Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Sunday's Coming - South Wales Scorpions

In a week where State of Origin had the RL world salivating, Sunday sees Hornets undertake the long-haul to ‘Old’ South Wales to take on the Scorpions.

Essentially a Wales Rugby League Development vehicle, the Scorpions sit at the top of the pyramid for player development in Wales. Supported by the WRL as a channel to the pro-game in the ‘rugby heartland’ of the principality, the Wales Rugby League renamed its Academy structure the 'South Wales Scorpions Academy', bringing all age-grade teams under the banner of the Scorpions to provide a clear route from junior to senior level. All very sensible.

This season the Scorpions are playing out of Mountain Ash - and you’d be forgiven for never having heard of this tiny dot on the Welsh map.

Mountain Ash (‘Aberpennar’ in Welsh) is a town in the Cynon Valley, in the County Borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, in lovely Welsh Wales. It has a population of around 7,000 - about the same as Kirkholt - and its surrounding districts include the ‘suburb’ of Newtown, which works for us.

To say it’s a bit out on a limb is an understatement, whilst only an hour from Cardiff on the train, when we looked at the potential of doing the trip by rail, the one train from Manchester Piccadilly (change at Cardiff) would get you there just after kick-off and the train back would land you back in Manchester at 4.30am on Monday - three changes and a mere nine hours after leaving Mountain Ash. You could be home from Dubai in less time!

Deep Dyffryn Colliery, Mountain Ash:
if you squint, you can imagine a rugby ground on it...
The Scorpions play out of Parc Dyffryn Pennar, the home ground of Mountain Ash Rugby Football Club, which is built on the site of former Deep Dyffryn Colliery which closed in 1981. Our Welsh is a bit ropey, but if we remember what we once learned on holiday in Tenby, Dyffryn is pronounced Duff-Run - and the Scorpions certainly are on a bit of a duff run at the moment : winless so far in 2015.

The ground is also the site of the Cynon Valley Miners Memorial - its plaque says “This memorial is erected upon the pit head of the former Deep Dyffryn Colliery in memory of all those Cynon Valley miners whose labour and social conscience shaped our communities and society”. Right on, comrades.

Parc Dyffryn Pennar:
if you squint, you can imagine a coal-mine on it...
Whilst it was built on coal, Mountain Ash’s finest export was Rugby League stand-off Dickie Williams who played for Leeds and Hunslet in the 40s and 50s. Williams won 13 caps for Wales between 1947–1953 while at Leeds, and also won 12 caps for Great Britain during the same period. Later - while at Hunslet - Williams also represented Great Britain against France.

With Dickie in mind, it looks as though the Scorpions could’ve done with a few of his anthracite qualities last week against York (rock hard and red-hot). After a spirited first quarter, South Wales’ resistance turned to ash, eventually shipping 13 tries to crash 70-nil. Ironically, the game was played at at Featherstone; former coal capital of the North. A miner distraction, obviously…

Scorpions coach - and ex-Hornet - Mike Grady was philosophical in his search for positives: “For the first 20 minutes we were in the game, but it is the same week in, week out where we have 20-30 minute spells then we seem to collapse. It was always going to be tough after travelling… but we went out there and gave it our all, with the spirit still being good, so we need to keep working and smiling. We had six players out, but the squad are capable of something and it is a matter of being consistent to put in an 80 minute performance”.

It’s looking like 2015 will be a challenging year for MIke. Deeply committed to developing the game in Wales, he sees the long-game in building from the bottom-up, but results like this must chip away at you over time.

Having been jettisoned out of the iPro Sport Cup by Hornets courtesy of a low-intensity 40-0 flogging back in March, you’d have to hope that dryer weather, a faster track and a chance to pump-up that all-important points difference will work in Ian Talbot’s favour. But as the last two trips to the valleys ended in 2-point defeats, it’s a trip that will require 100% focus if Hornets are to avoid yet another tricky banana - or Pennar-na - skin (see what we did there?).

As mentioned, Scorpions play at Parc Dyffryn Pennar, Mountain Ash CF45 4DA - AA Routefinder has it at 4 hours 43 minutes, so leave early and take plenty of breaks folks!