A wise man once described the past as a foreign country, adding: “They do things differently there.”
No one can surely disagree with such a take on matters. Anyone in any doubt should turn to the history books and familiarize themselves with the exploits of one Jehoida Hodges in 1903.
The Wales prop – said to have a reputation for versatility – switched to wing during a Test with England after an injury and proceeded to score three tries in a 21-5 win in Swansea.
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Let’s just say that’s probably not going to happen to WillGriff John any time soon. Whatever, previous generations have thrown up some outstanding Welsh club sides.
A crowd of 58,000 once watched Neath beat Llanelli in the Welsh Cup final at the National Stadium. It was a golden era for the Welsh All Blacks, with world records for points and tries in that campaign, and in the following season they gave an outstanding New Zealand team a hurry-up. Three years earlier they had dominated England’s then finest club, Bath, 26-9, at The Gnoll.
How did the Neath of those days compare with the best of the best in Welsh club rugby over the past 50 years?
Well, here’s how the top 12 looks from where MARK ORDERS is sitting …
12. Bridgend (1979-81)
Bridgend had long been known for their flair but in the late 1970s they found a pack to complement their backs and became a match for any side in Wales.
With Gerald Williams and Gary Pearce dictating from the half-back, Steve Fenwick’s steadying influence in midfield and JPR Williams immovable at the back, they won back-to-back cup finals and in 1981 defeated Australia.
There were also two formidable locks in John Morgan and Billy Howe. Acquired from Maesteg, the pair would have caused Spartacus and his mates to run for cover.
11. Neath (1995-96)
One-season wonders these, but what a season it was, with the Welsh All Blacks playing a sparkling brand of rugby as they took the Welsh title and reached the final of the domestic cup.
There were dashing wins over Llanelli (41-0), Aberavon (95-17), Ebbw Vale (76-29), Treorchy (58-31) and Pontypridd (45-25). Leigh Davies was terrific in the center and Chris Scott an outstanding openside flanker.
Traditionally known for their physicality, Neath had a makeover under Darryl Jones and Lyn Jones, adding skill and pace to the mix and moving the ball at lightning pace out wide.
It was all a bit unexpected. But wonderful to watch.
10. Pontypridd (1995-97)
Under Dennis John, Pontypridd had been steadily improving over a prolonged period, with Neil Jenkins at the fly-half and a rough-and-ready pack that featured Phil John, Nigel Bezani and Dale McIntosh, plus a hard-nut center in Steele Lewis.
The Valley Commandos downed Neath 29-22 in a classic cup final in 1996 and were league title winners in the following season.
There was a one-in, all-in mentality about that Ponty side, a martial element that showed itself in the battle of Brive of Brive in 1997, when Sardis Road’s finest declined to take a backward step against opponents who themselves seeded not averse to mixing it on and off the field.
But John’s Ponty could also play and have a true match-winner in Jenkins. The upstarts, as ex-Neath boss Brian Thomas once billed them, had plenty to boast about.
9. Pontypool (1972-1980)
Pooler had a bone-crushing pack througout this period, built around legends such as Graham Price, Terry Cobner, Bobby Windsor and Charlie Faulker, Lions all.
Sides were bulldozed to defeat under the direction of Ray Prosser.
If the men of Gwent had a failing in this era it was that they were limited behind compared to some of their rivals.
Sides who matched them up front knew they had a chance of taking the verdict, even if there were not many who could stand toe to toe with one of the great club packs.
8. Cardiff (1993-98)
Alex Evans steered Cardiff to a Welsh Cup success in 1993-94, the league title the following season and an appearance in the European Cup final – still the only Welsh club to achieve such a feat – in 1995-96.
The club then went in for the rugby equivalent of shopping at Harrods, acquiring Rob Howley, Dai Young, Gwyn Jones, Leigh Davies and Justin Thomas.
Still European success eluded them, even with Greg Kacala and Tony Rees added to the mix.
But they bristled with power, quality and intent.
7. Swansea RFC (1991-95)
Swansea had long been the great underachievers of Welsh club rugby, but they made a transformative coaching appointment when they brought in Mike Ruddock in 1991.
The new man wasted no time in toughening his side by recruiting Garin Jenkins – with Ruddock heading up to Ynysybwl himself to sell the club to the hooker – and Scott Gibbs, with Aled Williams adding a dash of class at the fly-half.
Within a year, the famous All Whites had won the league and beaten world champions Australia, finding the consistency that had for so long eluded them.
The further league crown followed two years later and even after Scott Gibbs left for the rugby league they lifted the Welsh Cup.
It was some achievement by Ruddock, a man who had cut his teeth as a coach with spells at Blaina and Cross Keys.
Pretty much all who watched or played for the All Whites during that period would look back on the period with a certain fondness.
“It was a great side to be part of,” Rob Jones said recently.
“A great spirit was built up, with the likes of Tony Clement, Stuart Davies, Garin Jenkins, Scott Gibbs, Aled Williams, Dick Moriarty and countless others, and we played some excellent rugby.”
6. Pontypool (1983-88)
Pontypool were all but irresistible during 1987-88, when Mark Ring made his way to The Park to play alongside David Bishop.
Ring’s arrival helped give the Pooler the class to complement their traditional forward strength.
