By Chris Thau

THE miraculous recovery of Penarth RFC senior 15 from a certified relegation candidate to a credible sixth place in the Division 3A East Central table has given some solace to the long-suffering club supporters, while raising a few eyebrows among opposition cynics and non-believers.

“Where do these guys come from?” asked a suspicious Pentyrch RFC official at the end of a sizzling game won 36-27 by the Seasiders visitors, the sixth consecutive bonus point victory since March 23rd.

“I can assure you that all the players who turned up today are bona fide Penarth players,” explained one of the Penarth coaches, and he could have added that unlike our hosts and rivals who boasted on the day four Beddau players on permit, no guest player had been brought in to reinforce the ranks of the Seasiders, since they had commenced their return to respectability at the end of March.

This practice of postponing League matches until players from the higher-ranked clubs become available on permit towards the end of the season has yet to be dealt with by the WRU who seem unusually complacent about it.

Without doubt the six-match winning streak that saw Penarth adding a nice safety cushion of 30 points, to the 22 championship points collected in the 16 matches played from the beginning of September to the end of March, was pleasing and to a large extent reassuring. This of course has helped the seaside club escape the clutches of a potentially upsetting relegation, the second one in two seasons, though far more importantly it has validated a significant change in the mind-set of the team and its coaching personnel, as it is experiencing probably the most significant generational change in a decade, with an increasingly large number of former Youth players joining the senior squad.

The closely tight bond between the young Penarth players, some of whom have been playing together for more than a decade had somehow become a key factor in the late season revival, as several youngsters returned from their overseas treks, while other recovered from long-term injuries.

The cause of the developing crisis that engulfed Penarth, was the usual seasonal combination of injury to key players, absenteeism and the migration of quite a few senior players to greener pastures, either across the road to the Old Pens, or elsewhere, which saw the club struggling to field a reasonably competent side during the first half of the season.

The departure of former skippers Tom Luck and Alex Thau, during and at the end of the previous season, with Thau making a cameo appearance in the bonus point defeat by Cowbridge, has contributed to the decline, though arguably the most damaging loss suffered by the club was the severe injury suffered by the dynamic openside flanker Richie Bowen, who broke a leg during the end of season tour in Dorset. In the second row Anthony Pine was confined to only five matches by his work commitments, while Matt Allen and Miles Jones travelled the world for several months.

Add to that the injury of the increasingly influential hooker Mason Good, who only managed 12 appearance and the departure in search of employment of the excellent utility forward Dan Seal and the magnitude of the problem, begins to emerge.

Despite all that, Penarth managed to put together, although in patches, high quality sequences of play that saw the club collecting a large number of bonus points, rewarding their maturing defensive and attacking capabilities. A vital cog in this gradual return to form and significantly winning ways, was the calm belief in the team potential and work ethics of Head Coach Matt Bolton, a PE teacher at St Cyres comprehensive school and Tristan Davies, whose quiet and efficient work is credited by many players as key to the incremental progress of the side.

The veterans played their part in this process and the huge efforts, on and off the field, of both skipper Rhys Morgan and vice-Captain Chris Mortimer to keep the side together during the grim days of the 2018 autumn and winter should be given significant credit. Both have been omnipresent, at training and in matches, ready to step in to play in any position that was required by the injury-ridden squad, with Mortimer having made 26 appearances and Morgan 25.

Richard Merrett, though forced briefly to take a back seat following a series of unfounded allegations from a Cefn Coed player, made 19 appearances, while the most senior forward Sean O’Sullivan played in 14 matches. The newly elected club officials, club Secretary James Docherty and Treasurer Elliott Smith made commendable contributions to the to the survival efforts, with Docherty, injured for several months at the beginning of the season, enjoying as new lease of life during the six match winning spell at the end of the season.

The return to club duties of veteran outside half Kevin Maddox added stability to an increasingly confident and productive back division, serviced initially by skipper Rhys Morgan and then by the young prodigy Spencer Robinson, who ended the season as the top try scorer with 12 touchdowns.

Robinson’s pace and quality of service brought to the limelight the hidden gems of the Penarth back division, hitherto concealed discreetly in the middle of the field, the centre pair of Owain Lord and Rhys Beynon.

The two highly complementary centres made 41 appearances between them, with the younger man, adding to his industrious exertions in defence, a reasonably proficient attacking potential of 11 tries.

The 23-year old Lord, born in Cardiff in September 1995, joined Penarth two years ago from Pontyclun, having started his playing career as a scrum-half for Llantwit Major. Beynon, who is two years younger, is a valuable product of the club’s Minis and Juniors, but after a short spell with the Glamorgan Wanderers has returned to Penarth to enjoy the company of his friends, which seems to become the main bond of this new Penarth side.

The two, as Lord observed, “have a good understanding of each other’s game, have good offloads and support play and complement each other nicely.” At the time of writing the odds are that either of them, or even both, might be voted the Player(s) of the Year by the coaches or their peers.

The third component of a potentially devastating back trio is former Youth skipper George Roberts, who also made 14 appearances, mainly on the wing. His pace, vision and technical finesse recommend him for the fullback position, left unmanned by Tom Smith who has departed for work in London. The good news is that George’s older brother Harry, who spent two years abroad, has returned to the country and is likely to re-join the club.

Another youthful prospect is Harry Williams, who made his senior debut while still member of the Youth section, having scored a remarkable six tries in eight senior appearances.

The symbol of youthful achievement in the new-look Penarth XV is young Harry Wood, who, well advised and supported by his best mate Miles Jones, has applied himself to the job in hand to become one of the potential assets of the club pack, having achieved several starts in the increasingly competitive front row.

Some of the boys who joined the seniors during the previous seasons are turning into men and although Harrison Pugsley will be missed during his foray into the London job market, several newcomers are stepping up challenging for places including former Youth hooker Liam Richards, second rower Andy Lang, utility forward Josh Spragg, back-rower Jack Hughes, hooker Iwan Baker, Ryan Jones, fullback George Kenyston, who recovered towards the end of the season from a nasty leg injury as well as the former Youth player Rob Rees who re-joined Penarth after a stint across the road with the Old Pens.

The incentive for Rees to re-join to the club must have been the return of his old mate Matt Allen from his trip Down Under. Allen made a massive impact with his abrasive play, having scored four tries in his only five appearances.

In rest was very much business as usual, with the eternally young Jimmy Crothers topping the club appearances list with 27 matches,(three tries) the highest number of matches played by any Penarth player last season, with Ben Hill, also recovered from injury, having scored seven tries from 19 appearances. The try scoring feats of the 2018-19 season tell an interesting tale about the club’s new playing style, full of dash and creativity, with a record 98 tries (two of which were penalty tries), scored by 29 players.