I am delighted, I am sure that you loyal members are delighted and I know that all true rugby supporters in the world are delighted to acknowledge Cardiff Rugby Football Club once again as a major force as one of the leading club sides in British Rugby. In the Chairman, Alun Priday’s 1991-92 Report, he said “the season was a bad time for Players, Officials, Committeemen, Members and Supporters but I trust that we will all have learnt from it”. In our September Newsletter, Athletic Club Chairman, C. D. Williams, suggested that the “Rugby XV suffered a temporary demise”, while my comments in that same Newsletter indicated that “Season 1992-93 is crucial for Cardiff R.F.C.”.
We all recognised how precarious our position was and is in a League programme. Far too often we have dwelled on our glories of the past while forgetting to adapt ourselves to the changed structure. A Club of our stature, with our assets and liabilities fostering in the heart of the Capital City of Wales could not succeed in the lower division.
I am pleased to report that the learning process has begun and we are actively looking at all avenues of the running of the Rugby Section and its position within the Athletic Club. The honour of being elect Chairman provided the ideal opportunity to progress the work already began last year when I chaired the new Executive Committee. Major decisions have been made and there is still a long way to go. Some of the decisions may be difficult for some to accept but we cannot rest on our laurels and must continue to appraise our current situation and plan for the immediate and long term future. We must remain conscious of what is happening elsewhere in the Rugby world and be adaptable at all times.
What we have already experienced this season is the approach of a dedicated squad of Players and Officials preparing themselves for the demanding world of league rugby and all the necessary commitments in its wake. Our strive for success has affected everyone, notably our loyal supporters, who have seen our fixture programme decimated as we adapt to the needs of a squad system, while mindful of the development of our younger players. Supporters everywhere enjoy being a part of a winning side and we are no different at Cardiff. We need success and realise that to achieve our goal there will be sacrifices.
Before the domestic season commenced, we had already laid our trump card – ROBERT ALEXANDER CHEYNE EVANS from QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA – a man with a proven record of achievement as an International Rugby Coach, with a pedigree and without any preconceived ideas of Cardiff R.F.C. and its personnel. From early July, he vigorously adapted himself to our “wintery” summer to begin the process of re-establishing Cardiff R.F.C. as a rugby force. It was pleasing to feel a sense of excitement and anticipation at the early training sessions in Sophia Gardens and it was not uncommon to see quite a gathering of other Club Coaches as spectators. Our preparation was completed at a Coaching weekend in Plymouth where 52 Players were put through their paces under the scrutiny. of all our Coaching Staff
In my 25 years with Cardiff l have never before experienced a start of a season where the spirit was so strong and the players were visibly bubbling with confidence and anticipation and already showing a tremendous respect for Alex and his rugby knowledge. Our traditional pre-season Sevens activities saw success at Cardiff HSOB where a new player, destined to become a firm favourite with supporters, scored 9 tries – his name – NIGEL WALKER, Olympic Hurdler turned Rugby Player. It was good to see the Snelling Sevens return to the Arms Park, although our tired squad fell to the eventual winners, Newbridge R.F.C.
September saw our long awaited return to the new season and we could not have wished for a better start. Five consecutive victories over Aberavon, Pontypridd, Newbridge, Maesteg and S. W. Police and we were one of only two sides undefeated in the League, while achieving our best start to a season for 8 years. Although we lost a close game away to Llanelli, it was now clear for all to see that Cardiff was once again a team to be feared.
The difficulties in maintaining a large squad were becoming more and more evident and for the first time, it was decided to reduce our Rags fixture list and maintain a Squad of37 players. Further success against Neath, Pontypool and Bridgend before we could experience a welcome respite from league rugby, with the arrival in Wales of the Wallabies. What a pity for all concerned that we did not have a game against them – surely the rugby fraternity would have preferred to see Cardiff face them, rather than the Welsh Students? However, this rest gave us the opportunity to display the talents of some of our younger players with friendlies against Oxford University and Bath. With 6 ex-youth players in the away game to English champions Bath, our narrow defeat showed a great deal of satisfaction and promise for the future.
