by Twm Owen
The early weekends of a new year see Superbowl contenders eliminated and gridiron championships decided in America and January also signals the start of business for Britain’s American Football teams.
That includes Wales’ only representatives in the British American Football Association National Leagues, the South Wales Warriors, who were last year crowned BAFA Division Two South champions.
The Llanharan-based club, who draw players from across south Wales, start their preparations for the new season with two open practice sessions intended to give potential new players an introduction into full contact American Football.
This year will see the Warriors, who were promoted to Division One following last season’s success, once again competing in the second tier of the British game at a time its prospects have rarely looked so good.
Later this month BAFA will host a scouting event in Bristol, in association with the Canadian Football League (CFL), for 19 selected players who will have the chance to earn a roster spot in what is recognised as the second best established professional gridiron league after America’s NFL.
BAFA is one of a number of governing bodies around the world to have established a formal partnership with the CFL which is keen to identify the best American Football players from outside of North America.
The Warriors have already laid a marker down with BAFA sides by winning the Division Two South Title, at the New River Stadium in North London, at last September’s Britbowl XXXIII weekend.
With home games played at Llanharan Rugby’s Club’s Dairy Field ground, which has a 400 seat grandstand and a covered terrace as well as a clubhouse, the Warriors have facilities that are among the best of the 70 clubs in the BAFA leagues, including those at the top level.
Training is held on the 3G pitch at Y Pant school in nearby Talbot Green with the first two open sessions, which potential recruits are encouraged to attend, taking place on Sunday, January 12 and the following Sunday, January 19 from 10am to 1pm.
The 13-0 championship victory over the Bournemouth Bobcats was one of four finals staged as part of the Britbowl weekend with the under 19s championship and the London Warriors’ Premier Division Britbowl victory over the Tamworth Phoenix streamed live on the BBC Sport website. The coverage was the best exposure the domestic game has had and in October the GB Lions national side’s 34-0 victory over Russia was also streamed by the BBC.
BAFA has also sought to improve its operations with the appointment in September of former Football Association and England & Wales Cricket Board executive Pete Ackerley as its first paid chief executive. Though the appointment was controversial for some, with the association and its clubs reliant on volunteers, BAFA’s governors are determined a professional lead can maximise the sport’s potential.
The NFL has driven support for the game in Britain by staging regular season fixtures in London for the past 12 years. The NFL is also establishing an academy in London to identify the best 16 to 18-year-olds who could potentially play at American universities and possibly even the NFL.
In contrast the Canadian league, which plays its own variation of gridiron, is concentrating on giving opportunities to players nurtured from semi-professional sides with players from Mexico, Germany and France having featured during its 2019 season. This year players from the amateur BAFA leagues will also have the chance at earning the reserved roster spots on the CFL’s nine teams for development players.
Though no South Wales Warriors will feature at the January 25 scouting combine the club has produced players who’ve played at the semi-pro level in Europe.
From 2013 to 2016 the Warriors competed in the top tier Premiership but opted for relegation after the 2016 season fearing it was unable to compete with the larger London-based teams. But its planned rebuilding at Division One level hit a set back in the form of relegation to the basement division in 2017.
The Warriors were denied promotion at the semi-final stage in 2018 but came back to post a perfect season last summer culminating in the Division Two South championship victory over the Bournemouth Bobcats.
Both the Warriors and the Bobcats will compete in the Southern Football Conference Division One Central when this season kicks off in April.
The division is completed by the Warriors’ former Premiership opponents the Farnham Knights, who were relegated from the top tier last summer, the Sussex Thunder and Oxford Saints who they competed against in 2017, and the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts who denied the Warriors promotion in 2018.