WRU head of rugby performance Geraint John believes standards in the Principality Premiership will rise this season thanks to some high profile new coaches.
Namibia head coach and former Scarlets supremo Phil Davies has returned to home club Llanelli, adding to the number of coaches with regional and international experience working beneath regional level.
The Premiership begins this Saturday in a new format with east and west leagues for the first half of the campaign.
Justin Burnell, former Wales U19 Grand Slam winning coach has returned to former club Pontypridd, Nigel Davies will add to the experience and know-how of Dale McIntosh and Lee Jarvis at Merthyr in his new role as CEO, while former Wales and Scarlets coach Mark Jones will be looking to build on last season’s WRU National Cup win with RGC 1404.
Other former international players now coaching at this level include Gareth Llewellyn who led Neath to the Tier Two final last season and Morgan Stoddart, Cross Keys assistant coach.
In addition to coaches who have plenty of Premiership experience – such as Steve Law, who has moved to Cardiff after 16 years at the helm of Bedwas and Jason Hyatt, who led Aberavon to their first Premiership final last season – John believes the familiar faces will help lift quality in the division.
John said: “It’s great to see quality coaches who’ve been involved in regional and international rugby are now putting that experience back into our top club competition.
“Their presence will undoubtedly help to raise standards, and attract players into the Premiership, including perhaps exiles currently playing outside Wales.
“Not only will these coaches help to raise playing standards but their expertise will help other coaches within their clubs and across the division and move our game forward.
“To further support the Principality Premiership coaches, we are putting in place a series of coach development evenings and workshops to include guest coaches and speakers and we will be increasing the level of statistical analysis at this level to replicate some of our national programmes.
“We will monitor training intensity, distance covered in matches, high speed distance covered – all to help coaches to see where they are and what they need to do to meet and raise the standard of competition within the Principality Premiership and also with the development of young players in mind.”
Following a consultation process with the clubs, changes have been made to the Premiership structure for the next two seasons in order to meet the changing needs of the clubs and to help support them from a rugby, financial and supporters’ experience perspective.
In the first half of the season, the 16-team semi-professional league will be split geographically into two east and west eight-team leagues, with the clubs playing each other home and away. RGC 1404 will join the west Wales league.
This will guarantee more meaningful local derbies up to the New Year before all teams come together for the second half of the season.
There will be no play-offs, with the table-topping club at the end of the season crowned Principality Premiership champion in a straight-forward league system.
Each club will then play the other 15 teams either home or away. At the split, points will be allocated to clubs based on league positions so the winners of the east and west leagues will go into the second half of the season with eight points, the clubs in second place will carry seven points into the 16-team league down to the eighth placed clubs who will carry one point.
This will ensure all clubs remain in the race to be crowned Premier Division Winners. Every club will have a guaranteed 29 league matches during the season.
Principality Premiership clubs will continue to work with the Regions to select Regional Premiership Select XVs for the British & Irish Cup, while the Foster’s Challenge Cup will not take place.
John added: “The Principality Premiership is a vital competition in underpinning the professional game in Wales, providing a crucial stepping stone for our potential future professional players in addition to the British & Irish and Anglo-Welsh Cup competitions.
“We believe the new format and in particular, the additional, guaranteed local derbies in the first half of the season, will further support the work of the regions to establish the place of the Principality Premiership within the regional and national pathway in order to underpin player, coach and referee development, and at this time we feel this solution meets the vast majority of those needs.
“We will continue to assess the outcomes of this new format but there will be no further structural changes to the Principality Premiership until at least the 2019/20 season.”
PRINCIPALITY PREMIERSHIP ROUND 1 – Saturday 26 August unless otherwise stated
Bargoed v Ebbw Vale
Merthyr v Cross Keys
Pontypridd v Bedwas
Sunday, 27 August
Newport v Cardiff Rugby
Aberavon v Bridgend
Llandovery v RGC 1404
Llanelli v Carmarthen Quins
Neath v Swansea (7.30pm)