With 92 Wales caps behind him in a distinguished career, Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn knows his rugby – and, in particular, Neath rugby.
In a playing career which spanned more than 20 years at the top level, he captained the Welsh All Blacks for a remarkable seven seasons and enjoyed many great days as little Neath took on – and frightened the life out of – Southern Hemisphere giants Australia, New Zealand and South Africa at The Gnoll.
Nowadays Llewellyn – along with his assistant and former Welsh championship winner team-mate Paul Williams – is charged with the task of reviving The Gnoll club’s fortunes and, after two years of solid graft, the signs are that all the hard work is beginning to bear fruit.
Of course, the face of Welsh rugby has changed since Llewellyn’s prime but as he says, “Everything is relative. What I do know is that we are playing good, attacking rugby which pleases our supporters. Our generally young squad with a few senior, wise men is learning fast and turning a few heads again.
“Take last Saturday against Carmarthen Quins. We led for most of the game but they scored a snap try to steal the lead with two minutes remaining. But we regained possession, kept playing and eventually Ed Howley touched down to get the win back.
“It was a great finish – great determination and wonderful reward for the team on the field and our small but totally dedicated team off the field who spare nothing and are totally dedicated to achieving things for Neath again.”
The Welsh All Blacks have had the crowd on their feet in winning both their opening Premiership fixtures after an unbeaten pre-season and face RGC at The Gnoll on Saturday.
Llewellyn says, “The Gnoll is still a great place to be and at Neath we try to do things properly. One player who joined us this season said he can’t get over the atmosphere around the old place.
“We are on the right road but there is still a long way to go. One thing that hasn’t changed is that the next game is always the hardest – the next one to achieve in.
“We want Neath to have a team to be proud of again – we want all those supporters who were keen to be with us in the good times to get behind us again.
Gareth Llewellyn first pulled on the famous All Black shirt of Neath in 1988 so his views demand respect in the locality. “Now is an exciting time to ‘Back the Blacks’ !” he says, “It’s not too late to grab a season ticket or just come along on Saturday and encourage Neath onto greater things.”.”