Imagine being in the squad for the biggest game of your career – the final game for your club – a Premiership Final at Cardiff Arms Park.
Llandovery’s Kristian Jones has quite the story from last weekend’s Indigo Group Premiership Final, after a day he and the town of Llandovery will never forget.
Speaking to Scimitar on Wednesday, Jones said: “I’ve only just recovered. I had a half-day at work on Tuesday as I was still struggling! I went to bed for about 12 hours last night and I’m still not 100%!”
The fly-half came off the bench in Sunday’s 24-8 play-off win over Cardiff as he helped Llandovery to a historic, first-ever Welsh Premiership title. But it was a very stressful day for the fly-half, who almost missed out on being there for his final appearance in the red, white and green.
He explained: “The play-offs were originally supposed to be the week before and I’d already booked a golf holiday before the dates were changed. I was at training on the Tuesday night and flew to Portugal on Wednesday and played golf for three days. I actually prepared well for the game, it was nice and relaxing up until the day of it!”
Jones’ flight from Lisbon to Bristol was due to arrive at 12.30pm on Sunday, leaving plenty of time to get to Cardiff for the match at 5.15pm. However, a morning text to explain a delay, followed by a two-hour delay announced as they boarded the plane, forced Jones into calling his coach.
He admitted: “I thought there’s no way I’m making it, so I rang Gareth Potter (Backs Coach). He just told me to keep him updated and luckily, we arrived in Bristol at 2.45pm. We ran through passport control, had to wait for our golf bags and then sprinted to the car. I had a text from the Head Coach saying the team meeting was at 4.30pm, otherwise I’d be pulled from the team. If I was due to start, I don’t think I’d have been playing at all.
“My mate drove me straight to Cardiff where there was traffic, so I jumped out the car at 4.26pm and legged it 800 metres to the ground! There were people buying tickets and I had to get past them and explain I was a player and that I was late – so my warm-up was already done when I arrived!
“I was shattered by the time I got to the changing rooms but it was more relief that I made the meeting than anything. The Head Coach (Euros Evans) didn’t say a word to me. After the game he said: “You put years on me today!” I apologised and explained it was out of my control. I’d have been devastated to miss out!”
Jones came off the bench late on as the visitors got over the line on an incredible day for Llandovery.
The team dedicated their win to lifelong clubman John ‘Joc’ Walters, who was sadly diagnosed with throat cancer earlier this year and was forced to watch the match from home.
But thanks to the players, who clubbed together to buy Joc an armchair made of former Llandovery playing shirts, he was able to watch his beloved club etch their names into history.
Jones added: “Joc is a legend of Llandovery. We clubbed together to get him that chair so he could sit in it and watch us, and as soon as we were handed the trophy, our Head Coach had him on FaceTime. Everyone was celebrating in front of the camera, dedicating the win to him. It was very special.”
So did Llandovery celebrate their maiden Welsh Premiership title in style? You bet they did.
Jones revealed: “We stayed on the pitch celebrating with fans before singing, dancing and drinking beers in the changing rooms. Then we had a two-hour drive back to Llandovery and managed to stop off at a Spar where we bought about 10 crates of beer. That was gone by the time we got back to Llandovery!
“When we arrived at 11pm, all the fans were there waiting for us. Our main sponsor JR Pet Products put a healthy kitty behind the club bar and let’s just say, it didn’t go to waste! We got through that and more – there were boys still going at 7am in the morning!
“All I wore for the whole night was my Llandovery Budgy Smugglers and a pair of sunglasses! Some boys ended up sleeping on the sofas and they put the showers on for us in the morning. Some got straight back on the beers after their 7am shower! They got rid of us to clean the place but a handful more were still going on Monday night!”
Kris Jones (right) pictured celebrating with Welsh Premiership Final hero Lee Rees who scored two tries in Llandovery’s win
Jones admits that the Drovers have a very special community unlike any other in the Welsh Premiership, and that was epitomised on the day and night of the final.
He said: “The last fan must’ve left at 6am too. We were all singing in the club till 5am and then the players were just left with a dukebox!
“I come from a smaller club in South Wales and I expected it to be very different at a Premiership club, but the thing with Llandovery is all the fans know you by first name and mingle with the players. It’s like being at your local rugby club but obviously on a bigger scale.
“I doubt there’s a better club in the Welsh Premiership with a family base of supporters and players together. That is a highlight of my time here in itself – being close to fans and just how tight-knit the community is. You could see that at the final, there weren’t many people left in Llandovery. All you could hear was the chant of “Drovers” and hardly any Cardiff fans in their own backyard.”
And so, the curtain comes down on Jones’ six-year career with the Drovers where he made a total of 114 appearances, including 293 points – as well as a single cup match where he scored a stunning 34 points.
But just how did he rate his time at Church Bank and what’s next for the 33-year-old?
He added: “The win was the icing on the cake. We’ve had a good squad for six years and it’s just been building. We recruited well last summer and while that probably went against me in some respects – I can’t argue as we won the league because of it.
“I had the opportunity to stay but my fiancée is heavily pregnant and I live 90 minutes from Llandovery, so with a new-born baby, being at Llandovery would have meant too much travelling and time away, so I made the decision to move closer to home and play for Neath.
“I haven’t got many seasons left so after a couple I will probably call it a day and go into coaching back at my hometown club Trebanos Rugby, which is the home of Justin Tipuric – a good mate of mine I grew up with.
“I would have loved to stay in Llandovery but it’s the right choice in a family sense.”
Can Drovers fans expect to see him back in the future?
He concluded: “I’m a lifelong Drovers supporter now. I’ve been there six years. No matter where I play, I’ll be checking their results every week and I look forward to playing against them next season. We’ll be in the same league and I bet the coaches will have some tricks up their sleeves as I know every play going!
“I’d like to think I’m a crowd favourite, I love the place and when I haven’t got a game, I’ll be up there watching.”