Pontypridd Rugby Football Club was formed in 1876, and was sufficiently well established by March 1880 to be one of nine clubs that met at the Tenby Hotel, Swansea, to discuss the formation of a national union.
One of its players, a nineteen-year-old year old medical student called Edward Llewellyn Treharne, played in the first international match between a Welsh XV and England at Blackheath on 19th February 1881.
In 1886-87 the headquarters of the club was the Maltsers Arms, near the old bridge that figures in the club's badge, and it played its home matches at the Ynysangharad and Trallwn Fields. In 1890-91 the club moved to a field alongside the River Taf at Treforest, and began the development of the famous Taff Vale Park. The final Welsh trial was held there in December 1892 "to encourage the rising valley club." The club then moved to the People's Park in Mill Street in 1901, and it stayed there for three seasons. Then, on 1st October 1904, it played Caerphilly in the first game on a new pitch at Ynysangharad fields. Although the club later returned to Taff Vale Park for a short time, it was back at Ynysangharad by 1908 and stayed there for 66 years.
Many important figures emerged in the early years of the club's existence. Tom Williams was the club's second international, playing against Ireland at Lansdowne Road on 28th January 1882. He served on the WRU committee as a vice-president and selector, and was a representative on the International Board from 1901 to 1908. Ack Llewellyn also became an important figure in the Welsh game, as a referee and adminstrator. Ernest George was Pontypridd's third international player, appearing forward in three matches against Ireland and Scotland in 1895 and against England in 1896. Duncan McGregor was captain of the Pontypridd side in 1906-07, and was selected in all Scotland's international matches in 1907, when they won the Triple Crown.
When it restarted after The Great War in the 1919-20 season Pontypridd had "no ground, no kit and not a penny to their name," but a small group of 'rugby fanatics' worked hard to get things going again. At this time the name of the club was briefly changed to Pontypridd United Football Club, but had reverted back to Pontypridd Rugby Football Club by 1921.
Although Pontypridd played many games against the top Welsh clubs between the wars, much of the fixture list was composed of 'junior' clubs. The man chiefly responsible for steering Pontypridd through these difficult years was D.G. ('Dai') Williams, who was Chairman of the club for over 30 years. He became a member of the WRU committee, and was one of the 'Big Five' selectors for several years.
When games resumed after the Second World War, Pontypridd battled to maintain 'first class' status. There was also a constant battle with the local authorites to improve the facilities at Ynysangharad Park. The teams changed in the swimming baths, over two hundred yards from the field, and there was no proper terracing or grandstand.
Many Pontypridd players, then as now, came from the local schools out of the Pontypridd Youth XV (formed in 1954). The first 'superstar' after the war was Glyn Davies, who typified the 'Welsh' style of outside-half. He played in the two Victory Internationals in 1946 when he was still a schoolboy, and then got eleven caps between 1947 and 1951.
Glyn was followed into the Welsh team by Russell Robins, who got the first of his thirteen caps against Scotland in 1953, and also played in four tests for the British Lions in South Africa in 1955. Russell was capped at No. 8 and lock, and was regarded as a World class back row forward at the time. He played in more games than any other player on the British Lions tour to South Africa in the summer of 1955, and was selected for all four tests.
The third international after the war was Danny Harris, who appeared for the club between 1955 and 1960. Then Gareth Payne was capped in the second row against England, Scotland and Ireland in 1960. There were also a couple of international 'near misses' in this period, with the closest being Maurice Braithwaite, who figured in all three Welsh trials in the 1961-62 season and was selected as a reserve against France.
For many years the unofficial headquarters of the club was the Greyhound Inn, but in the 1960-61 season it opened a new clubhouse, Park View, near the northern entrance to Ynysangharad Park. This was the first time that the club had a home of its own, and it would remain its headquarters until May 1971. Although often regarded as an 'unfashionable' team in the fifties and sixties, Pontypridd regularly figured in the top ten of the unofficial championship, and won the competition for the first time in the 1962-63 season under skipper Eddie Jones in 1962-63.
The new A470 trunk road from Cardiff to Merthyr meant that Pontypridd would have to move from its clubhouse and pitch. A new ground was developed at Pwllgwaun, in the area known as 'Dan's Muck Hole,' after the colliery which used to be sited there. The game against Cross Keys on 28th April 1971 was supposed to be the last to be played at the Park, but the new pitch was not yet ready. However, it was found to be possible to fit a minimum size playing area into what was left the old pitch. So the club soldiered on, playing most of its games at the Park, a few at at Taff Vale Park, and some on grounds 'borrowed' from other local clubs.
