Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Look Ahead-Principality Premiership 2013/14

Pontypridd will begin the defence of their Principality Premiership crown at home to Bedwas on September 14, as they look to build on their amazing Cup and League double success of last year.

The Valley Commandos, who only lost once in the domestic league and cup competitions, are relishing the prospect of being the side everyone wants to beat and believes the Premiership will be even more competitive this season.
“I think there are going to be even more teams in contention for the title this year. The WRU, the clubs and the players have all worked hard to raise standards and I think that will come through on the pitch. We are grateful that our first game against Bedwas is at home. Bedwas had a fantastic season last year, and have strengthened their squad further, which should all make for an opening encounter set to be a great way to kick off the campaign.” Said Ponty Head Coach Dale McIntosh.
 “While last season’s campaign is a big act to follow, we will show the same enthusiasm and ethics towards all our matches as we always do. We have trust in our players and ourselves as coaches, and we are accountable to the club, our supporters and ourselves. It's simple – if you ever become satisfied with what you have achieved, you might as well hang up your boots,” added McIntosh
 The remaining opening day fixtures see Aberavon hosting Newport, Carmarthen travelling to Bridgend, Llandovery entertaining Cardiff, Llanelli visiting Neath and Cross Keys making the trip to Swansea.
It will be a big opening month for the clubs in the Ospreylian region with the four sides eager not to repeat their performances of last year - when all four finished in the lower echelons - especially now the league will no longer be ring-fenced.
 On paper, Bridgend’s looks the hardest start in facing Carmarthen, Pontypridd, Llandovery and Llanelli before the end of September. However, the Ravens have added some quality signings so far in the off season, and the recruitment of fly-half James Dixon from Carmarthen Quins in particular, I think, will turn out to be an excellent acquisition.
 As for the other Ospreylian regions, Neath and Aberavon looked to be on a continual upward curve towards the end of last season, but the loss of Patrick Horgan from the Gnoll outfit will surely have a detrimental effect.
Meanwhile, Swansea, who finished bottom of the pile will know another season like that and they could potentially be playing a tier down.
Moving west, Llandovery notched up another excellent season last year (and arguably played the most stylish rugby of any side at the front end of last season), Carmarthen produced a solid showing, while Llanelli it seems will always be there or thereabouts come the sharp end of the season. Llanelli will, however, be wary of travelling to the Gnoll so early on in the season and will also face Carmarthen twice in a matter of weeks.
Llanelli Head coach Kevin George said: “Neath are in a period of transition with Neil Edwards and Llŷr Lane having taken over the coaching reins, along with a number of experienced players having moved on or retired. They have recruited some experienced players with the likes of Dale Ford and James Goode, too, but we would have preferred to meet them later on in the season as they will be an unknown entity in Round One.
 “The other thing that jumps out from the fixture list is that will we will play Carmarthen Quins twice in less than two weeks: with our British & Irish Cup play-off taking place on September 7, before playing them again on Wednesday September 18. The Quins have recruited well and have a number of talented academy players within their ranks so that will be tough.
 “Traditionally we have started slowly but we can’t afford to do that this season. We have recruited at half back, Aled Davies and Gareth Davies have moved up to the senior Scarlets squad, and with Lions players rested, there will be a big demand on our players, so we will assess how we’re doing at the end of September before setting targets for the season.”
 It is no doubt that Bedwas were the surprise package of last year and many, like myself, would have enjoyed seeing their hard work pay off with a place in the play-offs, but they ended up losing out in the cruellest of fashions. The big question this year will be whether the Gwent side will be able to build on last season.
And what about Cross Keys? - in my opinion, the underachievers of last year? The crux of the matter for them, I feel, will be whether or not they are able to cut down on their ill-discipline to mount a serious challenge.
Meanwhile, Newport have set their sights high for the forthcoming season with captain Gethin Robinson targeting a top three finish.
“A lot of games, we would put in a good performance but then we would let ourselves down when we didn’t need to”, said Robinson
“So that’s the thing we need to do in the coming season – start putting in consistently good performances.”
“We were the only team to beat Pontypridd and pushed them all the way at Sardis Road”, he said.
“I expect Newport to be in the top three challenging for the Premiership. That’s the way I feel about us as a club,” affirmed Robinson.
Last, but by no means least, we come to Cardiff, and Martyn Fowler’s men will surely be aiming for a higher position than the eighth they managed last term. They face a tough opening test, however, with a long journey to Llandovery.
So come next April 26th, who will be vying for a play-off place and who will possibly be preparing for life in a lower tier?
For the former, I think you would have to be pretty foolish to look past Pontypridd: once again their set up is first class and I can see them finishing top of the pile. Could the surprise packages of Bedwas and Llandovery from last season possibly mount another challenge or will they come back down to earth with a bump?
At the other end of the spectrum, the bigger implications I feel will be felt at the basement, with the team who finishes bottom potentially being relegated to the Championship, but that will only happen if the team that wins the Championship title holds the coveted ‘A’ Licence.
I believe the WRU really need to make up their minds as to what they want from the Premiership. Whether they want teams playing for more than just pride with a real competition, or if they simply want to use it as a pathway to develop young players. However, if the WRU is serious about preserving the Premiership's status as a competitive league while at the same time using it as a breeding ground for the regions to bed young talent in, then could it at all be possible to have the best of both worlds?
With the WRU opening up the possibility of relegation from the top flight this season, it will be interesting to see whether some of the clubs such as Swansea - who finished bottom last season but brought through young talent such as fly-half Sam Davies and prop Nicky Thomas - will continue in the same vein with the possibility of demotion looming over their heads, or will the clubs revert to older, experienced heads instead which may not perhaps play into the WRU’s pathway ambitions.
Swansea supremo Mefin Davies voiced his concerns at the end of last month: "There's no doubt that a Premiership without the threat of relegation helped the likes of Sam Davies and others in the Wales Under-20s squad to develop last season.
 "It's common sense that it allows you to blood players and focus on development instead of focusing solely on survival.
 "If you have relegation, then it changes your entire outlook as a coaching team and it means that young up-and-coming players may miss out on vital experience and opportunities to learn at that level.”

So what teams will shine bright this season? Will there be any surprises; who, if anyone, will be the new Bedwas? And finally, is the WRU right to re-introduce relegation and how will it affect teams that wish to blood in youngsters?


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