Rugby league side South Wales Scorpions are to rebrand and move to Merthyr Tydfil ahead of the 2017 season, with former rugby union Wales international Lee Byrne at the helm.
South Wales’ only professional rugby league team will compete next season under the moniker South Wales Ironmen, in honour of their new home in Merthyr Tydfil.
The Kingston Press League One side will hole up at Merthyr RFC’s Wern Sports Park after a season at Virginia Park, Caerphilly.
Wern Sports Park has been the beneficiary of significant investment from both Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and Merthyr RFC’s multi-millionaire backer Sir Stanley Thomas, and the 4,500 capacity stadium boasts a state-of-the-art 4G pitch and gym complex.
Facilities were upgraded to attain the Welsh Rugby Union’s A license, with Merthyr having won the Swalec Championship last year.
South Wales Ironmen’s move to Merthyr represents something of a full circle, as the town hosted the first ever game of rugby league in Wales on September 7 1907, when Oldham were the visitors to the old College Field ground.
Club director, Marc Lovering, said: “The facilities at Wern Sports Park are second to none. Our players and supporters deserve the best and the facilities at our disposal in Merthyr will be amongst the best on offer outside of Super League.
“The move represents a massive opportunity for us to move the club forward. Once we became aware of the opportunities at Merthyr, the board was unanimous in its decision to move. We are conscious that relocating the club again may raise a few eyebrows amongst some of our supporters but I’m sure those that have seen the progress we have made this season have faith in the board and the decisions we take.
“Merthyr RFC is without doubt the most progressive club in Wales. They have invested in both the playing squad and facilities, and have built up great momentum. If we can tap into that, and give the people of Merthyr another great team to get behind, then we can start to make real progress and build a club all our supporters old and new are proud to be a part of.”
Reflecting on South Wales Scorpions’ time spent in at Virginia Park, Caerphilly, he added: “Caerphilly RFC is a proud club with a great history. Whilst we were only based there for a season, we had to make certain improvements to get the facility to League 1 standard. Those improvements will benefit the club in the years to come which hopefully will see them start to rise back through the divisions again.”
Chief Executive, Gerald McCarthy, said: “The move to Merthyr Tydfil followed an extensive review of every aspect of our business and brand. As a board we felt the ‘Scorpions’ brand had for too long been associated with a struggling side. That made it more difficult to attract new support and sponsorship.
“We wanted a name that reflected the proud tradition and history of the region. Merthyr Tydfil is a town built on iron and at one point was the largest producer of iron in the world.
“Merthyr RFC are of course nicknamed ‘The Ironmen’ and incorporating the name Ironmen appealed to all of us and to the supporters we spoke to about it.”
Former Wales and Ospreys back Lee Byrne has been appointed director of rugby at the Ironmen, returning to the code he began his career playing – with Bridgend Blue Bulls.
The 46-cap back, who toured with the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and retired from playing in April 2015, said he was excited to start the next chapter of his career, and stated loft ambitions for his new role: “It’s great to have this opportunity to continue my rugby career as part of a brand new project developing rugby league in South Wales.
“It’s where I started my amateur rugby career – as did a lot of of Welsh rugby greats – and I believe this will be a fantastic way to get youngsters engaged in the sport and fans enthused to watch it.
“As director of rugby it’s fantastic to be able to help develop this new team as it makes the move to state-of-the-art facilities at the Wern in Merthyr. The South Wales Ironmen have a huge opportunity to make an impact. The ultimate goal is to be promoted to Super League.”
Marc Lovering added: “To have someone of Lee’s calibre believe in what we are trying to build and to want to get involved, is a huge boost for everyone involved with the club and for rugby league in South Wales. Lee would not have got involved unless he believed in our aspirations and ambitions. He is an intelligent guy with a great deal of experience in elite level sport. We are all looking forward to working with him.
“Lee’s Director of Rugby role will have a wide ranging remit and we will certainly be looking to tap into his knowledge and experience at every opportunity. He has played sport at the highest levels and has a great deal of knowledge around nutrition and strength and conditioning.
“He will be co-ordinating how we approach these things across not only our first Team but also our under 20s side and our Category 3 Academy side based at Coleg y Cymoedd.
“He obviously doesn’t have a great deal of technical knowledge when it comes to rugby league, but he does have a wealth of experience that our coach Phil Carleton will be able to tap in to. Lee will also be overseeing our work in local schools and colleges working with Dafydd Hellard and Paul Emanuelli. It’s a varied role and I know he is looking forward to getting stuck in.”