The World Cup may be underway, and the regions are preparing for their own campaign, but grassroots club rugby somehow has to keep its voice heard, too. Kasey Rees went to Sardis Road to hear how Pontypridd and Carmarthen Quins are doing just that in the new Indigo Welsh Premiership.
With all eyes on Rugby World Cup in Japan and the Pro 14 season around the corner, how does Premiership rugby compete for attention from fans?
On Saturday evening in front of hundreds of fans at Sardis Road, Pontypridd beat Carmarthen Quins in a thrilling encounter.
After a disappointing start to the match the home side fought their way to a 20-17 victory in what was their first win of the season in the Indigo Group Premiership.
But with the Guinness Pro 14 season starting next Friday, and the majority of Welsh regional fans having that as the home attraction as well as events in Japan, the question is what makes Premiership rugby so special?
The answer is a localised and community feel, where fans can mingle with their team’s players after the match as they are far more accessible than those in the Pro 14 or international matches can ever be.
Pontypridd coach Justin Burnell believes Ponty have a huge community base of supporters which is important for lower league rugby.
He says: “What draws people to watch Premiership rugby is the locality, and the communities coming together to support their team.
“I think also what is special about Premiership rugby is that it is a nail-biting game with end to end stuff like you saw in the game against the Quins.”
When asked about competing for attention in the middle of a World Cup, he argues that the games were on in the morning, so didn’t see a problem with attendances being affected.
He adds: “The game this evening was at quarter past five, so there is no reason why people can’t watch both.”
Pontypridd captain Dafydd Lockyer believes that Premiership rugby is more exciting to watch.
He says: “It is tough to compete with. I watched the New Zealand v South Africa game and it was cracking.
“We are nowhere near that standard, but I think we like to play deep and you have just got to play as much rugby as you can in the Premiership and enjoy it more, and avoid getting into a kicking battle.
“The crowd love the rugby we play, as there are a lot more turnovers than in the Pro 14. They are more professional than Premiership rugby, as it is a lot more organised with the defences in that league, stronger.”
After losing their first game of the season, Quins coach Emyr Phillips was disappointed but insisted they will recover quickly.
“Our aim for the season is to take it game by game and see where that takes us. We go again next week so we will go from there.”
His own view on the struggles for attention posed to the Premiership, echoes that of Burnell.
“Although ITV cover the matches in Japan, the credit goes to S4C and the BBC for their coverage of the Premiership last year and this year.
“It’s and has brought more people to club games with great exposure.”
Perhaps the biggest problem Premiership rugby faces is the lack of young people who are turning up to watch their local side.
Lockyer admits: “Were struggling to get young people involved as supporters, but we have got to keep playing rugby and as long as Premiership teams keep doing what they are doing, then we should have a lot more support.
“A lot of Premiership lads will go back to their home teams and become a coach in the mini section. So, if young people see them play good rugby it should encourage them to watch their local side play. It’s all about getting clubs and communities involved.”
The Quins started strongly, keeping themselves in Pontypridd’s half early in the game, and after too many home mistakes it was Lee Taylor for the Quins who got himself on the score sheet with a try in the 27th minute.
The first try for Ponty came just before half time and was scored by Tom Rowlands.
Pontypridd were then first on the score sheet in the second half with Dale Stuckey scoring in the 49th minute. Both tries were converted successfully by Diggy Bird.
The Quins responded again with two tries in the second half – scored by Nic Reynolds (51’) and Torin Myhill (54), both converted by Steffan Marshall.
But, it was the Quins’ mistakes towards the end of the match which cost them, as two penalty kicks from Ben Jones put Pontypridd ahead, giving them the win at the final whistle.
Lockyer added: “It’s our first win of the season against a quality Carmarthen team and we will take that and keep improving, cutting out the errors.
“We need to improve on not giving away soft points to our opponents and after losing out on competing for the WRU Challenge Cup our ambition is now challenging for the league.
“But we will continue to work hard, and see where we are at around Christmas.”
WRU man of the match: Morgan Bosanko (Pontypridd)
Golden Bob man of the match: Dale Stuckey (Pontypridd)
Referee: Dan Jones