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‘Dancing in the rain’ which the Gale brings

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By Jonathan Twigg

SINCE the turn of the new Millennium, Narberth RFC has been one of the premier club sides in South West Wales.

They currently sit in second place behind Pontypool in the WRU Championship table, a division in which they have remained since the WRU national leagues inception in the mid 1990’s.

The coaching guru in charge of the current Otters side is Sean Gale, a former Scarlet’s player whose commitment is recognised by all associated to the Pembrokeshire club. Commitment is part of Sean’s DNA, where any former work colleagues at the West Wales Fire Brigade testify.

The Fire Brigade have a long association to rugby in the West Wales area, with many players with Scarlet’s and its predecessor Llanelli RFC finding themselves on a career pathway with the ‘Brigade’.  Gale served for 32 years in the noble profession after Ronnie King opened the door of opportunity and is unsurprising that the ‘vow of allegiance’ he showed to his career, has been visible at the Lewis Lloyd Ground for a decade.

A man of few words whose compassionate tone rings clearly and when heard instantly captures the attention of those present. Never a raised intonation and the positives not the negatives proffered; a blueprint which fellow coaches Liam Gadd and Lloyd Phillips follow.

Sean was a graduate from Graig comprehensive school in the heart of Llanelli and had an instantly recognisable name to live up to. His dad Norman, revered in the Town as a front row hard man, captain of both his home town club and Country where he won 25 caps in a period when Wales were a team to mix it with the best.

Sean has recently crept quietly beyond the half century in terms of age, still living in Llanelli and committing to travelling three times a week to Narberth for training and games from his home in Swiss Valley. Married to Elizabeth for over 25 years he recognized her unstinting support of his rugby journey, alongside his mother Ann. Norman passed away in 2005 and it’s now his son Nick who shares his dad’s rugby memories alongside daughter Hannah.

Returning to the squad after a six month injury Nick plays under his dad’s stewardship, being a strike runner from the back three as opposed to his dad’s likeness for packing down in the front three.

“Living and breathing rugby is something I’m used to” Nick warmly stated with a beaming smile.  “Dad, never had a hair out of place and no stone unturned. He wants the best for me as a son and as a player with Narberth. I’ve come to understand when I need to listen and occasionally speak on a rugby matters! Dad cares; about his family, friends and colleagues, including the players in the squad and this is repaid tenfold from those of us lucky enough to be in the inner sanctum.”

The front row is not a place for the faint hearted where camaraderie exists well beyond the 80 minutes of battle. “I enjoyed my tussles with Mike Griffiths immensely” chuckled Sean.

Mike, the Cardiff prop, formally with Bridgend won 35 Welsh caps but Sean added: “I had the utmost respect for him. He was a tough person to scrummage against, but he did it fairly and without prejudice. I also played alongside the icons of Welsh rugby, current National assistant coach Rob Howley and British Lion winger Ieuan Evans before I hung up my boots for the final time in Llanelli colours in1999. That final game was against Romania, twelve years after my debut against Pontardulais.”

Memories are important and Sean recounted with pride when he played against the All Blacks in 1997, a game lost by over 80 points; he narrated his efforts of scoring two tries against Namibia highlighting such achievements come only from hard work. Sean was always seen as a good trainer, where his rugged stature came to the fore in games as a strong ball carrying prop; a try scorer!

“I managed 10 tries in one season for Bridgend which is a record for a prop” and one which he still shares with Whitland born prop Meredydd James.

Sean won seven secondary schools caps as a second row, with a stand out victory in 1985 when an unbeaten All Blacks schools side toured the Principality under Graham Henry.

He also played for the Wales Under 20’s and Under 21’s and made the ‘A’ team squad but never had the opportunity to run out on the pitch.

He clocked up 209 appearances for Llanelli with the final three years as a professional player whilst maintaining his service record with the Brigade, before chalking up 90 games in Bridgend colours and enjoying a ‘final season’ at Heywood Lane, playing for Tenby United in 2002-03.

Sean has qualities which any respected person, let alone a coach would hope to have associated to him.

He is honest and hardworking whilst continuing to maintain a drive to achieve more.  His family heritage is a cornerstone of his life and this shines through in his commitment to rugby.

