Dunvant hard at work on the dream routine

In rugby union it is Advent, not Christmas, that is the season of excess and after week upon week of international matches, Murrayfield followed by Cardiff Arms Park, Lansdowne Road, Twickenham and even Besancon, it was somehow appropriate to retu rn to a humbler setting for Yuletide.

Not that there is anything humble about the achievements of Dunvant, the club who before any other exploited the meritocracy that arrived in Wales along with the Heineken League in 1990. This is their second season in the First Division and after saving their place by beating Bridgend on the last day of last season, they have now reached the unimaginable heights of sixth.

On Christmas Eve Bridgend came back to Broadacre and lost again, by 10-6, and though they are third, distantly behind Cardiff and Pontypridd, there was no disgrace in that. Where once such a result, upstart minnows devouring a traditionally big fish, would have been a sensation, now it is familiar and not especially noteworthy.

Only Heineken could have done this, or at any rate only a proper, meritocratic league structure, and now that the Welsh Rugby Union has extended the Heineken League to include all its clubs, it is the realisable dream of any of the 220 to become another Dunvant.

This season Dunvant have been joined by Treorchy among the new generation of challengers, as beneficiaries and even activators of an evolution which at its starkest has seen Glamorgan Wanderers and Tredegar of the old self-perpetuating elite drift into the nether regions of the Third Division while Dunvant and Treorchy reach the summit represented by the First.

The hard part is to make their victories routine - which is what the weekly grind of league rugby has to be about, unlike the one-off cup successes over supposed superiors with which Dunvant decorated Welsh rugby during the years immediately before the birth of the league. And, though the defeat of Bridgend was greeted with jubilation, the wondrous thing is that it really is beginning to happen on an almost regular basis.

Thus Bridgend's scalp was added to those of Newport, Pontypool, Abertillery and none other than Pontypridd, who have won all 10 First Division matches since succumbing at Broadacre in September. Five wins, a draw at Neath and six defeats together mark steady progress, and when you find out exactly who and what Dunvant are you recognise why there is hope for anyone.

They used to line up low-loader lorries and double-decker buses to accommodate spectators at important matches; now they have a new stand with capacity for enlargement and most other facilities have been enhanced too. They have three pitches and run as many as a dozen teams each weekend.

Yet this is just a village, more a suburb really, on the edge of Swansea, no more than four miles from big brother at St Helen's. Last season Swansea won by a single point at Broadacre on their way to the championship; Cardiff fared one point better, others such as Newport, Newbridge and Pontypool considerably worse.

As these games as well as their latest defeat of Bridgend demonstrated, Dunvant have long since shed any vestige of inferiority complex. They are playing the likes of Bridgend because they deserve to, and they beat Bridgend for the very same reason. Their effort is collective, meaning both team and club, and there is no personality cult because the team is so much more important than any individual.

How refreshing. On Christmas Eve, it was best personified by a marvellously dogged and rugged back row whose extra hunger for the loose ball enabled Dunvant to get sufficiently the better of the forward exchanges for them first to build a lead and then to hang on to it.

Their try came in six minutes, the ball passing between Nicky Lloyd, Wayne Booth and Gavin Davies before Warren Lloyd arced outside Davies and, having opened a gap with a dummy, went through it with aplomb. Booth converted and thereafter the scoring was confined to penalties, Jason Ball's for Bridgend followed in the second half by a captain's kick from 55 yards by Dean Evans for Dunvant and lastly Ball's second.

Bridgend had plenty of the game territorially but they looked nothing like as dangerous as Dunvant in attack, were suspect in their discipline and seldom created the flowing threequarter rugby of which they like to think themselves capable.

Indeed before the match one Bridgend official was claiming the backs as the most exciting in Wales, a theory that foundered initially on the obsessive intrusion of their own loose forwards into promising handling movements and then on the destructive capacity of the Dunvant forwards, especially Paul Morris and Ian Callaghan.

The same man did concede that the best would not be seen of the backs until the Bridgend pack could ply them more liberally, a failing put down to the inexperience of an otherwise promising front five.

In which case time will tell, but the task for Steve Fenwick, eminent Wales centre of the Seventies and now Bridgend's club director, is not - and will not be - easy in an age when the hunt for talent is more voraciously ruthless, and one might say venal, than it has ever been.

Thus the bigger clubs monopolise the bigger forwards and, in the Welsh league no less than any other competition you care to name - from Murrayfield to Cardiff Arms Park, Lansdowne Road, Twickenham and even Besancon - size more than ever equates with strength. More's the pity.

Dunvant: Try W Lloyd; Conversion Booth; Penalty Evans. Bridgend: Penalties Ball 2.

Dunvant: D Evans (capt); P Hopkins, G Davies (M Thomas 72), W Lloyd, S Morgan; W Booth (C Hutchings, 23-30), N Lloyd; M Waygood (A Piper, 35), M Davies, K Allan, D Niblo, A Gregory, I Callaghan, P Morris (C Davies, 66), R Greenwood.

Bridgend: M Back; G Thomas, G Jones, J Ball, G Willins; M Lewis, R Howley (capt); D Rees, I Greenslade, S Gale, S Thomas, E Williams, J Purnell, A Williams (N Jones, 59), J Forster.

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).

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