After 7 trophy laden seasons as Captain, 36 year-old Damien Hudd has made the very tough decision to step down as Captain, and from Premiership rugby, to return to the Brynmawr club from which he joined the Steelmen. He will take up the role of player coach as he begins the next chapter of what has been a great rugby career.
An avid rugby watcher and keen student of the game, Damien has already gained his Level 2 coaching qualifications, impressing WRU Coach Development staff with his delivery and knowledge. He will now look to gain coaching experience and take his Level 3 qualification in the near future and we fully expect to see him return to Eugene Cross Park in a coaching capacity at some point in the future.
Damien was a junior professional for the club in the professional era where he was seen as a future Steelmen star with older supporters remembering him playing a superb game in Edinburgh that saw him up against former All Black and current Bath coach Todd Blackadder. The first signs of his ability as a captain were recognized at this time as he led Wales U19’s on several occasions.
For various reasons it was several years later that Damien returned to the Steelmen colours, having spent a short period at Cross Keys but mainly plying his trade at his hometown club of Brynmawr. During this time he also played a lot of rugby league and was capped by Wales at both Amateur and Professional level, a major achievement for an amateur player in a rugby union heartland. It was during the relegation season that Damien played 2 games for us in March and April after being persuaded to help his old club out. It was clear from these performances that he was still more than capable of playing high-level rugby and had the ability to drive performances of those around him. Damien left the field with a fractured cheek-bone, but incoming Chairman Jon Jones ensured that he was looked after by the club, realising that this was a player that the club would need going forward.
That summer, Damien returned to the club and, in what was one of many great decisions the coaching duo of Neil Edwards and Jason Strange made, he was appointed Captain. His rugby ability and toughness were needed in equal measures in what, at times, could be a brutal Division 1 East with everyone wanting to prove a point against a club who, 10 years earlier, had been playing European Cup Rugby. Damien led from the front in every match he played and inspired those around him, and the Ebbw Addicts who loved his effort for the badge. The supporters particularly liked the Damien specials where the opposition’s main ball carrier would get tackled with bone shuddering force that lifted the crowd and his team but left opposition teams nervously looking for the big man and hoping to avoid him in open play.
At this point no one expected Damien to break a club record and captain the club for a record 7 consecutive seasons, dominating the lower divisions for 4 seasons as ring fencing prevented the return to the Premiership of the Steelmen. These 7 seasons saw Damien surpass the club legend Gareth Howls’ record as a 4 times captain as well as other great Steelmen captains such as Arthur Lewis, Denzil Williams, Phil Gardener, Neil Robinson and Kingsley Jones. This record is even more remarkable when one understands that Damien has suffered severe knee ligament injuries which would have ended most careers, but through his mental toughness and love of playing, he rarely missed games or left the field early in the last 7 seasons except for the intervention of the odd referee and another knee injury in the second year of Division 1 East.
Watching Damien lifting the Premiership Trophy for the Steelmen last year was a special moment for all, and meant a huge amount to Damien – particularly after the loss the previous season to the same club, Pontypridd, at the self styled ‘House of Pain’ of Sardis Road. The performances in that season saw Damien awarded the Premiership Player of the Year, a richly deserved award that no one could argue with. He had been nominated in the top 3 for that very same award the previous season.
It is worth noting the success he has led and personally had at this point:
Division 1 East Champions 2010/11 and 2011/12
National Championship Champions 2012/13 and 2013/14
National Cup Semi Finalists – drawn game – out on tries scored
Premiership Runners Up 2014/15
Premiership Champions 2015/16
Premiership Tier 17th place 2016/17
From the club he has been given the Man of Steel Award, Player of the Year and Captain’ Award. He has scored 12 tries in 160 games during the period.
It is always a difficult time when a key player moves on, doubly so when it is a captain but I’m sure all connected to Ebbw Vale RFC will thank Damien for his fantastic service and truly memorable moments.
A message from Damien
What can one man say about so many? Well it started nearly 8 years ago when I still felt young enough for a challenge, big enough to think I was hard and hadn’t spent all my money on tattoos.
8 years ago I made the decision to leave my great club Brynmawr and join the club that I’d always thought, what if and but maybe, so I took the jump, a leap of faith in a club that had so much history, passion and desire, desire to get back to where they belonged.
I joined with massive amounts of nerves and not much else. I knew it would be hard even just to make the cut, I never knew that it would lead to something that I will hold so special and close to my heart. Captain, captain Damien Hudd of Ebbw Vale, The Steelmen! What a Ring to it!
