A moving Welsh rugby image captures remarkable scenes at the end of a match that meant so much

A 17-year-old rugby player who was diagnosed with cancer has been overwhelmed by incredible support from his rugby community.

Ebbw Vale RFC youth wrestling half Ryan Jones was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Ne-Hodgkin’s lymphoma just a few weeks ago. It is a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system.

Clubs for which he played came together to host a fundraising rugby match in which Ryan won a conversion with the last kick of the game amid jubilant scenes on Wednesday. He also received messages from the likes of rugby legend Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Davies and former Wales coaches Shaun Edwards and Byron Hayward. Big 28 teammates also shaved their heads so Ryan would not be alone, having lost his hair due to treatment.

Just a few months ago Damien Jenkins, who is a volunteer and first assistant at Ebbw Vale, first noticed that Ryan was a bit slow with his rugby. The “famous” No. 9 did not fully recover after hiring Covid earlier in the campaign, but retaliated and continued training after a brief dismissal.

However, Damien was adamant that Ryan actually played while his cancer was undiagnosed. “He played through it, the boy played this season with that in him,” Damien told WalesOnline. “He certainly played with it, that’s a fact.”

Damien explained that he was pulling Ryan away from training when he became visibly uncomfortable, before the bad news arrived. “Kerry, his mother, texted me to say they came in for scans and the news came that something had been found. Within days, the call no one wanted to hear, and they found something, they came down in the next 24-48 hours to the Teenage Cancer Trust in Cardiff to begin treatment. “

This is where Ryan’s best friend Brandon Williams comes in. He is captain of the Ebbw Vale youth team, and grew up with Ryan through school and played with him on various rugby teams through the age classes. Brandon, who is a school year over Ryan, formed a group chat with some of the Ebbw Vale staff and players, with an idea on how to help his best friend. His message read: “I left Ryan out of this group because I don’t want him to see that I want to start raising some funds for him. I want to put together a game.”

As the rugby club shares their ground with the local cricket club, there were concerns Ebbw Vale could not arrange the game – but there shouldn’t have been. Damien said: “The guy who runs the cricket club just said ‘yes, no doubt.’



Best friends Brandon and Ryan

After three weeks of rigorous planning by Damien and the team, Ebbw Vale, Abertillery and Newbridge – for whom Ryan played – came together to form two mixed teams which would later be joined by Wales U18s international Harri Ackerman.

The Dragons also contacted the club and invited them down to Rodney Parade to do a collection and spread awareness of the reason in their guest room, where Aaron Wainwright and Will Rowlands watched Damien’s talk on Ryan’s diagnosis and what their plans were to help. The Welsh region also provided the players with home and away kits for the game.

The night before the game, Damien and the players learned that Ryan was starting to lose his hair, and decided he wanted to shave his as well. In a truly inspiring fashion, 28 teammates went down to the club to shave their heads so Ryan wouldn’t be the weirdo.

“All 28 boys on the mixed team, all shaved their heads,” Damien said. “We waited for 10 or 12 boys and they kept coming. I had two barbers there, one from Ebbw Vale named Connor Walker, one from Tredegar named Jordan Davies. Give up two hours of his time to shave all the heads of these boys. the piece was moving. “



Damien Jenkins (left) organized the fundraiser for Ryan Jones (right)

Ryan appeared in the last 10 minutes of the clipping, and could not contain his emotions after showing compassion and fellowship from his friends.

Damien explained that the quality of rugby at Ebbw Vale’s Eugene Cross Park that night was incredible. Three referees completed the game across three 20-minute spells, and said it was the fastest rugby they had ever dealt with.

“The talent on the field was ridiculous,” he said. “A couple of Welsh U18 boys played like Harri Ackerman. It was just incredible for our boys to play with them, to see them all interact together, the camaraderie on the field was outstanding.

“I can’t even tell you how many people there were. I got everyone ready in the locker room, someone came in and said, ‘The club is rammed, the stand is full. You could hear the buzz.’

Representatives of the Welsh Rugby Union appeared alongside the Dragons who auctioned off prizes in support of Ryan. Damien said of the generosity shown: “Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, people poured in, gifts and lottery prizes and giveaways. People just threw money at you, it was amazing. It was a magical, magical night.”



Ryan Jones of Ebbw Vale and the players after his conversion

At the end of the game, Ryan went on to take the final conversion. It sailed over the posts, and he was lifted into the air and on his friends’ shoulders.

“They won a test and then you could hear Ryan saying through the DJ’s microphone,‘ I’m coming to take the conversion, ’” Damien explained. When the MC announces “here’s the man himself Ryan Jones”, Damien said “the place has gone crazy, I have a goose now, it’s ridiculous”.

“The boys started making the old Icelandic applause. He kicks it, both sides run to him and take him and one of the boys puts him on his shoulders and carries him away and I blamed it on the onions of the hamburger van, there was no dry eye ! “

Damien added: “I’m upset thinking about it now. I spent a minute in the ditch with him, put my arm around him and said, ‘You’ll never forget this, all these people are coming out for you.’ of the club and very proud of these boys. “

Ryan actually worked as a taxi driver for his friends after the game. Damien explained, “He, Brandon and my son Sam were shot. I think Ryan was actually driving, still evaluating the boys, that’s how he is. He’s determined to be a combative little nine.”

The official figures are yet to be confirmed, but the expectation is that a whopping £ 10,000 has been raised to support Ryan, mother Kerry and dad Alwyn, with more fundraising activities planned as well.

“He’s a fighting boy, he has the heart of a lion,” Damien added. “If anyone nails this, it’s Ryan, I have no doubt he’ll nail it. He’ll nail this and we’ll nail it with him, that simple.”

Damien would like to pay special thanks to those involved, including Shelley Walsh (EVRFC), Claire Davies (Newbridge Youth), Emma Gay (Abertillery RFC) and Katie Williams (EVRFC).

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