The new clubhouse at Pwllgwaun was opened on 18th January 1974, but it was not until 4th September 1974 that the club played Maesteg in the first game on their new pitch, soon to be known to all of the rugby world simply as 'Sardis Road.' For the first half of the season the club had to operate with temporary dressing rooms, and without a grandstand or floodlights. The grandstand became available in February 1975, the dressing rooms in mid-March, and the floodlights on 14th March in a game against Ruthin.
There was a major change in the structure of Welsh rugby in the 1971-72 season, with the inauguration of the Welsh Cup. Pontypridd rarely did well in this competion, but did make it to the semi-final against Aberavon in the 1974-75 season.
Tommy David - the third Pontypridd 'superstar' after the war - made the first of his 404 appearances for the club on 1st September 1967, against Whitland. Although we loaned him to Llanelli for a couple of seasons so that they could beat the All Blacks, he was back at Pontypridd and in the Welsh team for the Centenary season in 1975-76.
The 1975-81 period in the Club's history was a golden era. Pontypridd won the Western Mail championship three times in six seasons, came third once and fourth twice. The club won the Merit Table competition once, came second twice, and fourth twice. The club also got to the final of the W.R.U. Cup for the first time in 1978-79, losing an exciting game to Bridgend. In six seasons the team played 326 games, winning 263 of them and drawing seven, a success rate of 85 per cent!
For some time we at Pontypridd have got used to the tag of having the best supporters in Welsh rugby, and evidence of this was starting to surface in press reports. In the 1974-75 season, against Aberavon in the Cup semi-final, the reports talked about Pontypridd's "army of supporters." The following season, in his Western Mail report on the game against Bridgend in April, J.B.G. Thomas wrote that "the large crowd kept up an ear-splitting chant of 'Ponty, Ponty, Ponty' in support of their side."
The Australian touring team played at Sardis Road in December 1981, and Pontypridd narrowly lost a titanic struggle by three points to six.
Bob Penberthy finally made the last of his 877 appearances on 11th December 1985 in the game against Ystrad. Bob had played his last full season in 1981-82, but continued to turn out for the first XV and the Athletic when required. He represents the spirit of Pontypridd better than anyone else who has ever worn the black-and-white jersey.
The decision was made in 1988 to set up a league system in Welsh club rugby, to start in 1990-91 season. The eighteen 'first class' clubs would be divided up into two divisions on the basis of their performance in the three seasons from 1987 to 1990. Fortunately Pontypridd had the players and coaches to get into the top flight. The main architect of the success was coach Clive Jones, who brought with him a philosophy of rugby based on fitness, self-belief, and a fast rucking game.
Two players who would make the greatest impact on Pontypridd rugby over the next decade made their first appearances in the 1989-90 season. Dale 'The Chief' McIntosh made his first appearance against South Wales Police on 11th November 1989, and Neil Jenkins came in on 14th April 1990, also against the Police.
The nineties was the most successful period for the club since the 1970s, and given the intensity of competition at this time, it is fair to say that this 'golden age' was even brighter than the first. Furthermore, it would last for longer, see a host of Pontypridd players capped, see Pontypridd playing in a European competition, and see the rise of Neil Jenkins to world-class status. In this ten year period the club won the league in 1996-97, came second once, third three times, fourth twice and fifth twice.
The success was due to the quality of its players, most of whom came through the club's own development programme or were plucked from local junior clubs. But there is also no doubt that a change in the coaching set up which occurred in January 1992 played a major part in bringing about the new 'golden age'. Dennis John, former player and captain, took over as coach.
Ponty got to the cup final in 1995-96, where the opponents were the League leaders, Neath. It turned out to be one of the best finals ever. Captain Nigel Bezani had announced his retirement at the end of the season, and so he had something special to play for. Pontypridd won by 29-22, and there was a pot on the Pontypridd mantlepiece at last!
On the international scene, Jonathan Mason was called up for Wales' tour to New Zealand in 1988, and won his first and only cap when he came on as a replacement at Auckland on 11th June 1988. This was the first international honour gained by the club for 12 years, and signalled a gradual change in our fortunes in this respect. Paul Knight won his first cap in 1990, and Neil Jenkins in 1991.
Neil Jenkins had only played 16 games of senior rugby when he first played for Wales against England on 19th January 1991, and then went on to be selected for all of the Five Nations matches that year. He scored the first of his 1049 international points in his debut, and claimed his first international try in his third game against Ireland. His international career continued in the 1991-92 season, and we saw the beginnings of a scurrilous media campaign against him. It is difficult now, given what we know about his career, to believe that some commentators who were supposed to know something about rugby could write him off at 21 years of age.
