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Dan Baker Is Back Where It All Began At Ystradgynlais RFC

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By Mark Orders

Former Wales international Dan Baker, who featured for Aberavon RFC last season, has returned to where it all started with a switch to Ystradgynlais RFC.

Turn back the clock a long way and there were suggestions the No. 8 would become a Test regular with his outstanding ball-carrying.

But a run of serious injuries meant he was unable to truly exploit his natural talent.

He left the Ospreys for French outfit Stade Montois before returning to Wales at the Dragons and then dropping down a grade with the Wizards.

But his work outside the game, doing one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, as a roustabout on a rig in the oil and gas industry, made it hard for him to commit to that level of rugby and he took in a spell with lower-league Pontardawe.

Now the amiable forward, who won three caps for Wales, is in Admiral National League Division One with his hometown club Ystradgynlais.
“It was too big a commitment to play Premiership rugby and work on the rigs,” he said.

“When I’d be home I’d want to spend time with my family and felt bad about not being able to train as often as I wanted.

“Aberavon were brilliant. They tried to get me a job locally, but I’m loving doing what I’m doing, and I’m looking forward to playing for Ystradgynlais.”

Baker’s job is classed as one of the most perilous in the maritime world, with those doing it needing to take extra special care every single minute of every single day when they are offshore.

The work is physical, shifts are long and dangers can include swinging loads, high winds and mountainous waves.

By comparison, Division One rugby should be a breeze.

He is not the only talented back rower on the move this summer.

It may not have made it onto Sky Sports’ yellow breaking news ribbon, but Merthyr’s signing of Ben Fry might just prove one of the most impressive pieces of business by any Indigo Premiership club.

English Championship title winners Jersey sounded out the flanker after his release from the Dragons.

But with a young son in Wales, Fry wanted to stay local and he has opted to head for The Wern.

The move went a shade under the radar.

However, Merthyr are likely to see the benefit with Fry a heart-and-soul player who’s as abrasive as a piece of 40-grit sandpaper.

The club had looked on course to have Ospreys flanker and Wales international Sam Cross in their ranks, as well, but an opportunity to continue in the professional ranks persuaded the two-cap player to join Newcastle Falcons.

With Pontypool and Neath coming up from the Admiral Championship, the Indigo Premiership should be more competitive than ever this term, so clubs have been busy trying to strengthen.

That said, sometimes continuity can be as important as any signing, something Cardiff doubtless might agree with after Morgan Allen opted to stay put despite being heavily linked with Pontypool.

It’s hard to overstate how much Allen’s call will benefit Cardiff, with the No. 8 making more ball carries and beating more defenders than anyone else in the Premiership last season.

When he took play forward, anything less than the most resolute defender within 30 metres might have felt like diving for cover.

Cardiff’s captain in 2022-23, he led from the front throughout the campaign and the Blue and Blacks will again look to him to lead the charge.

In the Championship, the headline move of the summer has to be the arrival of Kristian Dacey at Brecon.

The Wales international left Cardiff at the end of last term and had been linked with Merthyr but ended up renewing links with his old mentor, Dale McIntosh.

The ‘Chief’, as McIntosh is known throughout rugby, coached Dacey at Cardiff earlier in the hooker’s career.

He’s heading up matters at Brecon these days with his presence no doubt encouraging Dacey to join.

Tenth last term, Maesteg Harlequins should be worth watching in the new campaign after a serious recruitment drive, with the South Parade club attracting at least 16 fresh players, including former Ospreys academy youngster Travis Huntley.

He’d been rated highly at the Ospreys, but injuries over the past two seasons interrupted his progress. Now the back-rower is looking to relaunch his career.

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