By Peter Weston and James Docherty

AT the end of every season, many rugby clubs can look back on the preceding eight months and ask, 'Could we have another go at that, please?'

Naturally, the successful clubs will be well satisfied with their work, while those who’ve suffered relegation would dearly love to have another chance to prove themselves.

As season 2019-20 in Division 3 East Central A ground to a Covid-19 halt as Canton beat Penygraig on 11th March, it was already clear that Pontyclun would probably have joined them in winning promotion to Division 2 East Central, although had Penygraig won that game, they might still have overhauled them.

At the bottom of the table, while 12th-placed Cardiff Quins seemed beyond redemption, 11th-placed Pentyrch still had every chance of overtaking 10th-placed Clwb Rygbi.

You get the idea.

Which brings us to the Seasiders, stranded in a respectable 5th place with eight games to play.

Any projection based on games played would surely have placed Fairwater above them at the end of the season, as they had only completed 10 games.

However, while 6th place would by no means have been regarded as a failure, a brief look at the details of Penarth’s season reveals how much better they might easily have done and why a re-run of ‘the season that never was’ should allow this squad to give a better account of themselves.

The record of 7 wins involved 6 try bonus points, while the 7 defeats featured 4 losing bonus points.

Three of those 7 defeats were serious cases of what might have been, against St Albans and Penygraig (twice) Penarth lost to the final kick of the game having led at the 80 minute mark.

The three games where the Seasiders came seriously unstuck were also interesting: away at newly promoted Canton on the opening day, they fell 40-10 down by half-time, only to recover in the second half to 40-22 and a try bonus point.

A 12-39 home defeat against Pontyclun was pretty convincing, only for Penarth to win the return fixture 16-5. Best to draw a veil over the pre-Christmas 39-12 drubbing away at Pentyrch, the ‘match that should never have been brought forward!’.

This was a season where a large number of younger players who had risen through the age grades at Penarth cemented their places in the first team squad. Of the players in the top ten for appearances in the league this term, six were in their first or second season in the senior squad.

Among these were Harry Williams, top try scorer with 9 from only 10 starts and George Roberts, with 8 from 16.

On the other hand, the durability of the more experienced campaigners was never in doubt, as captain Rhys Morgan appeared 15 times, as did outside-half James Docherty, who was also top points scorer with 109.

The squad was not really found wanting in part of the field, all sections showing impressive levels of strength in depth, which has not always been the case in recent seasons.

The front row performed consistently well, revolving round the experience of Alan Doyle and Mason Good, but substantially augmented by the emergence of the dynamic trio of Harry Wood, Geraint Williams and Tom Griffiths.

One huge positive sign for the future from this 5 is that not only were they all regularly available, Good (topped the appearance charts playing 17 games), Doyle (16), Wood (16), Williams (15) and Griffiths (14), but the latter two have just turned 20 whilst the first three are all just 24, far from the pinnacle of a front rowers career.

The second row enlivened with the arrival of Alex Shore, who enjoyed a memorable debut season, and spent his time in the boiler room with the experienced heads of anchored by Matt Allen and Andy Lang.

Back row play was hugely encouraging, led by vice-captain Miles Jones and supported by the abrasive Josh Spragg. In terms of dynamism, though, there was almost an embarrassment of riches, as Sam Davies and Thaine Baker enthusiastically joined the returning Richie Bowen in terrorising the opposition from the open-side.

There was little variety in the half-backs, as James Docherty and Spencer Robinson dominated selection, but Dockers had one of his best seasons (hopefully not a swan song), while Spence shone from start to finish and never once allowed opponents to settle.

It was a mark of the impact that Spencer made last season that almost every opposition targeted the young speed merchant yet he was still able to conjure up 6 tries of his own whilst also improving his all round game and supplying the ammunition for many others.

The three-quarters were a more volatile section of the squad, but never lacking in quality.

Penarth RFC have rarely looked as strong in this area in recent memory. To the long experience of James Crothers and Ben Hill was added the relentless try-scoring of Harry Williams and George Roberts, while the second half of the truncated season saw the welcome return to the side of Owain Lord and Rhys Beynon.

Not to forget Josh Hurley, who in a few appearances left a deep impression of power and quality which will be a huge asset in the seasons to come.

Which leaves us with captain Rhys Morgan, almost (but not quite) ever-present at full-back and a commanding presence as the last line of defence and the first point of counter-attack.

Morgan is an impressive leader of this young side and has, along with coaches Matt Bolton and Tristan Davies, really galvanised the squad.

He said of this season:

“After a strong end to last season, we were welcomed back down to earth with a bump with a hammering at Canton. I think this was the shot in the arm we needed to get focused.

From there, barring 3 last minute, 1 point defeats, it was a successful season, with a tremendous away win at Pontyclun being the highlight. With such a young squad, the maturity and experience required to see out these games wasn't quite there, but that will come with time.

Not only have improvements been made on the field, but off the field as well. The feeling around the club at the moment is superb, and on-field success will feed from it. The success of the Athletic XV has really added a buzz and has made the club a much more enticing prospect.

Next year, we will be looking upwards and if we can keep the squad together and learn from the experiences we have had this year, I'm confident that we will be in the promotion come the end of the season.”

The resurgence of the Athletic XV has been a huge success, and one that has undoubtedly driven the improvements seen in the 1st XV. The Athletic completed 15 fixtures and were riding high in 2nd place in their league when the season was prematurely concluded.

The club’s director of rugby, Paul Williams, has overseen matters with team manager Dickie Newman doing a huge amount of work to get the side up and running.

The team provided a platform for seasoned performers like chairman Sean O’Sullivan, Treasurer Elliott Smith and the evergreen Chris Mortimer to keep their engines running whilst it has also given the younger players and new players access to rugby on a regular basis.

Players like Ben Wellington, Owen Williams and Ben Heywood are talented players who will no doubt be challenging for 1st XV honours next season.

The coaching team remains stable for the coming season with Matt Bolton continuing as head coach and Tristan Davies leading the backs. Paul Williams has also come back into the fold on a permanent basis to add his experience to mix and hopefully the result will be a continuation of this seasons development with and an end of season report that looks forward to season 2021/22 in Division 2.

Whilst the things at present are far from certain in terms of if and when we will next see Penarth in action preparations are already being made to ensure that the Seasiders get the most they can from this extended pre-season in readiness for whenever season 2020/21 might start.

As always the club is keen to add to the playing ranks and if anyone is looking to join whether for playing serious or social rugby then please do contact the club via its Twitter, Facebook or Instagram pages.