It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Neil Robinson following a long illness. He was an outstanding player and a wonderful man. A flanker, he joined us in the early Eighties after studying at UWIC in Cyncoed, Cardiff and quickly made his mark in a club renowned for the quality of its backrow forwards.
In 1984 he was named Player of the Year and his superb fitness and skills led him to captaincy of the club in four seasons, 1984/5, 1985/6, 1987/88 and 1988/89. It was a busy time for a captain of a club like ours playing an average of 45 games a season, but Neil filled the role superbly.
In October 1987 he captained Ebbw Vale against the United States Eagles a close game which we were fortunate to win. The Eagles scored three tries to our one and Neil, a sportsman in every sense of the word, paid tribute to the Americans who looked likely winners and according to a match report would have won “had the Ebbw Vale pack cracked.” Led by Neil, it did not.
Phil Gardner coached Neil and remembers the impact he immediately made when he joined the club. “Neil was always superbly fit, a family man, an outstanding player and a very nice guy.”
The following are the thoughts of a former teammate Rob Stephens who joined the club during Neil’s captaincy from Gwernyfed RFC:
“I came to the bright lights of Ebbw Vale at the start of the 1986/7 season and joined up with Neil being the Club Captain for that season. With him being a fellow back row player and Coaches Phil Gardner and Gomer Evans also being backrowers I had plenty to prove and aspire to. I soon learnt that the club captain led by example with a high standard off the field as well as on. Jumping on the club bus to one of my first away matches to Nottingham Neil pulled me to one side and said, “Bob you are up a couple of notches here and representing a great club in, Ebbw so have a shave and put your tie straight” Total respect of the skipper and I did take heed!
Plenty of big fixtures lay ahead on the field and Neil always led from the front over the years as we played side by side many times in some tough encounters with Neil always nailing his spot at 6 and representing Ebbw Vale and skippering the side to a very high standard. Truly a great role model to all players especially to myself and the fellow young backrowers we had in the club at the time,(Spiller, Easley and Ian Williams amongst them). Great memories and great times with our fellow rugby players, committee members and supporters at Ebbw Vale Rugby Club. Neil Robinson led and left his mark that is for certain, respected by the Rugby Family. RIP Neil and Thank you.”
We offer our sincere condolences to his family on behalf of those who played with him, watched him from the terraces and enjoyed his company.
Chairman’s End of Season Review
Saturday 25th April would have seen us enjoying the first game of the Cross Border Competition against the Scottish Super 6 with Southern Knights being the visitors to a sun drenched Eugene Cross Park.
Instead we all find ourselves in a once in a lifetime situation with a global pandemic changing our daily lives completely and possibly leading to a new normal after the current restrictions are lifted. It is fitting that the nation gathers each Thursday to thank all the key workers who are keeping food on the shelves, vital utilities running, building field hospitals in weeks and our health needs superbly catered for by all our truly heroic NHS staff. As a club we all will have family, friends and those attached to the club working in these areas and all our thoughts are with them as we ahope to emerge out of a dark period safe and well to enjoy our game and lives as soon as the authorities have the Pandemic firmly under control. In the meantime please do all you can to support all of these latter day heroes by staying home and following the requirements that have been placed on us.
As Greg outlined in his review, the season was a tough affair as we went through a transitional period on and off the field. For the more recent supporters it was a new experience to be in a battle at the bottom of the table and not at the top. Many of the players brought in have gained invaluable experience in this fight that will allow them to contribute to the future success of the club.
One of the contributory factors to our struggles has been a truly amazing injury list that kept our medical team of Dr Rhys Thomas and physios Rhys Shorney and Saran Wyburn extremely busy. It was only on our final game that the 23 named by the coaches on a Thursday actually were the 23 who represented the Steelmen in a game, such have been the injury and availability issues that have dogged the coaches and medical team over the season.
Three performances stand out for me. RGC away where we only had 21 players available but the 21 showed real steel that day in gaining a fantastic away win against all odds. The noise generated by the travelling faithful was also something to proud of. The display of forward play in defence at Llandovery, earning a draw in the worst conditions I have ever attended a rugby match in, was also a special day. Finally, the performance in beating Pontypridd at Eugene Cross Park with some Alamo like defence allowed the players to gain the win they fully deserved.
Our results improved markedly in 2020 as new recruits added quality to the team in what was a very competitive Indigo Premiership Division. The players, coaches and officials of the club were confident that we would maintain our Indigo Premiership status on the field and were disappointed not to be able to do this but were fully supportive of the decisions and measures put in place by the WRU around rugby in Wales.
