|Founded||2003 (disbanded in 2004)|
Sardis Road (Capacity: 12,000
The Celtic Warriors were a regional rugby union team from Wales, who played in the Celtic League and Heineken Cup between 2003 and 2004 following a merger between Welsh clubs Pontypridd RFC and Bridgend RFC at the inception of Regional Rugby in Wales. The two clubs still compete at a semi-professional level.
The Warriors were one of the five original regions of the Welsh Regional Rugby Era. The club came into being in the summer of 2003 when the Welsh Rugby Union controversially elected to reduce the current top tier of Welsh Professional Rugby from nine clubs into five regions, attempting to mirror the successful formats in Ireland and the Southern Hemisphere countries of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Officially representing the mid-Glamorgan area, including Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare, Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Maesteg and Bridgend, and south Powys, the Celtic Warriors was in practice a combination of the Pontypridd RFC and Bridgend RFC Welsh Premier League Clubs. With Bridgend RFC having clinched the 2002/2003 Welsh Premier League title and Pontypridd RFC being consistently strong in those competitions, the Warriors were considered one of the strongest line-ups of the five Welsh regions.
However, problems dogged the region from the very start, as they similarly did with the other merged regions of the Neath-Swansea Ospreys and the Newport Gwent Dragons. Discussions and arguments abounded about the team name, colours and home grounds for most of the summer of 2003. The name "Valley Ravens" was a controversial choice but seen by many as a fair compromise (Bridgend's nickname was the Ravens while Pontypridd fans welcomed the Valley reference), however various marketing persons within the Welsh Rugby Union did not like it. "The Crusaders" and "Celtic Crusaders" met with widespread disapproval from both sets of fans as it incorporated neither team's identity. "Celtic Warriors" was finally decided upon more out of the need for a name than from any real agreement.
Argument over team colours ran alongside the naming problem until a compromise blue, black and white shirt was unveiled and satisfied most people, as did the initial decision to play an equal number of games at Bridgend's Brewery Field and Pontypridd's Sardis Road.
The team itself performed well for a squad almost completely rebuilt over the summer, acquitting themselves well in both the Celtic League and European Rugby Cup. However financial problems at Pontypridd RFC led to the sale of their half of the Warriors to Bridgend RFC owner Leighton Samuel, which he in turn gave to the WRU, a move that would later condemn the club. Further problems occurred as Samuel made the decision to abandon Pontypridd's Sardis Road in favour of playing all Warriors games in Bridgend. This brought the club into conflict with a large proportion of its fan base and attendances fell.
Trouble followed in the Spring and early Summer of 2004 where Leighton Samuel repeatedly threatened and revoked threats of selling the club; one such instance went as far as Samuel accepting an offer from the WRU before changing his mind. This transaction was considered to be legally binding, and the Warriors became 100% owned by the WRU who decided to liquidate the club on 1 June 2004.
Samuels claimed that the WRU had promised to keep the region going for a second season but reneged on the deal. He challenged the Union over this in a high court case which the Union settled just before it came to court.
With the demise of the club, players' contracts were effectively torn up as they were pushed around to fill positions in the other four regional sides. A number simply chose to turn their back on the Welsh game and moved to teams in England, France, Ireland and Italy. This left the ex-Warriors' fans feeling alienated from the professional game.
In the aftermath of the demise of the Warriors, a new rugby league club Celtic Crusaders was formed and played out of Brewery Field. They were funded by Leighton Samuel, who claimed that they were the reincarnation of the Warriors franchise. The club lasted four seasons in Bridgend before relocating to Wrexham under new ownership.
The region included two Welsh Premiership teams namely Bridgend RFC and Pontypridd RFC
Celtic League Cup
Notable former players
- Brent Cockbain (Lock) - Wales International, British and Irish Lions 2005
- Gareth Cooper (Scrum Half) - Wales International, British and Irish Lions 2005
- Mefin Davies (Hooker) - Wales International
- Chris Horsman (Prop) - Wales International
- Dafydd James (Wing/Centre) - Wales International, British and Irish Lions 2001
- Ryan Jones (Flanker/No.8) - Wales International, British and Irish Lions 2005
- Gethin Jenkins (Prop) - Wales International, British and Irish Lions 2005, 2009 and 2013
- Neil Jenkins (Outside-Half) - Wales International, British and Irish Lions 1997 and 2001, Former World Record Points Scorer
- Christian Loader (Prop) - Wales International
- Sililo Martens (Scrum-Half) - Tonga International
- Maama Molitika (Flanker) - Tonga International
- Kevin Morgan (Full-back) - Wales International
- Sonny Parker (Centre) - Wales International
- Richard Parks (Flanker) - Wales International
- Matthew Rees (Hooker) - Wales International, British and Irish Lions 2009
- Robert Sidoli (Lock) - Wales International
- Ceri Sweeney (Outside-Half) - Wales International
- Gareth Thomas (Wing/Centre/Full-back) - Wales International, British and Irish Lions 2005 (Captain 2nd and 3rd Tests)- Former Welsh Record Try Scorer
- Lee Thomas (Centre/Outside-Half) - Wales Youth International
- Gareth Wyatt (Wing) - Wales International
- Jonathan Bryant (Centre) - Wales International
- "WRU axe falls on Warriors". bbc.co.uk. 2004-07-01. Retrieved 2008-03-01.