By Rob Cole
It’s not been a bad few days for the Thomases.
Cardiff Blues chairman Peter picked up the European Challenge Cup in Bilbao on Friday night and his brother, Sir Stan, saw his Merthyr team complete the double in Bargoed.
They may be at different ends of the rugby playing spectrum, but the Merthyr story is no less compelling than that of the Blues. Their 35-7 bonus-point win made it 23 wins in 28 league matches this season and they retained their title with a game to spare.
The home clash with Aberavon, who they beat in last season’s play-off final, is likely to turn into a bit of a celebratory party with both the Principality Premiership trophy and the newly acquired WRU National Cup, won by beating Newport at the Principality Stadium two weeks ago, on display.
The result was never in doubt as the reigning champions plundered two tries in the opening 10 minutes through scrum half Justin James and wing Kyle Evans to take a 14 point lead.
That advantage grew to 28 points before the home side came up with any sort of response.
There were driving line-out tries for the front row Union as prop Nathan Trevett and replacement hooker Matt Dwyer both crossed. Then, replacement scrum half Adam Hoskins rounded off the 23rd win in 28 league games this season, in both halves of the campaign, with try No 5.
— Merthyr RFC 🏉 (@RFCMerthyr) May 13, 2018
Battling Bargoed conjured up a try for back row man Grant Rogers in the second half, but they played second fiddle from start to finish to find themselves anchored to the bottom of the table after Neath picked up a losing bonus point at Carmarthen Quins.
Merthyr head coach Dale McIntosh said: “This is totally different from when I was at Pontypridd and we did the double there. Ponty is my club and it was a dream come true then.
“But having done it once doesn’t make it any less enjoyable the second time. It is a really a tough feat to achieve and I am just chuffed for those players because they have worked really hard out there.
“Everyone wants to knock you off your pedestal and Ebbw Vale were outstanding against us earlier in the week. There are some sore boys out there who are tired both mentally and physically, but we got through it.”
Merthyr are now undoubtedly the outstanding semi-pro club in the country having won the Premiership in their first two seasons in the top flight, captured the Cup this season and reached the semi-final of that competition last season.
They have now won six trophies in the past five seasons and matched the achievements of Pontypridd and Neath in completing the double this century.
The haul of silverware began in 2013/14 when they won the Division 1 East title and captured the Swalec Plate. They won the WRU National Championship title in 2015/16 and then marched into the Premiership last season and scooped the top prize in Welsh rugby.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) May 12, 2018
Nigel Davies, the club’s chief executive, said: “To take a team like Merthyr and complete the league and cup double is an incredible achievement. But winning trophies is only a part of the rugby revolution that is going on in the town.
“They had to get the shop window right, and be competitive on the field, to get the community on board with the whole project. We’re getting 200 youngsters turning up to our mini rugby session, we’ve got a 30-strong squad in our youth section and we’ve had Wales Under 18 and Under 20 caps from the club this season.
“A number of players represented the Blues in the B&I Cup and Anglo-Welsh, and Ben Murphy has now earned himself a contract at the Blues having played with us over the last few seasons.
“We bussed all our juniors to the Principality Stadium for the cup final to give them a taste of what they can achieve and we want to do so much more within our community.
“Next season we are establishing an academy with the local college and we want to improve our facilities at The Wern and open them up to more community activity. There has been considerable investment from Sir Stan Thomas, but there has also been an incredible amount of hard work from the committee at the club.
“Now ,the challenge is to make this success sustainable and so we are already looking at new talent to enhance our squad for next season.”
Llandovery can still finish as runners-up after their 28-21 triumph at Swansea. They currently trail Pontypridd by four points after they ran out 56-28 victors’ at Cross Keys.
But the Drovers have a game in hand and can overtake them if they can win with a bonus-point when they host Llanelli at Church Bank on Saturday.
RGC 1404’s 43-36 home win over Newport gives them a chance of overtaking Carmarthen Quins if they can win their final fixture at Bargoed on Saturday.
PRINCIPALITY PREMIERSHIP RESULTS
Aberavon 14, Bridgend 17
Bargoed 7, Merthyr 35
Cardiff 17, Ebbw Vale 20
Carmarthen Quins 18, Neath 14
Cross Keys 28, Pontypridd 56
Llanelli 31, Bedwas 30
RGC 1404 43, Newport 36
Swansea 21, Llandovery 28
PRINCIPALITY PREMIERSHIP FIXTURES
Tuesday, 15 May
Cross Keys v Ebbw Vale
Merthyr v Aberavon
Saturday, 19 May
Bargoed v RGC 1404
Llandovery v Llanelli