With the likes of Graham Price, Staff Jones, Kevin Moseley, Chris Huish and Eddie Butler pointing the way up front, they lost only two games all campaign, to Bridgend in an early-season game and to Neath in the cup.
But they lifted the unofficial championship and the Merit Table and finished with an extraordinary win percentage for the campaign of 97.2 per cent.
They won four Welsh titles in the 1980s, but it is hard to imagine their fans had it so good as in the year they had Bishop and Ring directing matters.
5. Swansea (1997-2001)
Which way would Swansea head after Mike Ruddock’s departure to Leinster in 1997?
Plenty expected them to head downhill quicker than Franz Klammer circa 1976. But it didn’t turn out that way.
Another shrewd coaching appointment saw John Plumtree brought in, with his reign hitting a high in 1999 when the Whites, with Gibbs long back in the mix as captain, routed Llanelli 37-10 in the ‘Men against Boys’ cup final.
They had a year earlier crushed Pontypridd 45-27 at Sardis Road to win another league crown, playing a Super Rugby-style game using all 15 players. At their best they were devastating, with the likes of Colin Charvis, Scott Gibbs – back from rugby league – Mark Taylor, Shaun Payne, Tyrone Maullin, Garin Jenkins and Arwel Thomas helping to make up a special side.
The league title success in 2001 rounded off a mightily impressive spell for the All Whites.
4. Cardiff (1981-87)
Another golden era for Cardiff RFC. one that saw the likes of Terry Holmes, Gareth Davies, John Scott, Mark Ring, Bob Norster, Alan Phillips and Adrian Hadley all perform great deeds in the famous blue and black jersey.
The final successes of the Five Welsh Cup were notched up, while in 1981-82 the club completed a league and cup double.
Some of the above-named individuals were exceptional, not least Holmes.
The scrum-half was immensely powerful, lethal near the opposition line and a strong runner with ball in hand. He also played as well as arguably any Welsh scrum-half in history behind a retreating pack. It got everything about him that he proved a worthy successor to Gareth Edwards for club and country.
He and Davies controlled matters with aplomb, but the Cardiff of this era had quality throughout, with Norster peerless in the line-out, Scott a relentlessly physical No. 8, Phillips a livewire hooker and Ring blessed with class to spare.
Australia claimed the Grand Slam on their 1984 tour. But they didn’t beat Cardiff, with the Arms Park club recording a 16-12 triumph.
Heady days, indeed.
3. Llanelli (1992-93)
It was trebles all round in Llanelli in 1992-93 as the team coached by Gareth Jenkins pulled off the feat of winning the Welsh league, the cup and achieving victory over then world champions Australia.
They used the rapier more than the bludgeon, with the likes of Ieuan Evans and Nigel Davies to the fore, while they also boasted an outstanding back row in Mark Perego, Emyr Lewis and Lyn Jones, a thinking flanker whom many seasoned Scarlets watchers considered the on-pitch brains behind the operation.
They were easy on the eye and played with a swagger, piling up huge scores in the league campaign that year.
Not one ‘wow’ does them justice. It has to be three for the treble boys.
They were one of the most stylish sides Welsh rugby has seen.
2. Neath (1986-91)
Mean hombres, indeed, who also had a wonderful fly-half in Jonathan Davies during the first part of this era.
Neath had been building as a force since 1983 but really started to hit their straps in the mid-1980s, with Davies a glittering presence.
“He’s a leader in every sense,” said Brian Thomas. “It is almost like playing chess. He is three moves ahead of the game.”
Even when the Davies left, Neath pressed on, a key victory coming when they defeated a superb Pontypool side 20-9 in a Welsh Cup semi-final in 1988, with Phil Pugh and Rowland Phillips bottling up David Bishop.
The following season they set a world record for points (1,917) and tries (345) in a season, not so much defeating opponents as flogging them.
Fitness levels were high and a hard edge provided by the likes of Pugh, Brian Williams and Mark Jones.
Many opponents dreaded trips to The Gnoll with some said to have developed Neath flu in the days before visits there, a mystery ailment that particularly afflicted those with faint hearts.
But, for home supporters in those days, The Gnoll was the place to be.
1. Llanelli (1972-76)
How good were Llanelli at their zenith in 1972-73?
They had arguably the greatest coach of the game has seen in Carwyn James and a genius at fly-half in Phil Bennett, who was one of eight players who were either Lions or would go on to achieve such status.
Not only did they defeat New Zealand, they also went on to win the Welsh Cup, thrashing Cardiff 30-7 in the final.
Under James, they perfected the art of being able to rise to the big occasion.
They could cut loose in style, with Bennett pulling the strings, but if it came to a tactical battle then Felinfoel’s finest knew how to get the job done as well as anyone, as he showed when controlling play sublimely in the 9-3 win over the All Blacks.
Bennett, JJ Williams, Ray Gravell, Roy Bergiers, Chico Hopkins, Derek Quinnell, Delme Thomas and Tommy David would see it out of their careers having secured coveted Lions status, while there were also stalwarts such as Gareth Jenkins, Hefin Jenkins, Roy Thomas and Barry Llewellyn.
This was just a magnificent club side, strong in all departments. Four Welsh cup wins on the bounce in the 1970s underlined their quality.