As Chairman I would like to thank the Chairman, CEO and staff of the WRU for the manner in which they have dealt with the crisis, providing help in ensuring clubs survive the pandemic. The communication process to the club’s officials has also been first class and it is right that we as a club publicly state our support, confidence in and gratitude to Gareth Davies, Martin Phillips and all the staff at the WRU for the swift, clear and sensible decisions taken.
Off the field I would like to pay tribute to Karl Offers as Club Secretary for the last 18 months who has done a superb job in what has been a testing period. His work in completing a few tricky transfers during the season, particularly around Christmas, was above and beyond the call of duty. Mark Hathaway in his first season as Treasurer has replaced Alan Gall, a tough act to follow, with professionalism whilst modernising and cutting some of our off the field costs. In most clubs the post of President is an Honorary one, the club is fortunate to have Mark Powell QC as our President who works hard alongside the officials in any capacity required. These officials are backed up by a great bunch of volunteers who man gates, put programmes together, sell them, run buses, look after mascots, serve food, run social media and manage kit.
Another important part of the season saw the club welcome the Mini & Junior Rugby Section officially to the club. This will be an important element of the future of the club as the financial landscape of Welsh rugby changes. There will be a further exciting development in this area which will be revealed to you all in the next few weeks.
This year we had a significant number of sponsors without whose backing we would be unable to operate as a Premiership club. Their financial backing and enthusiasm for the club is of immeasurable value. The donations from The Friends of Ebbw Vale and individuals has been of tremendous assistance in the last 12 months and long may it continue.
Through the off field work, increased sponsorship and realigning of our cost base we will enter the next months having reduced the club’s debts by around 70%. This is a great achievement but we still have to focus on completing the job in the next 12 months which I believe is a realistic target.
I would also like to finally pay a special tribute to the players who stuck with us despite our financial situation and retained a great work ethic and team spirit despite our on field struggles. The very small coaching group of Greg, Lewis Roberts and Team Manager Darren Venn worked tirelessly through the pre season and in season to ensure we remained as an Indigo Premiership Club, accepting the financial circumstances and just getting on with the tasks in hand without complaint. All of the above deserves huge thanks from us all.
Finally a big thank you to all our supporters for sticking with us in a tough season that seemed to reserve the monsoon rain conditions for game day and we look forward to seeing you all again in the near future.
In the next few weeks we will be releasing information on our squad retention and recruitment. Prior to this we will be providing details of the coming season Coaching Set Up
Ebbw Vale RFC
Supporters will remember the news about Patrick Harrington’s terrible accident. Many at the Club feared the worst so we are delighted to inform his many friends that, as one would expect from one of Ebbw Vale’s finest, his family report that he is now making steady progress.
The Club is delighted at the news and wish him, Susan and the family the best in what for them have been doubly difficult times.
Some non-rugby but important community news for all Ebbw Vale RFC supporters. All sections of EVRFC got together and donated to two departments at Nevill Hall Hospital, Abergavenny. £100 was donated to ITU and £100 to A&E to thank staff for their wonderful work not only in this crisis but all day every day throughout the year. #NHS 💙💙
Thanks for all you do !!!!
Uncompromising hooker Joe Franchi has been unveiled as Club Captain for 2020-21. Head Coach Greg Woods said, “Joe has all the qualities of a good leader and he leads from the front on and off the field. He is undoubtedly the right person to lead us through the next period at Ebbw Vale RFC.”
Joe said, “I feel extremely privileged to be entrusted with this duty, especially as I will be following in the footsteps of so many club legends.”
Everyone associated with the club sends congratulations to Joe and wishes him the very best for the season.
In this strange and troubled time, it is with sadness that we announce the departure of 3 players who have played major roles on and off the field in what have been largely successful times.
This time last year the club faced a deep financial crisis and I would like to reassure all connected with the club that the players are not leaving for financial reasons but through personal choices. The club is in a much healthier position and will be announcing a new Captain, those players who have already committed to the Steelmen, and new signings to ensure that we are ready when the new Indigo Premiership starts.
Our Captain Ashley Sweet has been associated with the club for 10 seasons as a supreme line out operator and driving force in our Division 1, Championship and Premiership titles that earned him a professional contract with the Dragons. Unfortunately he suffered with injury after injury and was never able to get an extended injury free run and returned to Ebbw Vale. After close on 250 games Ash has made a decision to move on to achieve a playing ambition before he retires. Coaches and Officials wish him all the best for the future and he, along with his dad Martyn – his greatest supporter and critic – Jay and children will always be welcome at Eugene Cross Park. I would also like to point out that the club he is moving to has asked us not to disclose his destination and we are respecting that request.
