The Indigo Premiership Returns . . . With Pontypool Back At The Party

Pontypool celebrate victory over Neath last season. Pic: Pontypool RFC.

The Indigo Premiership Returns . . . With Pontypool Back At The Party

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It’s not just the Rugby World Cup that is on the near horizon. Before the tournament starts in France, the domestic season in Wales kicks-off and that means a new Indigo Premiership campaign which begins on September 2. Some new clubs, but they are old and very familiar faces as Mark Orders reports.

It’s been a long wait between drinks for a club once world-renowned for serving up a drop of the hard stuff.

Pontypool RFC are back in Welsh rugby’ top flight – the Indigo Premierships – after an 11-year absence.

It is an understatement to suggest they have had to be patient. They lost a play-off against Llanelli in 2019 and found their path to promotion blocked at other times amid ring-fencing and the global pandemic.

But they have maintained their standards and seen their perseverance rewarded after a stunning 2022-23 season that saw them win all 26 Welsh Championship games with 129 points banked out of a possible 130.

Nostalgics will delight at the club’s return to the big time.

Those of a certain vintage will recall the days when a trip to The Park became seen as the true test of courage for opposition players.

According to the former Wales centre Steve Fenwick, the 1970s’ Pontypool of Graham Price, Bobby Windsor, Charlie Faulkner and Terry Cobner were “ruthless and games against them were like the Alamo”.

Doubtless, without the frills.

The modern-day Pooler are coincidentally carrying a G. Price in their squad. The chap in question is Garin Price, a promising back-rower as opposed to a tight-head prop decades ahead of his time.

Still, if Garin offers a hundredth of what Graham used to dish up, he’ll be doing exceptionally well.

The club announced eight signings in early July, among them former Wales U20 hooker Will Griffiths, powerful back-rower Ben Moa and utility back Matt Bancroft, and are approaching the campaign with confidence.

An opening day fixture at old rivals Newport, who reached the Premiership Cup final last season, will give last term’s Welsh Championship title winners an early indication of where they stand.

Neath, promoted with Pooler, have also strengthened as they look to make an impact at the higher level, with scrum-half Chris Morgans, centre Kieran Charles and former Wales back-three man Dafydd Howells – who is still only 28 – among the fresh arrivals.

Off the field there has been change, with the Welsh All Blacks bought by new chair Matty Young with the aim of making them a community-interest company and turning The Gnoll into a modern hub for the town.

All with a sense of history and an understanding of what Neath have brought to the Welsh game over the years will wish the new owners well, with the certainty being that everyone at the club will give everything and then a bit more in the months ahead.

The club who finished with Premiership silverware in May, Llandovery, will be looking to defend their title under the expert coaching of Euros Evans.

The former hooker isn’t a man who chases headlines and he doesn’t crave recordings of his own voice, but he is an outstanding man-manager and nurturer of talent.

Evans also understands what it takes to achieve success, with the Drovers’ Premiership 24-8 Premiership final win over Cardiff being widely feted as the finest achievement in the club’s 145-year history.

The loss of back-five forwards Griff Evans and Iestyn Rees and the retirement of Ricky Guest will make Llandovery’s challenge tougher this time, but some useful signings include Taylor Davies after his release from the Scarlets.

Welsh Cup winners Cardiff went close to completing the double after finishing top of the League pile at the end of the regular season. However, they found Llandovery too strong in the final.

But the Arms Park have a lot of young talent on their books and will once again quietly fancy their chances.

As will Newport, with the ultra-classy Matt O’Brien expertly pulling the strings and a shed-load of new signings adding to the competition for places.

The top of Welsh club rugby could see a rejig for 2024-25 amid proposals for a 10-team league that would sit between the regional tier and the semi-professional game.

It goes without saying the battle for places will be intense if such a structure is given the go-ahead.

Merthyr, Ebbw Vale, Pontypridd and Aberavon will be hard to beat, while RGC 1404 will fly the flag for the north and in the south-west Bridgend and Swansea both have enough class to trouble any of their rivals on a good day.

Lloyd Ashley, Matthew Aubrey, Osian Knott and Rhys Jones are new signings for the Whites, for whom Callum Bowden will be aiming to build on a superb campaign last time.

Carmarthen Quins will be on a mission to consistently reproduce the kind of form they showed in mid-season when they accounted for Swansea, Llanelli, Pontypridd and Aberavon on the bounce.

Do that and no visiting team will fancy a date with the Carmarthen Park club.

For the latest Indigo Welsh Premiership odds, visit: DragonBet

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