Now a level 3 coach he worked with the Scarlet’s Academy for three seasons after starting out with Tumble where he was a player/coach before becoming forwards coach with Llanelli, Swalec champions in 2005.

He joined Narberth in 2006 following an invitation from then Director of Rugby Jonathan Dodds after they worked together at the Scarlets Academy and with the Wales amateur side.

Coaching was always something he strove to do following a lifetimes involvement nurtured in the early days from the family pub, a stone’s throw from Stradey Park. Frequenting the hostelry on a regular basis were Llanelli greats like Stuart Gallacher and Ray Gravell.

“Dad coached the Scarlets, so it was a natural progression for me to stay in the game as a coach once I finished playing because it means so much to me; it’s in my heart and soul” said Nick.

Sean’s mantra as a coach is to build his teams around a strong forward platform, never taking a backward step to an opponent, before then trying to play an expansive style.

He remains ambitious for Narberth as he fondly recounts: “I was impressed by the warmth of the welcome I received; it’s a very friendly club but importantly for me one which remains driven to be successful.”

He is focused in his approach and philosophy, determined to keep Narberth in the top two of the National Championship.

Doing so will be no mean feat as it is increasingly difficult with Premiership clubs able to cherry pick the best players, which is part of the player pathway in the Scarlet’s region.

Sean said he would be interested in developing his coaching career and with a raised eyebrow and a killer grin Sean recalled the time he was ‘hoodwinked’ into believing the then Llanelli maestro Gareth Jenkins was offering him a role back with the Scarlets. “I enjoyed setting the training programme after that faux pas by Adrian Killa”, he said.

Sean remains committed to Narberth as he explained his eagerness for the national leagues to remain as the current structure is under review by the WRU.

“One thing that frustrates me as a coach is the imposed Autumn break which happens for the international period in November.

“I find this hard because we go a month without competitive fixtures to keep my players at their top of the game. I have had memories which are significant in my life story and I hope those under my wing today build their own storyboard, which they can do if we all work together to get the right environment.”

Narberth as a club are equally as ambitious and are watching the debate on the restructuring of the national leagues with the same interest as Sean.

“We want to finish as high as possible every season; the result in every game is important, but not as important as the enjoyment the game brings” pointed out Rob ‘Basher’ Lewis, the clubs hardworking administrator. “Narberth have the right man in Sean at present and we can see the professionalism and passion he brings being embedded in the Club.”

Narberth hope the winds of change doesn’t occur, yet Sean’s strengths include his man-management of players and the rapport he has with the committee and supporters.

“He is currently irreplaceable as that skill set is difficult to replicate. As a club we need a figurehead to ensure our development plan is delivered” said Rob. Narberth have the foresight to hopefully enhance the playing facilities with a 4G surface and build on the senior team’s success so it emanates through the youth and junior sections.

They have a trademark association with brand names in the County and are in discussions with new partners to help them build their dreams.

Clearly Narberth can manage the ‘here and now’ as they have a structure off the field to accommodate a match day experience to rival a professional club.

There are no Otters burying their heads underground as they strive to improve each year, sharpening their teeth ready for the next challenge whilst, fully embracing the ‘gale’ in which they find themselves.

“We are not waiting for the gale to pass us by” said Basher “but we are dancing in the rain he brings.”

Sport

Bluebirds awarded promotion to the Cymru Premier League

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Paul Davies MS and David Hughes during a visit to Haverfordwest County AFC before lockdown restrictions were introduced in Wales

HAVERFORDWEST COUNTY AFC have secured their promotion to the Cymru Premier League.

Following the Football Association of Wales (FAW) decision back in March to curtail all domestic football throughout Wales, many teams have waited in angst for clarification on how the promotion and relegation process would be decided.

The FAW, confirmed on Tuesday, June 16, using the ‘average points per game’ method that Haverfordwest County AFC had done enough to be promoted to the Cymru Premier for the upcoming 2020/2021 season.

Taking to their website to confirm the news, the club said “It is nothing less than Wayne, the coaching staff, players, board and volunteers deserve after a fantastic effort last season.

“It has been a long wait to learn our fate, but the club and its staff have worked tirelessly on and off the pitch to ensure we had as much in place as possible, and following the announcement we can now hit the ground running and prepare for next season.

“We cannot wait to welcome the best teams in Wales to The Bridge Meadow!”

