WHEN the new rugby season begins someone who will have more of an interest than most will be Peter James, who is Tenby United’s first team manager and chairman of senior rugby at the club.

He is known to all as ‘Toe’ because of an injury which caused his big toe to swell but on a more serious note he had to give up his playing days because of a freak accident over a decade ago, but readily admits that being involved in an off-the-field capacity has been a great help in outlook once he realised his playing days were over at the age of 26.

He now works closely with head coach Chris James, Andrew Morgan and Richard Rossiter, plus Russell Millns as touch judge and kit manager, and Mike Brace as first-aider and another unsung hero, attending selection meetings and club committee meetings chaired by Matthew Evans. Peter sorts out any permits and on match days deals with team sheets, makes sure kit is ok - and anything else required by coaches and players.

“We all work closely together,” Peter told us, “and after the huge disappointment of relegation last year we were in positive mode for the 2016/17 campaign, especially since we had recruited Johnny Morgan from Narberth, his brother Matthew from Haverfordwest, plus Mike Davies and Barry Parsons from Pembroke Dock Harlequins.

“Chris (James) and Andrew (Morgan) worked really well and a pleasing fact was that over three quarters of our squad had started out with Tenby Swifts, our junior section.

“We were aiming for a top four place but the team spirit was brilliant and never more typical than in our last three league matches and the Knock Out Cup Final.

“We knew we had to win our last three league games in style and did that with comfortable wins at home to Hendy and then against Llanybydder and finally ending in style as we smashed Pontyberem 53-5 to go up as champions.

“Then we took on Aberystwyth in the KO Cup Final at Crymych and although they played a division higher than us and scored an early seven-pointer we out-battled them to win 21-17 and claim a terrific double.”

His many friends at Heywood Lane might be surprised to learn that he started out his at St Teilo RC Primary School as an outside half and played a few times for the county before switching to second row with Gary ‘Sheen’ Price and enjoying some terrific battles with the likes of Jason Jennings (Narberth).

Whilst at Greenhill School, Peter went on a county rugby tour to Cornwall organised by teachers Jonathan Dodd and Matthew Davies.

“It was a smashing time,” Peter told us, “playing alongside quality players like John Tennick (Neyland), Mark Wonnacott (Milford Haven), Adrian Chiffi and Oliver Brace (Tenby).”

“I played for Tenby United in a couple of Griffiths Cup Finals at Neyland which we won and then Ossie Boswell called me into the first XV for a real baptism of fire as we faced a South Wales Police team that fielded Ian Hemburrow and Sean Legge in the second row, both over 6 feet 6 inches and towering over me and Justin Richards!”

The following campaign saw Ossie in charge of the seconds and they won the league, with Peter playing alongside the likes of Paul Luger and Simon Rossiter, with Chris ‘Miffy’ Brace as his mentor.

“On one occasion I missed a match because I had my appendix out but came back much sooner than I thought as we were short against Mountain Ash and I won my share of lineout ball- but split my stitches and had a real telling off from the medical staff who put them back in!”

Outside of his rugby, Peter played some football in school and was also a talented teenage green bowler, having joined alongside rugby pals Adrian Chiffi and Tom ‘Turbo’ Lewis - and representing the County U35s as a 13 year old before rugby took over, big time!

“At the same age I was following the family’s traditional love of the sea by working on the boats that took visitors to Caldey Island for over a decade and followed my father Bob, who was deputy cox of the Tenby Lifeboat in his 45 years involvement, into being a crew man on the local lifeboat, alongside my brothers Ben, who is a first responder, and Rob ‘Chunk’ James. 

“Sadly, it was whilst being involved on a ‘shout’ with the lifeboat that my life-changing injury happened, when an equipment malfunction caused the tow rope to snap, like a gun going off, and hit my leg, with the shock waves travelling up to my back and damaging some of my discs.

“That was in January 2006 and I’m still using one stick, having finally discarded my other one, and after a two-year break adjusting my life I have found rugby being a focal point that has truly helped.

“My parents, Sue and Bob James, were also brilliant at a terrible time for me which needed multiple operations.”

“I came back into the game by managing the youth team coached by Mike ‘Penfold’ Lewis and then took on my current role two years later, and I have tried hard to build up a relationship with everyone at the club because it really needs everyone to follow the same aims.

Then I joined coaches Emori Katalau and Sion James with the senior team that included former youth players like Rob Luly, Alex Thomas, Marcus Rhead, Ashley Bonser and others.

“Like others at the club I’ve had to put up with disappointments but they make the successes all the more enjoyable at a club with such great traditions - and I think we are back on track with a keen air of anticipation already building up for fresh challenges in the 2017/18 campaign.

“I am just going to enjoy myself with my involvement, which keeps me sane when the pain is bad - and I hope we do well again alongside other clubs in our county.”

It is refreshing to chat to someone like Peter James and we wish him, and Tenby United, more glory in the 2017/18 season!