Pontypridd played the South African national side on 22nd November 1994, and by lost by three penalties to one penalty. Pontypridd also travelled to South Africa to play Northern Transvaal at the Loftus Versfeld stadium on 22nd March 1995, to mark the opening of the new floodlights in preparation for the World Cup. Although we lost, we were not disgraced, and it was a great honour for the club to be asked to play such a game.
The first European club competition took place in the 1995-96 season. Twelve clubs from France, Ireland, Italy and Wales took part, with Pontypridd playing Milan at home and Leinster away. Pontypridd beat Milan to become the first Welsh team to record a win in the tournament, but lost by a single point at Lansdowne Road.
Local company Just Rentals became the club sponsors in the 1991-92 season, and would play a major role in the history of Pontypridd until the advent of regional rugby in 2003-04. Managing Director Bernard Jones was a Rhondda man who believed in putting something back into the valleys, and as part of their sponsorship they employed Neil Jenkins and Dale McIntosh in the company. Without their involvement it would have been very difficult for Pontypridd to have stayed at the top.
As the Dennis John era came to an end in the summer of 1999, there were good times for the club in the last years of his reign. As well as the cup win in 1996, we won the championship in 1997, the first for the club since 1978-79. In the European Cup, Ponty gained qualification to the prestigious tournament for its first six seasons, the only club side to do so. There were momentous wins over the likes of Bath, Leicester and Munster, and there was also the 'Battle of Brive.' All in all, a record to be proud of.
During the nineties a host of Pontypridd players gained caps for Wales. As well as Paul Knight and Neil Jenkins, there were caps for Richie Collins, Paul John, Greg Prosser, Martyn Williams, Dale McIntosh, Mark Rowley, Kevin Morgan, Gareth Wyatt, Dafydd James, Mike Griffiths, Geraint Lewis and Ian Gough.
In the new Millennium, caps followed for Michael Owen, Richard Parks, Robert Sidoli, Mefin Davies, Gethin Jenkins, Sonny Parker, Jonny Bryant and Ceri Sweeney. Finally, against Romania on 1st November 2002, Neil Jenkins made the last of his 87 appearances for his country. Along the way he had scored 1,049 points, made up of 11 tries, 130 conversions, 235 penalties and 10 dropped goals. When you realise that Wales only scored 2,125 points in those 87 matches, his contribution is put into a different perspective. Jenks scored almost half Wales' points, and was on the losing side in 41 of those 87 games. Imagine what he might have done playing for England or Australia over that period!
Jenks also toured twice with the British Lions. The first time was to South Africa in 1997, when he played in all three tests as a full back. As the Rothmans Rugby Yearbook said "the goal-kicking of Neil Jenkins, so assured, so composed, was a vital ingredient in the Lions success." Jenks scored 41 of the Lions 59 points (1 conversion and 13 penalties) to add to his international tally, and in doing so, broke Gavin Hastings' record for the most points scored in a Lions Test series. Jenks came back to Pontypridd in 2002-03, following a spell with Cardiff, and good European runs in the Parker Pen European Cup and another WRU Challenge Cup victory at least meant that the professional era at Pontypridd ended on a high note.
In February 2003, with Pontypridd preparing to meet Wasps in the Parker Pen Cup, Eurorugby published its rankings of Europe's top rugby clubs. Pontypridd were placed 11th in the table, after Gloucester, Munster, Toulouse, Agen, Leicester, Biarritz, Leinster, Wasps, Ulster and Northampton. The eight other Welsh clubs in Europe were placed as follows: Llanelli 12th, Neath 19th, Bridgend 24th, Newport 28th, Cardiff 34th, Swansea 37th, Ebbw Vale 40th and Caerphilly 50th. Now, one of the best clubs in Wales was to be sacrificed in the move to regional rugby.
Five regional sides were formed for the 2003-04 season, and Pontypridd merged with Bridgend, to form the "Celtic Warriors," which took on board a host of top Ponty players, including all its international representatives. This new fully professional outfit would now carry the valleys flag into the European Cup and Celtic League.
Thus, in the 2003-04 season the Pontypridd club was now placed in the new semi-professional Welsh Premier Division, with the focus on developing young players for the regional set-up. The squad included such quality players as Matthew Nuthall, Mark Lewis, Richard Fussell, Lee Thomas, Geraint Morris, Ian Evans, Johnathan Edwards and Duane Goodfield, all of whom gained international honours at youth and Under 21 level. The young players at first struggled against established teams like Carmarthen and Cross Keys, sides which contained many older, experienced club players.
