Friday, March 30, 2007

Some Bits and Bobs About Llanelli

Two of the more enduring rugby traditions meet this evening when Munster travel to Llanelli to take on the Scarlets in the first of this weekend's Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

While we're all well versed in the tradition and warm-fuzziness of Munsterdom, the famous Carmarthenshire club does the heartland thing just as well as team with thegreatestfansintheworldboy.

Alone It Doesn't Stand
Did you know that Munster once beat the All Blacks? Yes really, apparently so. They don't go in for plays and books and suchlike in Llanelli, but they could, because the Scarlets beat the mighty New Zealanders six years previously, in 1972. The 9-3 defeat was the second game of the All Black tour which would culminate in that famous meeting with the Barbarians, in which Gareth Edwards touched down what is regarded as the greatest try of all time.

Llanelli's win did make it onto the stage however, in the repertoire of Welsh comedy songster Max Boyce, who penned the ditty '9-3' amongst other rugby-centric material.

Of course, the Scarlets (only their nickname then, the current regional entity of that name not being formed until 2003) were well used to humbling southern hemisphere giants: they beat Australia in 1967, and repeated the feat against the then world champions in 1992.

Old Red
Llanelli were playing ball long before Munster as well, being formed by one Mr. John D Rogers, an industrialist and old boy of Rugby School in 1872. Okay, it's not entirely accurate to say they were actually playing ball; in the absence of any opposition within travelling distance, they didn't play their first game until February 1876, against the Cambrian Club in Swansea, and it wasn't until 1879 (the year of Munster's formation) that they first lined out at Stradey cricket ground, their home to this day.

Farewell to Stradey?
This evening's fixture could turn out to be one of the last to be played at Stradey Park, if the club's plans to move to a new stadium in nearby Trostre come to fruition. Llanelli hope to build the 13,500 venue in conjunction with Carmarthenshire council, however the funding of their portion of the project requires the demolishment of Stradey Park and its sale for housing development. The plan received a boost in January when the Environment Agency withdrew an objection to the development due to the risk of flooding.

According to Scarlets chief executive Stuart Gallacher, the very future of the club depends on the sale of the Stradey site: "The implications of refusal will not only lead to the folding of the club and a major embarrassment for Wales across the sporting world, but will also signal a major lost opportunity for the economy of Wales." Yikes!

Llanelli Blues??
Llanelli RFC started life playing in blue, and went through several other colour schemes before settling on their now famous scarlet. In 1882/83 they sported, ahem, rose and primrose stripes, and for the 1883/84 season went for red and chocolate quarter, before deploying the all-red look for the visit of an Irish XV on Easter Monday 1884.

Famous sons
Llanelli can lay claim to producing some of the greatest names in Welsh and, indeed, world rugby. Feast your eyes on this bunch: Ivor Jones, Lewis Jones, Barry John, Derek and Scott Quinnell, Phil Bennett, Ray Gravell, Carwyn James, Delme Thomas, JJ Williams, Nigel Davies, Jonathan Davies, Phil Davies, Ieuan Evans, Rupert Moon, as well as current luminaries Dwayne Peel, Stephen Jones and Heineken Cup record try-scorer Dafydd James.

Little Saucepan
Sosban Fach I should say, the name of a Welsh folk song about, er, a little saucepan and the travails of its housewife owner. The song is synonymous with Llanelli, to the extent that atop the Stradey Park goalposts are perched, yup, little scarlet saucepans!

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