Huw S Thomas reports:
In a tale of fairyland proportions, Llandovery made the record books by winning the WRU Cup at the Millennium Stadium for the first time in their history in the most exciting and dramatic of fashions.
In a rousing Konica Minolta Cup Final, the Drovers trailed 18-13 but a try in the eighth and final minute of injury time by replacement prop Endaf Howells - at the end of the very last movement of the game - sent the magnificently vocal band of some 1500 Llandovery supporters into raptures of unbridled delight.
That try and the fine conversion by fly-half Howard Thomas brought a stream of tears to the cheeks of President Phil Davies and Chairman Handel Davies.
Grown men cried all around and hugged wives who became sweethearts once again, grandmothers looked 30 years younger and those not on speaking terms for 20 years gone by forgave, forgot differences and shook hands, as the chant of “Drovers, Drovers, Drovers” echoed around the Millennium Stadium.
In their first-ever appearance in the WRU Cup final, Llandovery had played with bravery and bravado to shrug off the disappointment of going behind for the first time as late as the 79th minute to squeeze past Cardiff in an extraordinary finale.
The Drovers became the first side outside the old elite merit tables club to win the WRU Cup - to the list of Neath, Llanelli, Newport, Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff, Pontypool, Pontypridd now add Llandovery.
And they did it by beating first Llanelli - the greatest Cup fighting club in Welsh rugby history with 18 final appearances – in the semi-final a fortnight ago and now Cardiff who were making their 11th final appearance since the competition started back in 1972.
In the most tense of finals, victory over Cardiff was the triumph of a rural, agrarian and Welsh speaking West Wales over the heavily populated, industrial and more anglicised East.
Thirteen of the Drovers in the 15 strong starting line-up are fluent Welsh speakers, many educated and formed in Welsh medium schools such as Bro Myrddin (wings Owain Rowlands and Viv Jenkins), Strade (prop Phil John), Maes Yr Yrfa (flanker Gareth Williams) and Penweddig (flanker Eifion Gwynne).
Many, too, came to Llandovery because of its Welshness as much as for its great family feeling - Endaf Howells from Laugharne, Eifion Gwynne from Aberystwyth, half-backs Rob Walters and Howard Thomas from Llandeilo and skipper and lock Arwel Davies from Carmarthen Athletic.
It was the triumph of the little club – of all the little clubs - of modest and meagre resources over the big city club, a victory based on honesty, courage and commitment.
“Such virtues are hard to find and cannot be coached but they are the core to our success in winning the Cup” said overcome coach Iestyn Thomas, standing alongside his assistant coaches Lyndon Lewis and Roy James. “We work hard, have a battling spirit, we never give up and - as you saw today - we keep going to the final whistle”.
“We do not - indeed cannot - lash money about and have to invest wisely within a limited and sustainable budget. It shows what any small club can do with good management on and off the field and it serves to remind other small town clubs that they can do the same.”
Encouraged by a fourth minute try from wing Viv Jenkins after a hack through by Walters, Llandovery led 10-6 at the break, their other points coming from fly-half Thomas with a terrific conversion and penalty against two penalties from opposite number Craig Evans.
As the Llandovery line out wobbled after the break, Cardiff had the lion’s share of possession but found the Llandovery defence unstinting and unyielding in the image of their outstanding back row of Man of the Match Eifion Gwynne, Jon Mills and Gareth Williams.
Thomas made it 13-6 with another excellent penalty to confirm his burgeoning talent before increasing Cardiff pressure gave Evans the chance to kick two penalties to bring the capital city side to within one point.
Evans then dropped a fine goal in the 79th minute to put Cardiff into the lead for the very first time and when, seven minutes later, he repeated the feat, all looked up for the Drovers.
Not a bit of it as Llandovery summoned up their last energy for scrum-half Walters to launch an attack on the right, well supported by half a dozen hands right up the Cardiff corner flag. And when the ball was then switched left a long cross-field pass from Thomas was expertly flipped on by full-back Ioan Davies into the arms of prop Phil John who sent Howells galloping over wide out.
It was 18-18 and the Cup was already won by dint of Llandovery outscoring Cardiff by two tries to nil but Thomas finished off a great day for one and all with another wonderful kick from way out on the left.
The celebrations began and lasted all week-end.
One supporters bus from a local pub - the Red Lion in Market Square - returned home late from Cardiff on Saturday with five fewer passengers than had set out that morning. No news or any trace of the missing five has been reported since they were spotted wandering around Cardiff Bay in the early hours of Sunday but Red Lion landlord John Rees is confident that they will be back for a pint or two before the game against Glamorgan Wanderers on Saturday.