Thursday, 17 October 2013

Burnell relishing Pontypridd clash

Justin Burnell is expecting a warm welcome when he takes London Welsh back to his former club Pontypridd on Saturday in the B&I Cup. Well, at least off the pitch.

Not only did the Exiles head coach play for Pontypridd, he helped build the club's very successful academy and enjoyed spells as head coach of their Under 21s and first-team. 
If that wasn't enough of a connection, his father played for the club in the 60s and 70s, while his young son Ben is currently keeping the Burnell-Pontypridd family tradition going. It's fair to say he's looking forward to Saturday's return trip to Sardis Road.
"It's a fantastic club steeped in history, and they're the current league and cup champions. I'm really looking forward to it,” said Burnell.
"My biggest memory would have to be playing a major part in setting up one of the best rugby academies in Britain at the time. So many players came out of that system that went on to play for Wales. It was the envy of a lot of people.
"It's a very passionate club; in the past they've beaten the likes of Leicester and Bath and they still believe they should be a regional team. They've an amazing following and they'll be over 2,000 in there on Saturday baying for blood, but as sure as that final whistle goes they'll be the nicest people you could meet.
"Some of our players will have never experienced what they could be experiencing on Saturday.”
Growing up in Llantwit Fardre, Burnell initially took the A470 south to Cardiff, but given his connections to Ponty it was no surprise that he ended up joining the club in 1991, scoring seven tries in 16 appearances.
"I'd played all of my schoolboy rugby for Pontypridd schools and then a season for Pontypridd,” he said.
"Pontypridd is a massive part of the community. The connection between Llantwit Fardre, Church Village and Pontypridd is enormous. When Sonny [Parker] came over he lived in Church Village, I'm Church Village, Neil Jenkins and Paul John [Pontypridd coach] are Church Village.
"I was then very fortunate when I started off my coaching career that I was invited by Clive Jones to help set up the Pontypridd Academy, which produced quite a lot of their first-team now.”
Saturday also offers the chance for Burnell to lock horns with close friend and Pontypridd head coach Dale McIntosh, who last season guided the club to Principality Premiership and cup success.
"He epitomises what Pontypridd is all about. He's been Ponty through and through since he arrived from New Zealand and I'm really looking to going to see my old mate - he'll be buying the beers afterwards,” said Burnell.
While Pontypridd will be looking to back up their 53-13 win over Edinburgh Academicals, Welsh go into the game knowing that victory is a must if they are to keep their B&I Cup hopes alive, after last weekend's round 1 defeat to London Scottish.
With the Exiles then set to face Cornish Pirates, Leeds Carnegie and Bristol in consecutive weeks in the Championship, it's imperative for Burnell that Welsh put in a performance at Sardis Road.
"Saturday is all about producing a performance, regardless of what players take the field,” he said.
"Although the game [v Scottish] was there to be won on Saturday, we didn't play to even 20 per cent of how we have been playing. That was the disappointing thing for me. We didn't play to our structure.
"But we are a good side; we're sitting on top of the Championship table and that's where we want to stay. So in order to maintain our status and to build going into the Pirates game we need a solid performance.
"We need a solid performance to put us in good stead going in to the next run of the league campaign.”


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