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Swansea Council and regional rugby side make announcement about St Helen’s Ground

Rugby action at St Helen's, Swansea (Pic: Swansea Council)

COUNCIL chiefs in Swansea want the Ospreys to play rugby at the city’s St Helen’s ground in what has become a two-horse race to attract the regional side.

They are flying the flag for the seaside venue and home of Swansea RFC after the Ospreys said they no longer planned to play at the Swansea.com Stadium in Landore after the 2024-25 season.

The Ospreys have confirmed that their search for a new home is now down to St Helen’s and Bridgend’s Dunraven Brewery Field. Both grounds, said the club, offered unique advantages.

St Helen’s, which is owned by the council, would need considerable investment and although no decisions have been made a move there by the Ospreys would, it seems, spell the end of cricket’s 149-year association at the ground.

“We’re prepared to work on the current Ospreys proposal for St Helen’s to become a modern rugby stadium, helping the region to make their home there and remain in Swansea,” said council leader Rob Stewart. “We’re doing all we can to support the Ospreys to stay in Swansea, while also working with all of our sporting stakeholders to provide top-class facilities for them.”

Ospreys chief executive Lance Bradley announced in January that the region would be leaving the 20,000-capacity Swansea.com Stadium for a smaller venue. Last last week Neath RFC said its home at The Gnoll would not become the new ground.

Speaking on May 23, Mr Bradley said: “I am happy to share that we have narrowed down our decision to two fantastic grounds, each offering unique opportunities, and we are confident that either choice would be more than suitable as the Ospreys’ new home.”

He said Swansea and Bridgend councils had been a pleasure to work with thus far, and added:  “I look forward to being able to share our preferred option in the coming weeks and working in partnership with the relevant council to ensure our new home becomes the hub of the community.”

The Ospreys will remain at the Swansea.com Stadium for the 2024-25 season and ensure the selected new ground is fit for purpose thereafter.

This photo taken within St Helen’s illustrates that investment is needed (Pic: Richard Youle)

The statement came a week after Swansea Council’s cabinet discussed a report about St Helen’s in closed session. Details haven’t been made public but leaders have now set out their intentions.

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The St Helen’s proposal would, said the council, mean the ground becoming a rugby stadium for a range of users, including Swansea RFC and Swansea University, and be developed in a phased manner over a number of years, increasing capacity and improving the player and visitor experience.

The proposal does not feature the neighbouring recreation ground and the council said it would want Swansea Cricket Club, which has played at St Helen’s since 1875, to be relocated in a manner agreed by the club as part of any approved plan.

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, cabinet member for investment, regeneration, events and tourism, said: “We want to work with the Ospreys to improve St Helen’s as a key sporting facility to the benefit of first-class regional rugby and as a community sports venue.”

The proposal, he said, was to secure investment at a time of significant budget pressures to modernise the ground while ensuring access for community and student sport.

He added: “We’re talking with Swansea Cricket Club about helping them relocate to an alternative facility suitable for their games in the top division of the South Wales Premier Cricket League.”

Bridgend Council said an Ospreys move to the Brewery Field, which hosted Ospreys matches against Cardiff Rugby and Sale Sharks this season, would benefit the town and the club.

Cllr Neelo Farr, cabinet member for regeneration, economic development and housing, said: “We are fully supportive of the Ospreys’ plans to potentially relocate to Bridgend County Borough and we are looking forward to further talks as we continue to discuss the many mutual benefits of any such move, including the massive economic boost that it would bring to the entire area.

“The Dunraven Brewery Field would offer the Ospreys a unique opportunity to base themselves in the heart of a town centre, with Bridgend being perfectly placed on the M4 corridor and having lots of public transport options with nearby train and bus stations.”

He added: “The Ospreys already have lots of strong community links throughout the county borough and it’s fantastic that many of their current players are from Bridgend and started their rugby journeys by playing for our local teams.”

Ashes winner Paul Collingwood returns to the pavilion at St Helen’s having made 127 for Durham against Glamorgan in 2017 (Pic: Richard Youle)

Back in Swansea, St Helen’s has been home to Swansea RFC since 1876. Touring international rugby sides played there until 1954, attracting crowds said to have reached 50,000. The All Whites, as the team is known, was the first club side to claim the big southern hemisphere scalps of Australia, in 1908, South Africa four years later, and New Zealand in 1935.