This was not the only problem the club had to face as the season got underway. At a meeting of the shareholders on Sunday, 21st of September 2003 the directors announced that Pontypridd Rugby Football Club PLC was insolvent, and that administrators were to be called in. Short of a white knight riding over the horizon with a fairy godmother sitting on his knee, this was the only course of action available. A new company - Ponty Rugby Limited - was to be formed, and in subsequent elections a new board was elected to run the club.
Eventually, under the new management and under coaches Justin Burnell and Steele Lewis, things got back on an even keel. Helped by a few 'old heads' of our own, the team started to win more and more games. Dale McIntosh proved an inspiring leader, and helped by experienced players like Jason Lewis and Paul John, we achieved an excellent 3rd place in the new league. New young stars emerged in the shape of Dai Flanagan, Tom Riley, Chris Martenko and Rhys Shellard, while Morgan Stoddart and Ian Evans would go on to play for their Country.
As the season came to an end it was announced that, despite a successful campaign, the Celtic Warriors were being axed by the WRU. Now there would only be four regional teams, and Pontypridd were now to be linked to the Cardiff Blues.
2004-05 began, as always at Pontypridd, with enthusiasm and eager anticipation at Sardis Road. It ended as a bit of a curate's egg - definitely good in parts, but ultimately a bit of a disappointment. The highlight was the Konica Minolta Cup Final against Llanelli, but even that achievement left a bad taste after we threw away a commanding lead in the final minutes of the game. The Principality Premiership campaign also ended in disappointment, as a defeat against Aberavon in the last game of the season saw us slide three or four place down the table.
The exciting thing about the season, however, was the talent that was emerging and developing on the playing field. The late Gareth Jones came though as a potent scrum half, and Ben Phillips was a revelation at hooker. Chris Clayton and Morgan Stoddart showed great promise as the season wore on, and Tom Riley and Dafydd Lockyer were arguably the best centre pairing in the league. In the forwards, Dan Godfrey, Ryan Harford, Chris Martenko, and older heads Grant Harrington and Gerald Cox, gave us a pack to be proud of. Sadly, another older head Wayne O'Connor suffered a terrible injury to his leg and would not resume playing until late in the following season.
The 2005-06 season was a great success for the club. Pontypridd finished third in the League, and won the Konica Minolta Cup. The cup final was a tremendous occasion. The opponents were Neath, who had only lost one game all season (to us, of course!). We built up a good lead going into the last ten minutes, and then seemed to have thrown it all away as an interception try gave Neath a 25-23 lead with injury time approaching. Then we worked the ball up to the opposing 22, and up stepped Dai Flanagan to drop a superb goal to win by 26-25. Phew, what a scorcher!
The season saw Tom Riley, Dai Flanagan, Duane Goodfield, Chris Dicomidis, Adam Powell and Rhys Shellard represent Wales U-21, and dynamic scrum half Wayne Evans and Shellard play for the Wales seven-a-side team. As well as our young internationals, the entire squad gave sterling service throughout the long season, and none more so than Stuart Williams and Leighton Davies in the front row, Grant Harrington in the second row, and Lee Evans and Nathan Strong in the back row.
The Six Nations-winning Wales team of 2005 was essentially a reunion of former Pontypridd old boys, as they formed the backbone to Wales' first Grand Slam for over 20 years. The roster of players reads like a "who's who" of Pontypridd stars: Kevin Morgan, Gethin Jenkins, Mefin Davies, Robert Sidoli, Brent Cockbain, Michael Owen, Sonny Parker, Ceri Sweeney, John Yapp and Martyn Williams all played their parts during the famous campaign.
The 2006-07 season... TO FOLLOW.
The 2007-08 season... TO FOLLOW.
2008-09 was another season for Pontypridd which, like the weather that disrupted so much of the club’s schedules, ebbed and flowed, froze and thawed from early September to early May.
The first weekend of the new campaign saw Sardis Road under water, the home game against Newport postponed, as would many other games due to flood and frost, causing a significant back-log of fixtures to the season’s end.
The first month of action summed up Ponty’s inconsistency, with fine home wins over form sides Neath and Cardiff, but disappointing away defeats at Ebbw Vale and Swansea.
A run of six victories, interspersed by a solitary if heavy defeat at Newport, culminated in an emphatic sixty point thrashing of Cross Keys at the end of November, with Ponty playing a brand of total rugby which enthused their loyal travelling support. Then back to earth with a bump, losing to premiership strugglers Llandovery in a match which again emphasised Ponty’s inability to sustain form and to focus on their travels away from home.
