Welsh speaking schools dominate Rugby League this week with Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera’s Year 7 side competing in a national semi-final with a day out at Wembley being the prize, while WRL hold their domestic finals day at Senghenydd RFC this Friday.
Ystalyfera will take on The Brooksbank School from West Yorkshire at the “neutral” venue of Oulton Rangers RLFC in Leeds hoping to be the first Welsh schools side to play in the traditional curtain raiser before the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Brynteg School did win a Year 7 Final back in 2005 but their Final was at the Millennium Stadium while Wembley was being rebuilt.
The Welsh school will have to travel 244 miles to reach the semi-final venue this Thursday, more than 10 times the distance of their opponents who have a casual 21 mile drive down the M62, but their teacher and coach Ioan Bebb, the former Wales Student international, says that it makes them even more determined to win against the odds they’ve been given.
“It promises to be the biggest match ever for us,” he said. “We’ll never get a better chance to get to Wembley and have prepared intensively over the last three weeks.
“My sources suggest that our opponents are well drilled but the same level as us. The Ystalyfera players will travel to Leeds expecting to win and will play without fear so it should be a memorable match.”
Wales Rugby League’s Development Manager Mark Jones said: “We’d like to congratulate Ystalyfera for reaching the national semi-finals and we hope to see them at Wembley come August.
“Rugby League has seen an immense growth in schools over the last few years which will support the development of the sport in the future, and this competition has played a vital role in introducing the game to an ever increasing number of young people throughout Wales.”
Friday’s Welsh Finals matches see two all Welsh speaking schools match up in the Year 8 and 9 Finals when Ysgol y Strade taking on Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in both games (kick-offs 1pm and 2.15pm respectively).
Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni, who can boast current Widnes Vikings and Wales international Rhodri Lloyd as one of their former players, currently hold the Welsh Year 8 title.
They have been playing Rugby League since 2006 where Arsenal and Wales footballer Aaron Ramsey was a player that year.
Ysgol y Strade have only very recently joined the Rugby League fraternity. Last season saw them enter their first competition and win the Welsh Year 11 title thanks to the hard work of WRL development officer Jon Ellis and Sixth Form student Jac Griffiths from the Wales under 18 side.
Their coach Deiniol Evans says: “To have two teams in the finals is a huge honour for the school and is testament to the calibre of players we have at Strade.”
The Year 10 Final at 3.30pm sees another Welsh speaking school, newcomers Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf from Cardiff take on the experienced Pencoed Comprehensive School.
Glantaf are proud to have reached the Welsh final In their first season of rugby league after convincingly beating last year’s finalists St Josephs in the semi-finals. They will start as underdogs against a unbeaten Pencoed School with this current crop of players having won Year 7, 8 and 9 titles over the last three years and are yet to lose a match in Wales.
Pencoed are also in the Year 11 Final where they take on Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni (kick-off 4.45pm).
In comparison, this Pencoed side are relative newcomers to the 13-a-side game with Cwm Rhymni starting the game as favourites with a squad containing four South Wales Scorpions Academy players.
The final game of the day, the only encounter not to feature a Welsh speaking school, is the Sixth Form Final which sees hot favourites Maesteg Comprehensive take on St John Baptist Church in Wales High School from Aberdare (kick-off 6pm).
The Maesteg side will primarily consist of players from the South Wales AASE Academy, many of whom are now playing for the unbeaten South Wales Scorpions under 19 side despite their young age.
St John Baptist School may be relatively new to the Welsh Rugby League scene but have had good success over the last two years. Last year, this crop of players were the Welsh runners up at Year 11 and also gave experienced English school Outwood Grange academy a big scare in the British Cup Quarter Final.
The Maesteg team are suffering a few injuries this week but are looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead. Their captain Zak Williams said: “We are hopeful that the weather stays good for Friday and that the Final is a great spectacle for Rugby League in Welsh schools.”
This year’s competition consisted of regional rounds and knockout stages and all of Friday’s winners will progress into the UK National rounds in 2015. All of the finalists will be invited to attend South Wales Scorpions’ next home match which is against Gloucestershire All Golds on Sunday 1st June at Maesteg RFC.
A bilingual match programme for the whole event will be on sale all day.