Another stalwart who joined the club mid season 9 years ago is back row forward Cameron Regan whose whole hearted approach along with his approachability off the field made him an Addicts favourite throughout his time at the club. He is likely to step down the divisions to play with less pressure as he recharges his batteries and allows niggling injuries to be overcome. His approach led to a number of injuries that have limited him to over 150 appearances in the club. He will always be remembered for his ability to play across the back row, and snaffle ball in the line out: few will forget his 5m line out steal at Llandovery in the last few minutes that secured the win and led to our final win over Pontypridd. There are many stories about Cameron, all of them true and guaranteed to make you smile. I believe we will see him again in Steelmen colours in the future.
Finally Rhys Francis will take a break from rugby whilst awaiting his delayed shoulder operation and then going through his rehab period. Rhys is closing in on 100 appearances but has suffered from bad luck with injuries since joining the Steelmen from Cardiff Met where he captained the team. This season he has been a key player before a dislocated shoulder ended his season in an epic battle in gale force wind and rain at Llandovery in January. His commitment could never be faulted, reverting to playing at 6 as injuries beset the squad and turning in a superb exhibition of back row play in the game at RGC. He is another we hope to see in the Steelmen colours again in the future.
The season was always going to be a hard and uncompromising challenge with such a big squad turnover in the summer and it turned out to be as tough as we expected. We had four main aims as a club at the start of the season and those were to (i) be competitive and stay in the Welsh Premiership (ii) bring our rugby budget to a manageable and sustainable level (iii) bring through the best local talent and (iv) work closely with the mini and junior sections of the club to create a vibrant hub of rugby in Blaenau Gwent. In big parts I felt we achieved some of those aims and we will continue to work on these and improve on them through season 2020/21.
The effort and work rate of the squad throughout the season was remarkable. Some players gained valuable Welsh Premiership experience in pressure situations and this will only benefit us long term. As a head coach all you can ask for is maximum effort and the desire to give their all and they certainly did that. We had some bad losses along the way but also some memorable wins no more so than an away victory in RGC when our squad was decimated. The raw emotion and the feeling generated from everyone (fans included) at the final whistle will live long in the memory.
I was really pleased with the new players’ attitude and performances; it’s always hard joining a squad in transition but they can be proud of their contribution to the season and they can look to build on their reputations as strong premiership players in the red, green and white shirt. Senior players (led superbly by Ashley Sweet our skipper) stood up to the challenges we faced as a squad and throughout a hard campaign they never once went into a negative space but kept pushing us forward. Rest assured the squad is extremely tight on and off the field!
There were some real signs of improvement in performance levels post-Christmas and, before the postponement of the season, we felt we were a very tough team to beat and were digging out some positive results. After the hard work of this season we have a positive outlook for the next campaign as we will have a settled squad, some boys are coming back from injuries and everyone is looking forward to getting back together to start working hard and representing Ebbw Vale RFC again.
I would like to thank all the back room and medical team within the club for their hard work throughout the season. They were fantastic and certainly very busy, and I am hoping we had enough players in the physio room this season to last a few seasons. Here’s to an injury free run next year. We are a very small coaching team and the work they all do is second to none but importantly they all care deeply about the club and you can do anything from that base. I would also like to thank Jon, Karl and the rest of the board for their full support and guidance throughout the year as lots of positive work and projects have been done superbly behind the scenes.
We would have loved to finish the season becausewe wanted to play those big games and earn the right to stay up in our own right (we wanted to earn everything we got). We worked all year for that target and although we were 8 points clear and a game in hand of the drop there were still 25 points up for grabs and I am sure some twist and turns were left in the race. But we fully understand the situation and the decision to postpone the season, which was the right, correct and only decision which could be taken. Rugby is not the priority now and rightly so.
There are bigger problems facing our community and the nation right now and from all of us at Ebbw Vale RFC 1st team squad we wish all the community, club members and supporters the best of health and hopefully everyone is safe and well. More importantly we would like to thank all the key front-line workers especially those in the NHS who are working extremely hard keeping us safe.
In this period of isolation, we have a clear communication plan with all players and staff with weekly check ins and the players are enjoying the new house party app (there is rumour that a team social has never been so full!). They are all working hard maintaining their fitness levels the best they can in the circumstances. Don’t worry this pre-season (whenever it starts!!) will be as hard as ever and our renowned fitness levels and work rate will be worked on fully.
The first game back on Eugene Cross Park next season whenever it is, will be a celebration / testimonial game featuring Ross Jones XV v Rob Sevenoaks XV so keep an eye out for details as they get posted. That will be a great way for the rugby to get back going in Ebbw Vale. I am sure you will look forward to attending and celebrating two great players and stalwarts of Ebbw Vale RFC in recent history. A fun day for everyone will be in store which is desperately needed in these times.
Lastly thanks for all the support this season, keep safe and I look forward to sharing a beer with you all as soon we can at the club. Take care all.