A GROUP of friends are honouring the life of a local and sporting legend by taking on a mammoth bike ride in his memory.

A group of 22 friends of former Newport, Scarlets, Dragons and Wales rugby player Matthew J Watkins, from all walks of life, will be cycling from Parc Y Scarlets to Oakdale RFC stopping off at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, Newport’s Rodney Parade and Pontllanfraith RFC. The ride will take place on Wednesday September 2 to coincide with his birthday.

Friend and organiser of the ride Gavin Bennett said: “We lost MJ in March and felt robbed of our chance to say goodbye due to the coronavirus pandemic limiting attendances to the funeral. We wanted a way to celebrate his birthday, say goodbye and also honour his legacy as a fundraiser for Velindre, who were really close to his heart during his battle with cancer.

“When lockdown restrictions began to lift, we thought about doing a bike ride as most of us had done previous fundraising rides with him to raise money for Velindre.”

South Wales Argus:

Matthew J Watkins and friends at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on a previous bike ride for Velindre

The 22 friends are a mixture of people who knew Mr Watkins from playing rugby with him at Pontllanfraith Youth RFC, at Oakdale RFC, where he coached the U13s team, and from his professional rugby playing days, with former Welsh internationals Shane Williams and Alix Popham taking part.

The journey will see the friends - and six volunteers from Union Cycliste Ystrad Mynach who will be leading the ride - tackle 150km as they visit some of the grounds that had an impact on Mr Watkins’ successful career - paying homage to his spells at the Scarlets, Dragons and his 18 Wales caps, along with where it all started at Pontllanfraith RFC, and where it ended as a coach for Oakdale.


The Oakdale U13s team will be joining the final leg of the ride from Pontllanfraith to Oakdale to pay their respects for their coach.

South Wales Argus:

So far, more than £8,000 has been raised for Velindre Cancer Centre before the ride has begun, and the total continues to rise, which is testament to the popularity of Mr Watkins.

Mr Bennett said: “We wanted to get £1,000 and have gone way past that which is testament to how he affected people.” You can visit the JustGiving page here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mjsbirthdayride

It is a fitting tribute to visit the places close to Mr Watkins’ heart on this journey - particularly as he was a man who never forgot his roots. “No matter where he was, he would always return to his roots and probably had some of his happiest times watching local rugby.”