Progress was made in the SWALEC Cup with big wins over Dunvant and Pontypool, albeit in a period each side of Christmas and the New Year which saw much weather disruption and little action. An away trip to Cross Keys in the cup, with memories of that big league win still fresh in the mind, ended in a frustrating one point defeat and an exit from the fans’ favourite competition.
Entering the “home run” to the end of the season, Ponty maintained their impressive form at the House of Pain with hard fought wins over the likes of league leaders Llanelli and Newport, enabling the club to edge up the league table with the aim of securing an important top six finish.
There were still disappointments to endure along the way, not least a late capitulation away at Bedwas, and a nagging inability to nail big results and to harvest bonus points.A hard fought encounter at Cardiff saw Ponty going down to a narrow defeat, handing the league crown to their capital rivals, but in a game which all pundits agreed was a top class affair and a great advert for premiership rugby.
Having improved their bonus point tally, and ending the season with a home win over Cross Keys, Ponty closed their campaign in fifth position, with an undefeated home record intact, and despite a theme of inconsistency, having shown more than glimpses of the team’s undoubted potential and class.
The announcement of a British and Irish Cup to take place in 2009 / 2010 with the top six Welsh clubs competing, gave Pontypridd the status and the enthusiasm to progress to better things.
The whole Ponty squad pulled together admirably to make the season a success. New signings, wing Owen Williams and flanker Rhys Lloyd proved that they had more than enough ability to make the grade, whilst Kristian Baller was “Mr Versatile” covering the full back, wing, outside half and scrum half positions to great effect as injuries took their toll.
Two young Blues Academy props, Sam Hobbs and Pat Palmer had a huge impact in set piece and loose, providing the forward solidity which gave Ponty the platform to advance. Lock Chris Dicomidis was pretty much an ever present and reaching top form as the season progressed, flanker Wayne O’Connor was consistency personified, whilst captain Nathan Strong was once more a leader of men in so many ways.
The 2009-10 campaign proved to be one of frustration in the main for Pontypridd, where elements beyond the control of the club, from the weather to the WRU, contrived to make things difficult but failing to stop at least a measure of success being attained.
The inconsistencies of previous seasons threatened to resurface as a solid home win over Llandovery was followed by a disappointing away defeat in Carmarthen as the Premiership campaign got underway. Battling their way to victory in traditionally difficult venues such as Ebbw Vale, Bedwas and Glamorgan Wanderers, in the type of games where Ponty would previously have lost, it became apparent that the class of 2009/10 had some dog about them and could go on to achieve success.
By the time the TV cameras arrived at Sardis Road in early October to witness a classic home win over title contenders Swansea, in a game widely acclaimed for its levels of skill and commitment, Ponty seemed destined for glory. And then the weather turned.
Winter closed in, wet and windy, and the Sardis Road playing surface succumbed to the elements. The eagerly awaited pool games of the British & Irish Cup got off like a damp squib, Ponty having to switch their home tie against Cardiff to the Arms Park and suffering defeat. Further losses in the mud, away at Aberavon and at home to Cardiff – surrendering a two year ground record – did nothing to lighten the mood.
A spate of postponed home fixtures as the incessant rain turned to freezing snow brought the season to a standstill, with the club losing valuable revenue over the festive period and losing momentum in their league campaign.
There were ups as well as downs, with steady progress being made in the SWALEC Cup, but mainly disappointment in the BIC pool games, as a Ponty squad depleted by regional and international call-ups struggled against their fully professional English counterparts.
Hauling themselves out of their winter of discontent, Ponty now faced a heavily congested fixture back-log in the run in to the end of the season. Away defeats at Swansea, Llandovery and Neath proved costly, but the Pontypridd squad gamely battling on to hold a place amongst the leading pack in the Premiership.
There came another low point as Ponty travelled to a sun bathed Brewery Field in April, followed by a huge travelling support, to contest the semi final tie of the SWALEC Cup against Carmarthen, but going down to a heavy defeat. Just four days later Ponty turned around their fortunes with a bright home win over Llanelli to consolidate fourth place in the table and guaranteeing their entry to the following season’s British & Irish Cup – no mean task under the circumstances.
The newly conceived Premiership Play-Offs extended an already prolonged and weary campaign, with Ponty progressing to the semi final stages, only for a season which had been almost surreal, to end in total controversy. Having fielded an illegible player in their play-off tie against Llandovery, Pontypridd were booted out of the competition, bringing down the curtains with indecent haste to end the show.
A season which had at one stage promised so much, in the end failed to reach its targets. As ever, there was promise of better things to come as the young talent amongst the Ponty ranks once more came good, and a fourth place finish in the league, and reaching the semi final stages of the SWALEC Cup and Premiership Play-Offs, providing a measure of success.
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