By Graham Thomas
Ceri Jones believes he is coaching the most committed rugby players in Wales as RGC prepare for the long New Year trip to Llanelli.
The former Dragons coach, who began his stint at the Colwyn Bay-based club in early September, says he has been re-energised by the scale of the Indigo Premiership club’s ambition for the area.
RGC 1404 – who face Llanelli at Parc y Scarlets on Monday in a match that is live on S4C – clock up more miles than anyone else in their league and their nine-hour round trip is a fortnightly ritual.
Throw in the added complications of Covid restrictions and former Wales and Harlequins prop Jones could be forgiven for yearning for the simpler life he enjoyed at Rodney Parade.
Instead, he insists he couldn’t be happier and is relishing his role in charge of a club he believes can become a northern powerhouse for the domestic game.
“I really enjoyed my time at the Dragons,” says Jones, the region’s former forwards coach who stepped into breach as head coach between Bernard Jackman and Dean Ryan.
“It was a great opportunity with Kingsley (Jones) and then Bernard. I had a stint at it myself, which was hard work – but given that we had no managing director or head coach, and I was also taking the forwards, I was fighting fires on all sides.
“Dean then came in and I respected that he would want to bring in his own people and do his own thing.
“There is no sour grapes from me, whatsover. In fact, I’ve had meetings with Dean about forging a relationship between us and them.
“But this is a great opportunity for me to build something and see where it goes.
“If we can push on and be sustainable, then we have the potential to be a region, no doubt.”
RGC enjoyed away wins at both Newport and Jones’ former club Ebbw Vale in the Premiership Cup recently, but have managed only one game so far in the Premiership – an away defeat at a Llandovery side bolstered by Scarlets players in search of match action.
Llanelli were beaten by Carmarthen Quins in their one game that survived the Covid blitz, so Monday’s clash between north and south is difficult to call.
But Jones is convinced the future for RGC – a club the Welsh Rugby Union have never seemed entirely certain what to do with – is a bright one, in both the short and long term.
Not only is the 44-year-old busy developing a cohesive understanding with the four regions that will provide a pathway into the full blown professional game for his RGC youngsters, but he also tapped into the college and university sector.
Feelers have been put out to Cardiff Met, whilst closer to their Parc Eirias Stadium, RGC have developed close ties with Bangor University which has seen eight of their academy players combine playing deals with their studies.
“We think this is the correct pathway,” adds Jones.
“Players get an education, they have accommodation, and they can develop interests outside of rugby.
RGC’s coach, and former Dragons coach, says he has been re-energised by the scale of the Indigo Premiership club’s ambition for the area.https://t.co/pWMFW5naEg
— RGC1404 (@RGC1404) January 2, 2022
“The facilities here are second to none. I would say they are as good, if not better than some of the regions.
“We are now looking to develop the academy and look at players at an earlier age, with hubs in different areas throughout North Wales.
“It’s a massive area, but there is not as much rugby to stretch the players as there is down south. We need to get them playing better opposition more often.”
That is for the long haul. For the time being, the club are looking to secure their place in a league structure that appears to change almost every season, but which almost everyone agrees should include a force from the north.
“We have put some different systems in place and the players have responded well,” says Jones.
“Their workrate is phenomenal. I don’t think there is a more committed bunch of rugby players in Wales, in terms of the sacrifices they have to go through.
“These guys drive over an hour to training, twice a week, and then every other weekend they are basically giving up their whole weekend to travel south.
👕 Team News pic.twitter.com/b3tXK3T0CJ
— RGCnews🏉 (@RGCNews) January 3, 2022
“It’s a huge commitment to play in this league. Some of the South Wales clubs complain about coming up here once or twice a year, but we are doing it in the opposite direction every other weekend. I can’t speak highly enough of the players.”
So, it will be another early start on Monday morning – nine hours on the road, and a return to Colwyn Bay at 2am.
But Jones insists: “We are building nicely with some young players who are gaining experience.
📺 Live on @S4C, coverage starts 17:30. Welsh & English commentary.
— Llanelli RFC (@LlanelliRFC) January 2, 2022
“It has been a very difficult season for every sports team because circumstances are changing all the time.
“But a win would be really helpful against a strong Llanelli team.”
S4C: Monday – 5.30pm – Llanelli v RGC
Live coverage of the Indigo Group Premiership match between Llanelli and Rygbi Gogledd Cymru, from Parc y Scarlets. Kick off 5.45pm. English commentary available.