With victories continuing at Newbridge and Newport, it was the long-awaited home game against Swansea that saw a full house for the first time in many years. The perfect result for us, a nail biting last minute try by Steve Ford and a Clubhouse full of very happy supporters long into the evening. I will never forget the reception awaiting our team as they walked from the field that day. Hundreds of supporters lined the tunnel beneath the stand to applaud their heroes to the changing room. This occasion was my high point in the season – everyone connected with the Club could celebrate in the success on and off the field because so much had been achieved.
Our progress continued with victories over Aberavon, Maesteg in the SWALEC Cup and our traditional Boxing Day ‘friendly’ with Pontypridd, enabling us to finish 1992 in a most satisfying League position.
Unfortunately, January 1993 will not be remembered for our victories over Plymouth Albion, Maesteg, Pontypridd and the S. W. Police but for our very sad exit from the SW ALEC Cup at home to Fourth Division St. Peters. In a season where we had achieved so much, where we were steam rolling over our First Division opponents, we faltered and were well beaten by one of the novices. We have all learnt a lesson from that defeat and we all realise how important our preparation and mental attitude and approach must be and, most of all, never to under- estimate the opposition.
Perhaps our most difficult game of the season was the re-arranged Wednesday evening fixture at Pontypridd. With our defeat by St. Peters the previous Saturday still fresh in everyone’s mind on a rain swept Sardis Road pitch, our team were back on the road with a well earned 6-3 victory.
The rest of our season was unsettling, with fixtures intermingled with Internationals, friendlies and tbie inevitable growing injury list. It was difficult to maintain our momentum and we lost close encounters to both Neath and Llanelli. Although we were successful against Pontypool and defeated English Club Champions, Bath with a scintillating display, we probably lost our chances of the League title away to Bridgend. A very confident start and a 14 points to 3 advantage, soon dwindled and for the only occasion this season, we fell away miserably for the rest of the game.
Our traditional Easter visitors, the Barbarians, entertained us to a high scoring friendly where once again some of our young players showed their merits. A good crowd saw a fixture which we are striving hard to retain. The Barbarians: are experiencing difficulties in sending their strongest squad because of English and Scottish League and Cup commitments, while this year’s selection was also hampered by players preparing for the Lions and National summer tours. We also have our domestic programme and are fortunate that our opponents, Bridgend on this occasion were prepared to rearrange the Easter fixture, but we could find ourselves in an irretrievable position if Easter Saturday becomes a Cup fixture date.
The season finished on a high note with the defeat of Newport in a bruising display and the double over Swansea which allowed us to achieve the League runners up spot.
Whilst our League programme ended very successfully, we failed to reach the final stages of the SWALEC Cup and provide our Supporters with the added incentive that a good Cup run brings. However, much has been achieved on the playing field and I look forward with excitement to our 1993/94 challenge, to emulate Llanelli’s double this year.
I must thank Mike Hall and all our players for the dedication they have shown and their commitment in making Cardiff a major Rugby force once again. No praise can be greater than that given to Alex and his supporting Coaching team of Terry Holmes, Alun Donovan, Tony Faulkner and Malcolm Childs, while Peter Manning and Gwynne Griffiths have guided our Under 21 ‘s. The organisation and development of a strong coaching support group is vital for a successful Club structure.
My congratulations to our International representatives this season who have brought honour to the Club. At the highest level, Mike Rayer, Adrian Davies, Mike Hall, Mike Griffiths, Nigel Walker and Simon Hill confirmed in the International arena that they are quality players. The disappointment of both Mike Rayer and Mike Hall are shared by all knowledgeable rugby supporters. How can you explain the dismissal of two players whose overall contribution was immense and who distinguished themselves with flawless performances? At Under 21 level there were caps for Huw Harries, Paul Armstrong, Adam Palfrey, Chris John, Andrew Lewis and Jason Hewlett. Itis interesting to note the position played by these 12 internationals – full-back, wing, centre, outside half, scrum half and … prop forward. I am expecting our talented forwards to make up this short-fall next season.
