Craig Mitchell

Former Wales prop Craig Mitchell still has an appetite for playing at 38.

Slimline Craig Mitchell Ready To Roll Back The Years And Power Tonna To Cup Glory

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By David Parsons

They say age is just a number and former Wales prop Craig Mitchell continues to prove it is no obstacle to giving something back to his local club.

Having helped Tonna win the WRU National Shield title at Principality Stadium in 2022, and the Division 5 West Central title last year, the 38-year-old is chasing a league and cup double this time, starting with the Division 4 Cup against Newport Saracens in the latest round of #RTP24 finals at Principality Stadium on Saturday, 6 April

The 15 times capped international, who was in the Wales squad at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand and appeared against Namibia en-route to a heady fourth place finish, played club rugby for Neath, Ospreys, Exeter Chiefs, Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Angouleme, Newcastle Falcons, Yorkshire Carnegie and Cornish Pirates before returning to his rugby roots.

In his professional days he was a no-nonsense front row man, but these days he has slimmed down to become a back row enforcer.

“Craig is 38 but playing like a 16-year-old. He doesn’t drink a lot and we have got an on-site gym which he and other players are in almost every day.” said Tonna chairman Gary Knight.

“We have a really good work and fitness ethic and Craig just wants to play for the love of it. He’s a crane driver at Trostre these days.

“Wherever he’s played, he’s always seen us as his club. He’s part of the Tonna family and, as a village club, it was a real coup for us to get him on board.

“There’s no money involved. Whether it’s Craig or a second row for our second team they get given the same, a couple of pints!”

It’s been some journey for Mitchell, who also featured for Skewen at junior level. In 2005, he skippered a Wales U19 team that included Ken Owens and Bradley Davies and he won his first cap at senior level against Canada in 2009.

His final Test appearance came two years later, against Japan in Tokyo.

Founded in 1888, Tonna lays claim to Arthur Lemon, Alan Edmunds, Leigh Davies and Mitchell as its international players, while Martyn Davies played more than 500 games for Neath and captained the Welsh Al Blacks to WRU Challenge Cup glory in 1972.

Another great player to have worn the Tonna jersey was second row Doug Versailles Phillips. His middle name came from the fact he was born on 28 June 1919, the day the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

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Very much in the Welsh rugby selectors’ minds after playing for Swansea from the young age of 18, the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939 dashed his hopes of picking up a cap.

He joined the army and played for the Combined Services Rugby Union XV in a union match at Bradford in April 1944 against a Combined Services Rugby League XV.

Phillips scored the opening try of the game but his side lost 15-10. However, his performance brought him to the attention of several rugby league clubs and he signed for Oldham towards the end of 1944.

He went on to star during ‘The Indomitables’ tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1946, playing in all three Tests as Great Britain won the series on Aussie soil. He returned to the land down under on the 1950 tour and won 10 Welsh rugby league caps.

Tonna warmed-up for the final by gaining revenge on South Gower, the only team to beat them this season, with a 20-3 away win that consolidated their lead at the top of Division 4 West Central. They hold an 11 point advantage over Maesteg with four games to play.

With at least 11 coaches filled with fans to travel to Cardiff for their latest final there will be plenty of support for the skipper Callum McPhee’s side.

“We’ve bucked the trend and have a senior squad of around 45. I think the secret is that everybody is treated as equals,” said Knight.

“We’re a community club with a large hall which we rent out, a full complement of age group teams and touch rugby teams, which are hugely popular. It’s hard work but we have a committee of hard workers.

“Team manager Ryan Freeman’s efforts over the last five years have been instrumental in our success and we have a strong coaching team – Rhys Jones, Craig, Nicky Fisher, Jason Evans and Iwan Shenton, the son of Billy Shenton.

“It’s going to be a good day out, if our previous trip to the stadium is anything to go by. We were 14 points down to Crumlin in the Shield final but bounced back to win 52.19. Newport Saracens must be a good side to have reached the final so we’ll see what happens.”

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