As part of our special preview to Finals Day 2017, Caerphilly Observer spoke to Caerphilly RFC ahead of a big day out in the capital…
After a second final defeat in as many years, there were some despondent heads at Caerphilly RFC in 2004.
The Castlemen hadn’t really been able to impose themselves on either final, and to see their opponents experience the adulation of lifting silverware stung, but there was an acknowledgement amongst club officials and supporter that things could certainly be worse.
That often over-used expression became something of a reality however, as the introduction of regional rugby, external difficulties and numerous relegations saw Caerphilly drop down the Welsh rugby pyramid.
Memories of facing French giants, Castres, in the Parker Pen Shield in 2003 waned, but on Sunday April 16, the Castlemen play at the Principality Stadium, marking 13 long years since their last appearance there.
The National Bowl final pits Caerphilly against Amman United, and will see them line-up for a first major final since losing 13-36 to Neath in the Konica Minolta Cup at the same ground in 2004.
This season’s success has seen the crowds return to Virginia Park, with a cup-run exciting those of an older generation and inspiring the latest youngsters to wear the green and black shirt.
Promotion from Division 3 East A is very much on the cards too, with former club stalwart Brett Davey at the helm and outside-half Matthew Hurley (right) providing a reliable source of points from the kicking tee.
Davey has introduced a set of core values at the club, and while admitting his delight at preparing for a cup final, stressed Caerphilly’s focus remains on promotion.
He said: “The cup run’s been unexpected because it wasn’t anything that we’d really planned before the season. We addressed the players at the start of the season, and the first thing they said they wanted was promotion.
“The cup is a big distraction for me, because our priority has always been the league and trying to get promoted.
“For the players, it’s fantastic. We’ve already spoken about the final, and the players know that regardless of what happens, everybody will get at least 20 minutes.
“My philosophy is that I’m asking players to train twice a week here, and they have been training on a regular basis all throughout the season. If I can’t give them 20 minutes in a final then that’s a pretty poor showing.
“For me, the winning of the cup is not really that important, because I think we’ve already won in a sense from a coaching point of view. It’s all about the bigger picture, which is building something here, and all the players have been fantastic. I can’t fault them, they’ve all bought into it.”
Davey has first-hand experience of dealing with the pressure of cup finals as a player, having slotted a 30-yard penalty to clinch the 2002 Welsh Cup for Pontypridd eight minutes into stoppage-time.
Now steering the ship at Caerphilly – the side he played for between 1995 and 1998 before joining Ponty – Davey wants his players to enjoy the occasion.
He added: “The most important thing is to enjoy it, as much as you possibly can. The best way to enjoy it is by focus. If they just focus on their individual responsibilities, then the team responsibility will come automatically.
“The problem is if you start worrying about other things. For me, it’s just for them to go out, express themselves, play the way we’ve played all year, play the way we know we can play and enjoy it, because it doesn’t happen too often.
“This may be the only opportunity they get to play so if they’re not going to enjoy it, they’ve wasted an opportunity. I’m trying to create rugby players here, not robots. That’s not how we coach.
“The result is immaterial. Yes, we’d like to win it, but if we lose it then it’s no big deal because our values outweigh the winning of the cup and that’s what’s really important.
“We have to stick to our values in moving the club forward.”
Division 3 West B leaders, Amman United, boast a famous face amongst their ranks in former Wales and British and Irish Lions star, Shane Williams, in a narrative which attracted the national press, but Caerphilly captain Gareth England claimed it would not be a distraction to their preparations.
The back-rower said: “We’ve spoken about it as a joke between the lads. He’s [Williams] a former World Player of the Year, but you never concentrate your game on one person, because if you do, someone else is going to run in and score the tries and be a pain in the bum.
“You’ve got to take the opposition as a team, but he’s a special player, that goes without saying.
“This season, there’s definitely been a buzz around the club. A few players have come back who’ve played here before and we’ve got some of the youth boys coming up, so there’s been a definite buzz this year and it’s been building.
“We’re fighting for promotion, and with the big final next Sunday, it’s been great around here.
“At the beginning of the season, we set some goals. The main one was promotion, and the second one was to have a cup run.
“We’re still aiming for promotion, but we just take each game as it comes. When the game arrives on Sunday, we’ll aim to win it, but we’re very proud of going that far regardless of the result.”
Caerphilly’s Route to Finals Day
Round 1: Caerphilly 48-7 Llandaff North; Round 2: Caerphilly w/o v Whitchurch; Round 3: Caerphilly 33-11 Markham; Round 4: Oakdale 5-8 Caerphilly; Round 5: Caerphilly 51-3 Wattstown; Quarter-final: Caerphilly 41-14 Taffs Well; Semi-final: Caerphilly 20-14 Cilfynydd.
Caerphilly booked their place in the final thanks to the heroics of outside-half Matthew Hurley, who scored 15 points in their 20-14 win over Cilfynydd to take his season total to over 300. No.8 Josh Hayward grabbed the Castlemen’s other try, but they had to cling on in the closing stages after winger Gareth Dare was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle.
Caerphilly have lost just twice in 15 league matches this season, racking up a massive 767 points in the process while conceding just 193 – the best in the division.
They sit in third, a point behind Oakdale with two games in hand, and chairman Alex James believes the club have “punched above our weight”.
He said: “Brett’s come on board and brought an attitude to the squad and I think that’s shown in the results. In some of the games we’ve played and won by 70-odd points, and he still hasn’t been happy so it’s a great attitude.
“Reaching the final is a great achievement since it’s been 13 years since we were last in one, and not many teams do that.
“We’ve had a tough couple of years and I think following on from the professional era, we’ve done well to bounce back.
“It’s going to be a good day out for the boys and for the club, and we’re going to be taking a number of fans down to the Principality Stadium.
“We’ve brought back a community atmosphere to the club, the Taff’s Well game proved that with over 1,800 supporters at the Constructaquote Stadium.
“I think success breeds success, but our priority is to get promoted this year.”
With little to cheer about since 2004, the atmosphere around Caerphilly RFC has been positive this season, with the first team’s exploits permeating throughout the club, from the officials to the youth sides.
Mike Prew, Plaid Cymru councillor for the Morgan Jones ward, is a part of the club committee, and spoke in glowing terms of the hard-work by those behind the scenes.
Cllr Prew said: “We’ve got a hard-working group of people.
“Not only the committee who are working tirelessly to get the club back to where it should be, but everybody is coming on board.
“It’s all about the shop window, with the first team winning, competing, playing well on Saturdays, and our mini and juniors are also doing fantastically well.
“We took 400 kids to the semi-final, and I’m sure there will be a great number at the Principality Stadium on Sunday.”
During the final, Caerphilly will wear shirts dedicated to former player Ian ‘Figgis’ Phillips.
‘Fig’ came through the ranks at every level of the club, and sadly passed away last year.
This article forms part of Caerphilly Observer’s four-page pullout previewing Finals Day 2017, as seen below: