Look towards the top end of the Welsh Championship table and you will find two famous Welsh rugby names in Neath and Pontypool. But, sitting above both of them, with the league title now proudly in the bag, there’s Bargoed, a club from a town of some 12,000 in the Rhymney Valley.
It’s a huge achievement and a particularly sweet moment, coming on the back of last month’s narrow 16-13 defeat to Neath in the Championship Cup final at the Principality Stadium. They sealed the title with a 36-0 win at home to Trebanos on Saturday, signalling party time in the clubhouse afterwards.
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Going into the game, they knew any kind of victory would see them finish above Neath. But they badly wanted the bonus point as that would mean they couldn’t have been overhauled by Pontypool even if their third-placed rivals had been able to play all their games.
Pooler caused a major stir last week when they called for Beddau to be expelled from the Championship for not fulfilling a fixture and for the entire WRU Community Game Board to resign from their positions. In the end, Bargoed couldn’t have been caught, as they wrapped up the all-important bonus point just before half time against Trebanos. What then was their take on the explosive statement from Pontypool, which you can read in full here?
“Our position on it is we think we should all support each other in the Championship. It’s a good competition,” said Director of Rugby Jeremy Rogers. “We know it’s been difficult for all the clubs during the pandemic and that some sides are struggling to put a side out. So for us, it’s about a bit of solidarity really, as a collective.”
Rogers continued: “We knew if we beat Trebanos we would win the league, but we did want to win with a bonus point because then Pontypool couldn’t have overtaken us, as we have only lost one game all season while they have lost two. We wanted to make sure they couldn’t say they could have beaten us if they had played all their games. That was really important for us.”
It was a very happy end to the season for Bargoed after a couple of hiccups last month, as Rogers acknowledges.
“We were really disappointed with the second half performance against Neath down at the stadium and we had lost the week before up in Ystrad Rhondda. It really focused the mind in terms of wanting to win the league and make sure we got the title. We had lost two games on the bounce, so we were desperate to get the result against Trebanos.
“It’s a great reward for the players and coaches. It’s been a difficult season for everyone, trying to come out of Covid and returning to rugby, with the truncated versions of the different competitions. We started training in May of last year and have probably done over 100 training sessions since then. All the credit goes to our coaching staff and players who have worked so hard this year. They deserve the plaudits.
“There are some really good sides in the Championship. You have only got to look at the quality of teams like Cardiff Met, Bedwas, Cross Keys, Neath, Narberth, Ystrad Rhondda. There is very rarely an easy game. You have got to wear sides down and stick to your principles. I think the level of competition is great. It’s a really good standard. It’s a competition we enjoy playing in.”
So just how have Bargoed – a club from a small valleys town who draw gates of around 200 people – done it?
“We had been in the doldrums a little bit in the 1990s,” says Rogers. “Then about 18 years ago, we moved from our previous club to a new one because our place was being demolished. We had some fresh ideas. We wanted to recruit some good players, but we also wanted to build some foundations, so we set up the mini and junior section, which has been a massive success for us. A lot of the players who have been in the squad this year are our own products.
“Neil Carter, our chairman, has certainly used his influence as a business man in terms of sponsorship to support the club. We declare the fact that we pay our first team players and we are able to do that because of the sponsorship and financial support that we get. But everyone else in the club is just as important. The first team is the shop window but we have responsibilities to the whole community in terms of providing rugby. The main priority for us is the club’s long-term sustainability. We want to win competitions, but we balance that with the fact that we have still got our roots in the community.
“We were as happy on Saturday to hear that our second team had got through the semi-final of the Ivor Williams Cup and will be playing Penallta in the final as we were with the first team result. It was definitely a good night in the clubhouse. We all celebrated together.”
You can see exactly which clubs admit paying players at amateur level here.
So what next for the club where current WRU chairman Rob Butcher served as secretary for some 20 years, having previously been first-team captain? They won’t be going up to the Premiership, as there was no promotion or relegation this season given the restricted fixture list, and it remains unclear what the future holds. There is talk of the semi-pro Premiership going down to eight or nine clubs from the season after next and it’s uncertain whether it will become a closed shop. From Bargoed’s perspective, they are just focusing on what they can control.
Rogers said: “It would be lovely to get back into the Premiership, but we all know about the uncertainty in Welsh rugby at the moment. It’s really out of our control. Our aspiration going into next season will be to win the Championship again. Whatever happens as a result of that, we will then deal with. We don’t really know what’s going to happen. The main thing for us is we perform on the field and remain sustainable as a club off the field.”