Local Member of the Welsh Parliament Paul Davies has also added his congratulations to Haverfordwest County AFC on their promotion back to the JD Cymru Premier League.

Commenting on the achievement, Paul Davies said “It’s great that Haverfordwest County will once again compete in the Premier National League of Wales with the likes of The New Saints, Barry Town and newly crowned champions Connah’s Quay Nomads. The management and players have done a fantastic job in gaining promotion from the JD Cymru South League.”

“With the Conygar Bridge Meadow Stadium widely regarded as being one of the top grounds in Welsh non-league football, it’s only fitting that the Bluebirds will be back in the premier division.”

“I would also take the opportunity to thank David Hughes and Rob Davies for the work they have done as Chairman and Vice Chairman of the club respectively. I have known David for a number of years and he has worked tirelessly for the club. I’m delighted to learn that both David and Rob will stay on the Board as Robert Edwards takes over as Chairman. Their knowledge and experience will be vital moving forward into this exciting new era.”

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Nigel Owens hosts virtual rugby quiz for Pembroke Panthers

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PEMBROKE Panthers RFC enjoyed a rugby return during lockdown after winning a competition which saw international referee Nigel Owens host their own virtual clubhouse quiz, thanks to Principality Building Society.

The women’s squad at the Pembroke club beat more than 1000 entries to win Principality’s Clubhouse Quiz competition. With many clubs affected by widespread flooding at the start of this year and now closed indefinitely due to coronavirus, the building society is continually looking for ways to support grassroots rugby clubs in Wales.

Pembroke Panther Lucy Neale, 30, entered her team with the hope of bringing the players together online. She said: “We’d usually see each other up to five times a week between training sessions, matches and socials, so it’s been a really strange time. I thought I’d enter the club thinking it would be a nice pick-me-up for us all, but never actually expected to win so it was an amazing surprise.”

The team were tested on their rugby knowledge by world cup referee Nigel Owens over video conferencing platform Zoom, where players won tickets to Welsh internationals at Principality Stadium, signed rugby shirts and balls, and tickets for a tour around Principality Stadium. The quiz included a guest appearance from former Welsh international Tom Shanklin.

Lucy continued: “It was such a memorable and special evening for us all. We’re usually quite a lively bunch but we behaved well for Nigel. We’re so thankful to Principality for putting on the quiz and allowing us to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience as a team.”

As sponsors of Principality Stadium and the National Youth Leagues for grassroots clubs in Wales, Principality has a strong relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union and knows how much rugby means to communities across the country. With matches on hold currently, the building society wanted to be able to bring the buzz of the clubhouse to the home.

Clubhouse Quiz host, Nigel Owens, said: “Principality’s Clubhouse Quiz was a fantastic way to bring one team closer together and Pembroke Panthers really showed off their rugby knowledge. Rugby plays such an important role in Welsh communities and I know they’ll be missing the action on the field right now, so it was lovely to have been part of this experience to bring this team together. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sin bin any of them either.”

Julie-Ann Haines, Chief Customer Officer at Principality Building Society, said: “Many rugby clubs across Wales have had a really difficult year, with flood damage to pitches and clubhouses now followed by coronavirus. This was our chance to recreate the camaraderie of the clubhouse for one team and we hope that it brought plenty of laughs and memorable moments for Pembroke Panthers at this challenging time.”

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Wales v Scotland postponed

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WALES’ Six Nations match at home to Scotland on Saturday has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The two other Six Nation fixtures had already been postponed and no date has been confirmed to complete the 2020 Championship.

The Welsh Rugby Union had insisted earlier on Friday the game would “go ahead as planned”.

A WRU statement read: “The Welsh Rugby Union has maintained an open dialogue with, and continued to seek advice and direction from, the National Assembly for Wales and other stakeholders, including the Six Nations, on this fast-moving issue.

“Whilst medical advice remains consistent, we have decided that it is in the best interests of supporters, players and staff to fall in line with recent measures taken across the UK and global sports industries.

“The WRU would like to thank all parties for their counsel on the subject and will make further announcements with respect to rescheduling the fixture in the coming days.

“Every effort has been made to stage this game and we appreciate that individuals will have been inconvenienced. Given the fluid and unprecedented nature of this issue a postponement became the only viable option.”

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