The Scarlets may be able to boast four players in the squad, but tiny Tonmawr, a village with a population of around 300, can lay claim to a player, a coach and an analyst.
“Taulupe Faletau played some of his first games of rugby in Wales in our junior section when his Dad, Kuli, was playing for us, while Steve Tandy and Gavin Vaughan both played for Tonmawr,” said club secretary, Cledwyn Edwards.
“It is an incredible achievement for a village rugby club and everyone is immensely proud. We are going to be full to bursting at the clubhouse when the Lions are playing.”
While Faletau will be leading the trio on his third Lions tour, former Neath and Ospreys flanker Tandy will be making his first trip as defence coach. Joining him among the back room staff as an analyst will be Vaughan, who also works alongside him in the Scotland set-up.
Both Tandy and Vaughan are from the village and have strong links to the rugby club. Tandy played all the way through the junior section and into the senior side before heading up the playing ladder to join Neath and the Ospreys.
Vaughan played in the club’s junior section as he followed his uncle, Dennis Vaughan, into Tonmawr colours. Another relative, his cousin Neil, was the Youth XV captain in 2001/02 – the year after Tandy’s brother, Kevin, led the same side.
“They are all what we would call ‘tidy boys’ and Steve and Vaughan always pop into the club when they are at home. The family links run deep and their fathers played together at the club and Steve’s brother, Kevin, is currently coaching our U16 team,” added Edwards.
“They have never forgotten their roots and we are proud to have played a part in their rugby upbringing. We can’t wait to see what impact they can have on the Lions team in South Africa this summer.”
Vaughan still remembers watching the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa on TV in the Tonmawr clubhouse and took his first steps into the world of sports analysis at the club. He also worked for Aberavon and Neath, with the WRU Women’s and Sevens sides and then went to Italy with Rowland Phillips when he went to coach Aironi.
In 2012, he joined Glasgow Warriors and forged a link with their head coach, Gregor Townsend, that has seen him follow him into more senior roles with both Scotland and now the Lions.
“It’s a dream come true, it’s the pinnacle really and it doesn’t get much bigger. I think it’ll be a great learning experience as well, working with different people and some experienced coaches and practitioners,” said Vaughan after Gatland invited him to join the Lions staff.
“Watching the Lions videos of the past, especially 1997 when Gregor was playing in it, it’s a real privilege and seems so far away from when I was a boy growing up in Wales. It was awesome to get a call from Warren offering me a place on the tour.”
There will be plenty of friendly Welsh faces around him in Gatland’s back room team. Wales’ heads of departments Paul Stridgeon (physical performance), Prav Mathema (medical), Rhodri Bown (analysis) and Luke Broadley (communications) are all included once again.
Others from the WRU staff heading to South Africa are Huw Bennett (strength and conditioning), Dr Geoff Davies (doctor), John Miles (physiotherapist), Hanlie Fouche (soft tissue therapist), Marc Kinnaird (analyst) and Andre Moore (chef).
Tandy (defence), Neil Jenkins (skills and kicking) and Robin McBryde (forwards) are in the coaching group, while Alan Phillips is director of operations. On top of that, Alun Wyn Jones is captain and there are nine other Welsh players to back him up.