Stars such as Mervyn Davies, Clem Thomas, Geoff Wheel, Scott Gibbs, Robert Jones, Richard Moriarty, Colin Charvis and Alun Wyn Jones played for Swansea RFC, which finished tenth in the Welsh Premiership this season,  over the decades.

The future though for Swansea cricket club, which celebrates its 150-year anniversary next year, looks uncertain. Club chairman Mike Hayden said: “Emotionally, would we want to move from St Helen’s? Definitely not. Unfortunately the bigger picture is beyond our control.

“We understand that we are tenants at St Helen’s, and it is a council-owned ground. We have to work with all stakeholders and hopefully they will honour us suitably.”

The club is accredited by the England and Wales Cricket Board and runs three Saturday senior teams – including one in Division One of the South Wales Premier Cricket League – a ladies’ team and four junior sides from under 11s to under 17s. It also runs training programmes to attract youngsters from the ages of five to 11 to the game.

“There’s probably cricket every evening in the week during the summer,” said Mr Hayden. Referring to the club’s lengthy occupation of the St Helen’s crease, he said: “History is history. As a club the most important thing for us is the future. If it is to be away from St Helen’s we will deal with that.”

He said the cricket club wanted to be treated fairly, and added: “Provided that we are not disadvantaged, and are provided with facilities to Premier League standard , we would have to be positive.”

The famous ground has also hosted Glamorgan Cricket Club since 1921, according to the county side’s archives, with highlights including the visit of the 1948 Australia side featuring the great batsman Don Bradman, a victory for the home side against South Africa in 1951, and a defining moment on August 31, 1968, when Nottinghamshire and West Indies all-rounder Garry Sobers hoisted Glamorgan’s Malcolm Nash for six sixes in one over – the first time the feat had been achieved in first-class cricket.

Although Glamorgan is now long-established at its Sophia Gardens ground in Cardiff it played some matches at St Helen’s until 2019.

That arrangement ceased when the club voiced concerns that the playing surface and outfield would not meet the required standard and that operational infrastructure was lacking. Glamorgan has played some matches at The Gnoll, Neath, since 2022 and is in one-day action there on July 31 and August 2.

A group called St Helen’s Balconiers has raised tens of thousands of pounds for Glamorgan since 1972 and its guiding force, John Williams, said what could be the demise of cricket at the seaside ground “grieves me”.

He said: “It is a very sad situation. Glamorgan’s history is deep-rooted in the soil of St Helen’s.” Mr Williams, of Sketty, said his St Helen’s highlights reel included Glamorgan beating touring Australian sides in 1964 and 1968, narrow wins against Essex and Middlesex en route to the county championship title in 1969, and a blistering 201 not out by touring West Indian captain Clive Lloyd in 1976. Mr Williams said in the winter he never used to miss a Swansea RFC match at St Helen’s before the regional rugby structure came into being in 2003, giving rise to the Ospreys. He said if the Ospreys did move to St Helen’s he hoped the club would be successful.

Glamorgan chief executive Dan Cherry said of the potential Ospreys move to St Helen’s: “With its rich sporting history, it would be great to see top level sport played regularly at St Helen’s again.”

He added: “It is sad to hear that cricket may no longer be played there and we hope that Swansea Cricket Club would be relocated successfully to continue and protect the strong heritage of cricket in the area. The club and our members have been disappointed that Glamorgan are no longer able to play at St Helen’s, especially given our tradition and history at the ground and the long-standing support of the St Helen’s Balconiers.

“However, the board of Glamorgan County Cricket Club remains very committed to exploring the potential of a centre of excellence in West Wales so that we are able to support the growth and development of cricket there from player development pathways to the professional game for both women and men.”

The Ospreys Supporters Club said the Swansea.com Stadium was too large for the rugby side and had been for some time.

Chairwoman Sarah Collins-Davies said: “We have seen how a smaller ground can create a better atmosphere, and we understand that this decision has to be the right one for the region in terms of long-term sustainability.

“We also understand the complexities of such a move. We just feel that whatever decision is made it’s going to be exciting for us as a supporters’ club, and it will signal a new era.”

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