There are so many individuals to thank for my time at the club: the backroom staff who without those guys the club wouldn’t run, the amazing coaches I’ve had the pleasure to work with over my time at Ebbw – Lee Davies, Jason Strange, Nelly to name a few – the supporters who I have one word for: MAGIC! You have been our voice. There has to be a special mention to Rhys Shorney and Dr Rhys Thomas, without these guys I would have retired many years ago. I would like to thank the man behind all of this, Jon Jones, for trying and mostly succeeding to keep me a happy old man. His work for this club is tireless and I’m glad we could pay him back by winning the league title last year. Without my team mates, without the boys I call best friends, even family, I would have been just another player. Behind any successful captain there is always the best team, best friends, best family ever. Every teammate that has worn that special red, white and green shirt, sometimes pink, purple, blue, I will hold you close to my heart and close in my memories forever.
I think I’ve had a lucky time. I came to a club that had been struggling so there was only really one way we as a team could have gone: leagues won championships won even premierships won. It was never really my title or my wins, even winning Premiership Player of the Year last year was only done and won because of the incredible team I had around me.
So it’s with a very sad and in other ways happy heart that I leave Ebbw in the hands of the new captain, new coaches and hopefully some new fans too. It’s time to take the step and the new challenges that come with playing and coaching back at my old club Brynmawr. This decision has been the hardest decision made in my rugby life but I think it’s best for me and for the club. I’ve loved every thing that has been involved in being an Ebbw Vale Steelman.
Last and certainly the most important thank you must go to my wonderful, amazing wife who over the last seven years has been married to Ebbw Vale Steelmen, brought up our amazing daughter, put up with so many late nights, all days at rugby. Without her support I’m sure I would have never been able to do any of the above.
So signing off as your captain and player…
Chairman Jon Jones has paid the following tribute…
Having been the person who persuaded Damien to play those 2 games in the relegation season it was obvious to me that this was a player, a man who we could build our team around. I felt like I was stalking him as I continually spoke to him about coming to the club. Damien had the choice of several clubs in the Premiership and Championship but finally signed for Ebbw Vale in the middle of June 2010. From that season he grew into the captaincy of the club, saw it as an honour and wanted to lead us back to the Premiership. Despite a few set backs he never wavered in this objective and was delighted when we finally achieved this. Damien off the field is a quiet and considered person with good personal values and ethics that belied his forcefulness on the field. There are 3 moments for me that have summed up Damien and how he changed his career over the 7 seasons:
- Damien had been sent off in a game in 2010-11 and as I stood in the corridor of the Principality Stadium waiting to be called into the Hospitality suite that was that evening’s venue for the Disciplinary hearings, I casually asked him what his recent record was like and was a little surprised when he said, “Pretty good in the last two or three seasons.”
We got called in and, as we entered, the Chairman of the Panel said, “Hello Damien son, you know the drill, take your usual seat.” I was stunned, but between us we managed to get the sending of rescinded.
Five days later ,Damien was sent off in a league game. He came and saw me after the game and apologised with the words, “Sorry Jon, the boys were getting a kicking and the ref was ignoring it, so I thought I’d better sort it.” I now can’t remember the last time Damian has been sent off or yellow carded
- After we had lost to a very good Pontypridd side in the Premiership, Damien again came over to me and said, “Jon I’m sorry we didn’t win, but I promise you we will be back and win this next year.” A promise he kept in some style! The only downside being a rib crushing sweaty bear hug from him as the pitch celebrations started!!
- With his knee injuries catching up with him and slowing him down on the field. Damian made the decision to change his diet and training and he did this with great commitment. This allowed him to up his game contribution and led to him being crowned Premiership Player of the Year. This is a great tribute to Damian’s mental strength and desire to be the best he could for his club.
There have been some great descriptions of Damian in press reports and opposition match programmes where he was often described as the ‘Talismanic leader of the Steelmen’, but my personal favorite was in a programme: ‘The warrior like and splendidly inked Ebbw Vale Captain’, which paid homage to his great love of tattoos as well as his ability as a rugby player.
He has been the rock on which our success has been built, a steady influence as coaches departed and I am proud to count him as a friend. I thank him for everything he has done for the club; his loyalty, friendship and I look forward to a future discussion on him coaching the Steelmen.
Chelsea football club have just seen their long time captain move on, and I would like to borrow their description of him and apply it to Damien, as I cannot think of anything more fitting. Thank you,