nuthall. 10.Simon Humberstone. 9.Lloyd Williams.
1.Bradley Thyer. 2.Darran Harris. 3.Keiron Jenkins. 4.Craig Locke. 5.Cory Hill - cpt. 6.Ed Siggery. 7.Rhys Shellard. 8.Jake Thomas.

Subs: 16.Gareth James. 17.Dai Flanagan. 18.Gavin Dacey. 19.Huw Dowden. 20.Tom Hetherington. 21.Dafydd Davies. 22.Chris Phillips.

History of Pontypridd
The club was formed in 1876 by a group of young men who had moved to the area as part of the Industrial Revolution. One of the early players, Edward Treharne, was named in the first-ever Welsh international team in 1881.

The club resumed rugby after the Great War with "no ground, no kit, and not a penny to their name" but developed slowly to become an established and successful club, albeit one who retained an 'unfashionable' tag and were outside the perceived 'Big Five' in Wales.

The unfashionable status didn't stop Ponty having two more Welsh representatives, Glynn Davies and Russell Robbins, in the decade after World War Two ended, nor from winning the unofficial Welsh league in 1962/63, and in 1974 the club moved to its present home in Sardis Road.

The new ground witnessed considerable success, with Welsh Championship titles in 1976, 1978 and 1979. There may have been less to shout about in the 80s, but the 1990s saw an appearance in the inaugural Heineken Cup in 1995/96, and a first-ever Welsh Cup triumph the same season, repeated in 2002, 2006, and 2011. In 1997 Ponty won the league title, and this was followed by further league titles in 2011 and 2012. By this stage there was a Grand Final to conclude proceedings - Ponty enjoyed mixed fortunes in the showpiece game, with an 18-24 defeat to Llanelli in 2011 being followed by a 15-13 win in May of this year.

Famous players of recent years have included Neil Jenkins, current Head Coach Dale McIntosh, Morgan Stoddart, Gethin Jenkins, Martyn Williams, Matthew Rees, Ceri Sweeney and Michael Owen, although the majority earned their honours after leaving Ponty following the contentious introduction of regional rugby in Wales in 2003. There was a one-season alliance with Bridgend as the Celtic Warriors, but this franchise was disbanded in 2004, since when Ponty has continued as a club side - one of Wales' most successful.

Dale McIntosh has been with Pontypridd since his arrival in Wales from his native New Zealand in 1989. He made 454 appearances as a player prior to retiring in 2007, when he became Assistant Coach under Paul John, graduating to Head Coach in 2010. McIntosh won two Welsh caps in 1996/97 against South Africa and England.

Any Previous? (Part 2)
Ponty made three tours to Jersey between 1968 and 1971. The Welsh team were undefeated in six matches on the Island, but eye-witness accounts from players involved - several of them will be here today - testify to some full-blooded encounters, accompanied by enthusiastic 'après-ski' sessions in the old Clubhouse.

In 1968 Jersey's 1st XV, featuring names like Mike Engleman, Bobby Furness, Bill Lavarack, captain Brian Screen and debutant Mick Curzons actually led 9-8 at half-time against a Ponty side containing two of the club's most legendary names: the four-times-capped Welsh flanker Tommy David, whose other claim-to-fame was a role in 'that try' by 'that fellow' Gareth Edwards for the Baa-baa's in 1973. And Bob Penberthy, 'the bionic elbow', who played an astonishing 877 games for Ponty between 1961 and 1985.

The 1968 game was eventually lost by 9-30, with the home points through Barry Jones's try and two Peter Burger penalties, and a year later the Jersey 1st XV competed gamely again before going down 0-15, with Gareth Rees scoring a hat-trick of tries for Ponty. Dermot McQuillan came closest to scoring a try for Jersey but was bundled into a corner flag.

In 1971 the JEP ran the headline 'Welsh Visitors Dazzle - But Island Side Not Disgraced' above a match report of a 9-34 defeat. Furness skippered Jersey that day and our President David Lapidus played in the game, while his predecessor Engleman was referee. Jersey's points came from Furness with a drop-goal (4), Roger Thomas's try (3) and Ian Hamilton's conversion (2).

The Saturday warm-up games against Jersey's 'A' XV were unsurprisingly not as close, to the extent that Jersey's only points in the three encounters were from a John Langlois try in 1968. However the 'A' games may have played a significant role in softening up the tourists for Sunday's 1st team encounter.

Many thanks to Richard Evans, the Pontypridd historian, for unearthing details of these games, and to Brian Screen for obtaining cuttings from the JEP with full match reports.


Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Ponty through the following channels:

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey from 5.30 to 6pm on Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device
• Preview in Friday's JEP and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 soon after the final whistle on Saturday, plus updates during the match
• Reports and match action on Channel TV online and on Monday evening at 6.15pm; and on BBC Channel Islands on Monday evening at 6.30pm


The British & Irish Cup this weekend
Three teams are 'home-and-hosed' but will be playing to maintain their unbeaten record in this season's B&I and get home advantage in the QFs by being one of the top four qualifiers. They are: Bedford (pool 2), Pirates (pool 3) and Newcastle (pool 4).

Other teams need the following points to win their groups. Weather permitting:

Grp 1 - Bristol 2 points to guarantee finishing ahead of Ulster
Grp 5 - Leinster 'A' 2 points to guarantee finishing ahead of Ponty
Grp 6 - Moseley 1 point to guarantee finishing ahead of Llanelli (or deny their opponents 5)
Grp 7 - Munster 2 points to guarantee finishing ahead of Rotherham
Grp 8 - Llandovery need a point at Meadow Lane v Nottingham, but their hosts could qualify too with a 5-0 points win

Friday
Munster v Plymouth Albion, Pl7, 19:00

Saturday
Bedford v Bedwas, Pl2, 15:00
Bridgend v Ulster, Pl1, 14:00
Carmarthen Quins v Cornish Pirates, Pl3, 14:00
Connacht v Newport, Pl4, 14:00
Cross Keys v Newcastle, Pl4, 14:00
Dundee High v Swansea, Pl3, 14:00
Leeds Carnegie v Leinster, Pl5, 14:00
Llanelli v Moseley, Pl6, 14:30
London Scottish v Gala, Pl6, 15:00
Melrose v Doncaster, Pl8, 14:00
Neath v Stirling County, Pl2, 14:00
Nottingham v Llandovery, Pl8, 20:00
Pontypridd v Jersey, Pl5, 14:00
Rotherham Titans v Aberavon, Pl7, 14:00

Sunday
Bristol v Cardiff, Pl1, 15:00

And Finally
Weather permitting (not again!), there will be two JRA league games on the Island this weekend, with Jersey Athletic hosting Banks at St Peter at 2pm, while at the same time Wanderers and Beeches play at LQ. On Sunday, Banks Ladies are away at Ashford.

Enjoy your weekend's rugby (weather pemitting... aaaarrrghhh!)
Tom Innes

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