By Graham Thomas
Jason Strange has no doubts the clubs in the Indigo Premiership are punching above their weight and insists: “The league is a minor miracle.”
Strange – who recently signed off his summer stint on the coaching staff of St. Helens by helping them rule rugby league’s Super League for the fourth successive season – now has all his focus on his other coaching job at Ebbw Vale.
The Steelmen host Llandovery on Thursday night in a match that is live on S4C Clic in a tournament
Strange believes defies the laws of professional sport.
With central funding from the Welsh Rugby Union having been reduced over successive years, the former Wales U20s chief says: “For me, this league is the crown jewel of Welsh rugby and vastly under-rated and under-valued.
“I think the standard so far this season has been really good. People talk about relative standards with other leagues, but what people forget is that the Welsh Premiership has gone from funding each club £130,000 a season to just £60,000.
Next Up 🏉
We play @llandoveryrfc this Thursday 7:30pm Live on @S4Cchwaraeon Clic & YouTube channels
🎟 Pre purchase match tickets https://t.co/j7tOh82Bwn
Let’s have a big home crowd shouting on the #Steelmen 🇭🇺#steelmen #ebbw 👍🏻 pic.twitter.com/70Ilo1e5VR
— Ebbw Vale Rugby (@evrfc) October 3, 2022
“What the Premiership clubs are achieving on £60,000 is a minor miracle.
“When I see the millions spent in other areas and look at what we are doing, I’m amazed. People should understand that £60,000 just about covers the travel costs and pays for one physio.”
Despite the cuts in funding from the WRU – who this week announced a profit of £3.2m for 2022 – the Indigo Premiership is thriving with buoyant attendances, regular TV exposure and a competitive 12-club tournament which this season has attracted a number of players to move from the United Rugby Championship.
Aberavon lead the way at the top of the table, but have played a game more, but Llandovery are in third with three wins from three and Ebbw Vale have only suffered a narrow one-point defeat away at champions Cardiff.
The Steelmen led for much of last week’s game at the Arms Park and Strange believes his squad are showing remarkable form, given the complete re-fit undertaken during the summer.
“We bought 26 players in total, so it was a huge turnover,” added Strange, who doubles his winter stint as head coach at Eugene Cross Park with his other role as kicking coach at mighty northern code giants
📸 New gallery of images by @c_thomasphoto from yesterday’s game against @Cardiff_RFC are now Live!
Pics here https://t.co/Roh1thUgHL
— Ebbw Vale Rugby (@evrfc) October 2, 2022
“But the way these players have connected with each other and gelled, has been fantastic and something I’m very proud of.
“They have bought into what the club is about – putting the team first and understanding what type of club and team we want to be. It’s always about the environment and getting that right.
“But Llandovery are always a strong club, a real solid Welsh Premiership club who have always been coached well by Euros Evans. We know it will be a real challenge for us.”
It’s not just Ebbw who have benefitted from the outside influence of a full-time professional environment in these early weeks of the campaign, though.
Llandovery line-up this season with hugely experienced former Dragons and Scarlets centre Adam Warren in their ranks.
We're on the telly box 📺@IndigoPrem
📆 Dydd Iau 6ed Hydref / Thursday 6th October
📍Ciner Glass Community Stadium / Eugene Cross Park
Pwy bydd y llais @RhysapWilliam neu @owaingwynedd?
Un Clwb, Un Dre, Un Cymuned!#YmlaenyPorthmyn pic.twitter.com/RRmetZGsw3
— Llandovery RFC (@llandoveryrfc) October 3, 2022
The 31-year-old was one of a number of players cut from the Dragons squad in the summer by director of rugby Dean Ryan.
It was a call Warren still believes was unjust but the new man at the Drovers has moved on, combining semi-professional rugby with a new day job at Llandovery College as the school’s backs and strength and conditioning coach.
“I am really enjoying it,” says Warren.
“I have to get used to the real world – putting in daytime hours and then training often at night. It’s sometimes like having two jobs and it can be tough.
“But I am enjoying my rugby and playing again with a smile on my face.
🚨Canlyniad / Result🚨
The Drovers of Old Llandovery Town 15 v @NewportRFC 13
Tough encounter as expected
– Thank you to all the Newport supporters who made the journey. We look forward to seeing you later in the season!
Am frwydr ar Banc yr Eglwys!#YmlaenyPorthmyn
— Llandovery RFC (@llandoveryrfc) October 1, 2022
“I couldn’t be happier with the day job. It’s such a great set-up and there is an opportunity for me to go more down the teaching route as well.
“There are certain moments, when I watch the pro game and I feel deep down that I’m still good enough to be there.
“But mentally, I feel in a lot better place than some of the boys still playing full time rugby. I couldn’t really be happier.
“I didn’t expect my full-time rugby career to come to an end as abruptly as it did. But the way things have fallen, this was the best way for me to transition out.”
Warren’s influence is apparent, too, as Llandovery have beaten Carmarthen Quins, Merthyr and Newport so far this season and will feel confident they can make it four in a row.
Watch live coverage of Ebbw Vale v Llandovery from 7.15pm on S4C Clic and the S4C YouTube page.