Appreciation must be shown to those who attend to the Players’ injuries and here I thank our Club Doctors, Physiotherapist, Surgeons, Dentist and Trainers for their loyal support.
Off the field of play, a tremendous amount of work has been undertaken to ensure the Club maintains its high standing in the Rugby Wolrd. We are now operating not unlike a major Company and this takes a good deal of time and effort to run. Much time is given freely but we are always indebted to our professional staff and I must thank our Chief Executive, Alf Heffell and his Office Staff, together with Albert Francis and Tina Nash and their Staff for their invaluable contribution. To the Ground Staff with their new Ground Manager, Brian Walker, who keep our pitches in such good condition and to Jeff Ellerman and his Clubhouse Staff, you are all a major contributor factor to our success.
My personal gratutide goes to all Committeemen who have supported me loyally and conscientiously throughout the season. A special tribute to John Nelson, our Hon. Secretary and to Brian Mark, Vice Chairman for their ready assistance and tremendous amount of work carried on behind the scenes. We have improved our Sub Committee format in an effort to be prepared for change. Inevitably, new structures take time to develop and to some, our meetings probably seemed endless, yet I am aware that much has been achieved and you must all be congratulated for your patience. Some Committee Members, quite naturally, while using their long experience, have a heavier burden than others. In this vein my appreciation goes to the Executive Committee Members: Terry Charles, Tony Williams, Brain Mark and John Nelson, who often met at unsociable hours with very short notice. It is good to see that there are always new candidates for Committee and the new members this season: Brian Bennett, Steve Cannon, Robert Lakin and Ian Eidman all gave a good account of themselves and will be valuable assets in the future.
Congratulations to Tony Williams on becoming our local Welsh Rugby Union District Delegate. Tony has worked conscientiously for the Club within the District and I am sure he will prove an ideal representative, following the footsteps of other Cardiff men notably Keith Rowlands, Les Spence and D. E. Davies. Tony will be an asset to the new regime within the W.R.U. and we are all pleased that Cardif R.F.C. once again has what it rightly deserves, a voice within the W.R.U.
One of the most enjoyable social occasions this year was a “Celebration Dinner” marking the retirement of the inimitable Albert Francis. Our entrepreneurial Ground/Commercial Manager retired in February 1993 and he can look back at his career at the Arms Park with a great deal of satisfaction. Albert ‘no problem’ Francis will long be remembered for his vision of the Arms Park with the innovative Hospitality Suites at either end making our Ground the most prestigious setting for a Club Rugby Ground in the world. He will also be remembered for so many of his other talents that made him so popular with everyone associated with him, sporting and non-sporting. Within our Rugby fraternity the name or Albert Francis is synonymous with all that is good in sport.
Another face that we shall see less of next season is that of this year’s Vice Chairman, Brian Mark. Brian has decided not to seek reelection although I am convinced he will continue to be a regular attender in one form or another. Brian’s long career with Cardiff spans from 1949 when he joined the Club as a player to make 95 first team appearances before joining the Committee in 1961 to reach the highest honour of Chairman in 1969. A most respected Committeeman, who has loyally and conscientiously represented the Club for over 40 years throughout the rugby fraternity. He has upheld the traditions of Cardiff R.F.C. steadfastly and is respected throughout so very many Rugby Clubs. His tireless work as a Fixture Secretary was unrivalled and since retiring as Headmaster of Lady Mary High School, be has devoted so much of his time for the benefit of Cardiff Rugby Club. A person of Brian’s stature is sure to be missed and I have the highest regard for his major contribution.
May I also take this opportunity to thank our loyal band of Supporters who maintain our successful Lottery and to Ken Jones and the most loyal, dignified Supporters Club that any Club could have, the South Glamorgan Youth Brass Band for our traditional match musical interludes and all Club Members for your loyal support throughout the year.
Finally, I wish to extend my sincere appreciation to every Cardiff Rugby person who has made this a most enjoyable year that I will surely treasure for a very long time.