Jack Maynard

Jack Maynard (l) of Llandovery and Cardiff's Morgan Allen. Pic: WRU

Llandovery And Carmarthen Quins Get Ready For Early Shoot-Out Down West As Indigo Prem Returns

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By David Parsons

Llandovery will kick-off the defence of their Indigo Premiership title at the home of arch-rivals Carmarthen Quins as the tournament launches with a series of local derbies.

While the Drovers head to Carmarthen Park on Saturday, Cardiff head up the A470 to face Pontypridd at Sardis Road, Swansea will host Bridgend and Aberavon will welcome Neath to the Talbot Athletic Ground.

Sunday will see the biggest club game in Gwent in more than a decade when newly promoted Pontypool travel to Rodney Parade for a game that is bound to pack in the fans and is live on S4C.

Meanwhile, Merthyr will take the heads of the valleys road to Ebbw Vale to complete the opening round programme.

There are 13 teams in this season’s tournament, with RGC sitting out the opening weekend, and the champions for the season will once again be determined by an end of season play-off involving the top four clubs.

Last season, reigning champions Cardiff finished on top of the table, but then lost at home to Llandovery in the Play-Off Final. It was the first time Llandovery, twice winners of the WRU Challenge Cup, had won the league title.

With Llanelli pulling out of the league for this season, Pontypool and Neath were promoted from the Admiral Championship and can’t wait to be back in the big time.

“We’ll be playing against fitter, sharper, stronger boys this season compared to last and we won’t be able to get away with things we used to,” said Pontypool’s director of rugby, Leighton Jones.

“It is a different league and a different animal and hopefully the boys will learn quickly. Physicality is something we pride ourselves on, and we are still building and looking to improve.”

Scott Matthews will once again lead Pooler, who have recruited nine new players to join 29 from their all-conquering team of last season. Mat Flanagan (scrum half), Lance Randall (lock), Alex Grey (lock), Ollie Drake (prop), Will Griffiths (hooker), Matt Bancroft (utility back), Lewis Johnson (back row), Ben Moa (back row) and Nick Selway (prop) have all arrived and will add greater strength in depth to the ambitious squad.

Reigning champions Llandovery have warmed up for their campaign with wins over Llangennech and Bourneville and a defeat to Bridgend at the Brewery Field. They lost out on a game at Cinderford when their bus broke down.

“The fact that last season ended so late – with the Premiership final against Cardiff on 21 May – has made pre-season planning a little challenging,” admitted Drovers head coach, Euros Evans.

“That said, we are happy with the squad that we have assembled and are hopeful of another good season in what is looking to be even more a test than last year. We’ve lost two outstanding players in back five forwards Iestyn Rees and Griff Evans, who have left to further their ambitions with English Championship side Ampthill.

“Hooker Ricky Guest has retired and Kris Jones has gone back to his home town club Trebanos after giving us six great years of service as an utility back. Our new signings are a mixture of seasoned performers and young talent and will fit in with our philosophy of open and entertaining rugby.”

The demise of Llanelli has allowed Evans to recruit seasoned pros Nathan Hart and Chris Long to pep up his pack and two hookers have joined from the Scarlets in Taylor Davies and Llew Phillips Taylor. Back three player Finn Evans is a former Osprey Academy skipper.

Cardiff have held onto skipper Morgan Allen for their tilt at another title and Cardiff Rugby Academy manager Gruff Rees is keen to see how the club’s youngsters develop once again this season in ‘The Rags’.

“As with previous seasons we will be collaborating closely with our local clubs and giving players potential opportunities to transfer some of their form in the lower leagues into the challenge of the Indigo Prem,” said Rees.

“With the senior squad reduced this season we still need to recruit in a few areas and now have the means to do that, including extra sponsorship support that we have worked hard to bring in that was not there before.

“There are fewer attached Academy players – Matti Young, Kodie Stone, Harri Wilde, Cameron Tyler-Grocott, Adam Williams and Lucas De La Rua – as the age demographic has gone down, but we are really excited by their potential.

“Transition players will train full-time with the senior squad, but we still look forward to supporting their development needs. The rugby delivery will continue to be led by Steve Law, who brings his experience and wisdom to the fore and aligns to the Academy ethos.”

Ex-Cardiff Rugby wing Jason Harries will be playing in Blue & Black this season after taking up a contract in tandem with a commercial job at the club, while Cardiff University skipper Luke Pollock has joined the squad with his student teammates Dai Jones and Ethan Phillips.

Shaun O’Rourke has joined from Glamorgan Wanderers and Craig Hudd has come in from Newport. Will Gregory is an exciting addition from Championship club Cross Keys, while Wales U20 outside half Harrison James will join prop Freddie Barnes in the Indigo Prem on contract from the Cardiff Rugby Academy.

INDIGO PREMIERSHIP ROUND 1

Saturday, 2 September
Aberavon v Neath (5.00pm)
Carmarthen Quins v Llandovery (2.30pm)
Pontypridd v Cardiff (2.30pm)
Swansea v Bridgend (2.30pm)

Sunday, 3 September
Merthyr v Ebbw Vale (2.30pm)
Newport v Pontypool (5.15pm – live on S4C)

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