By Tony Crimp

DESPITE the obvious difficulties of the current pandemic which restricts many activities it has been recognised that exercise is an important stimulant towards health and wellbeing.

Combine that with a social environment of team sport and a club atmosphere and physical activity is without doubt beneficial.

It is therefore gratifying to know that whenever the Welsh and UK governments have allowed organised sport to be played, Old Penarthians RFC have opened their doors to all the age group levels of mini and junior rugby and upwards to senior team training.

All these activities have been conducted in accordance with the guidelines and protocols laid down by the Welsh Rugby Union, which include limited physical contact, group size restrictions and appropriate sanitising of equipment.

Penarth Times:

New director of rugby Stuart Clarke in action at a lineout for Old Penarthians RFC

Within the Mini and Junior section, it means that up to 350 children are now back enjoying rugby with their friends in a safe and controlled environment

The return to rugby has not been without its’ challenges and many of the coaches have had to adapt their training methods as well as providing all the necessary paperwork to ensure that proper ‘track and trace’ protocols are implemented at all sessions.

Much of the early work to ensue that rugby could safely return to Old Penarthians was managed by the club’s director of rugby, Keri Lovell under the watchful eyes of mini & junior chairman, Jeff Norman and the club’s honorary secretary, Robert Crimp.

With the assistance of the social club and in particular chairman, Mel Jones and secretary, Terry Keegan, the clubhouse has also been laid out in accordance with government guidelines to provide a facility for food and a drink for all members at appropriately socially distanced chairs and tables.

Last weekend saw the first interclub activity when the Old Penarthians U13 team entertained their contemporaries from Barry RFC in a game of touch rugby.

The WRU are also allowing senior teams to play touch rugby against other clubs within their own Districts and to have interclub training sessions provided the maximum numbers allowed are not exceeded.

It may only be a small step towards the return to senior rugby matches at the community level of the game in Wales but it does bring a positivity to the training sessions for the 1st and 2nd XVs that are now being run on Saturday afternoons at 2pm by coaches Jake Thomas and Luke Ford.

The coaches’ roles have been somewhat restricted unfortunately because of Covid 19 but they have brought a commitment and a thought-provoking approach to their sessions that have been enjoyed by all the players who have attended. Obviously, 1st XV captain, Rhys Lakin, would like as many players as possible, new and old, to attend to ensure that when rugby returns everyone is match fit and ready.

One unfortunate development over the last couple of months has however been the departure of Keri Lovell due to a family commitment that reduced the time he could commit to Old Penarthians. Keri’s contribution to the role and the enthusiasm he generated cannot be overestimated. He brought a commitment to the position that supported the club’s idea to appoint a director of rugby.

He will be very difficult to replace but the club has not wasted anytime in making a new appointment in order to maintain the momentum.

The new appointee is Stuart Clarke, who is a very experienced WRU Level 3 qualified coach and leader who has performed roles for the Welsh Rugby Union as hub officer and coach educator.

He is equally at home in both the 15-a-side game and 7s and has won numerous honours in both versions of the game. Stuart is also a current 1st XV player and has an understanding of the club’s history and ethos.

He has previously played and coached the Oxford Brookes University 1st XV and captained Penarth RFC youth XV.

His coaching CV makes for impressive reading, most recently as head coach for three years with the Cardiff Blues senior women’s XV but also on the elite women’s 7s circuit with the Olorun Ponty Butchers, attending tournaments around the world including Dubai, Barbados and our very own Old Pens 7s.

Stuart has also held head coach roles with numerous Cardiff Blues age-grades and the Vale of Glamorgan U15s.

He is also a qualified sports masseuse and a qualified personal trainer.

The role will continue to be an all-encompassing one with responsibility for overseeing the growth and development of all forms of rugby at the club from under sixes through to seniors, veterans and ladies, and will include individual player development and player retention.

With players now returning to training after the latest ‘fire-break’, there couldn’t be a better time for him to take up the reins, and everyone at Old Penarthians wishes him success in his new role, as well as thanking his predecessor, Keri, for all his efforts in creating an environment into which Stuart can fit seamlessly.