The Indigo Premiership is set for an explosive start with the opening round of matches on the first weekend in September being devoted to local derbies.
(Taken from Welsh Rugby Union)
Admiral Championship winners Pontypool return to the top-flight for the first time since the 2011-12 season and will see Premiership rugby return to their fabled Pontypool Park on 9 September, when Swansea are the visitors in the second round of matches while Neath also make a welcome return to the top flight and will host Carmarthen Quins at the Gnoll in week two after travelling to Aberavon for their opening game.
WRU community director Geraint John is looking forward to the new season and welcomed the addition of Pontypool and Neath to the league.
“As always we will have quality games and rugby with a mixture of young academy players playing alongside older experienced regional players,” said John.
“Also, when you look at the clubs we also have quality coaching around the teams which will help in the development of the game and the development of the players.
“And we’re delighted to have the support of S4C on board again to showcase the games. We will be releasing those games to be televised in the very near future.”
Pontypool director of rugby, Leighton Jones, added: “Heading to Newport for our opening game will be a great fixture for us. Then we will have Swansea at home the following weekend for a game that will see Pontypool Park bouncing.”
“It is a great idea having local derbies to kick-off the season as it adds real spice and excitement for the players and the fans. The club has waited a long time for this, and we are going to savour the moment.
“We have been through some dark moments since we were last in the Premiership and under the leadership of our chairman, Pete Jeffries, so much has changed. Now everyone is pulling in the same direction and the links we’ve established with the local community, and with the Dragons, have been hugely beneficial.
“Pete saved the club from becoming extinct and everyone in our squad wants to play for the badge and our community. We know it is going to be a much bigger challenge in the Premiership, but we are ready to give it a good go.
“It is going to be quicker and more intense, and we will have to make the most of any scoring opportunities we create. The players are buzzing, and it is going to be a massive test for me and the coaching team.
“I’ve moved up through the ranks as a coach after arriving 10 years ago as an assistant. I then took over as head coach and I’m now director of rugby.
“We’ve got a great backroom team that works hard to bring success on the pitch by challenging the players off it in training. I’m always very lucky to have help from some great mentors in Mostyn Richards and Terry Cobner when I need it.”
Pontypool director of rugby, Leighton Jones says his squad are ‘buzzing’ for the new season to start
Former Pontypool and Wales captain Cobner will know all about what it takes to tackle two great clubs like Newport and Swansea and both will be wary of what they are going to face when the new season kicks-off.
“We’ve had many tasty games against Pontypool in the past and I’m sure it will be the same when we clash next season. I’d have preferred to have had a good look at them before we faced them, but you couldn’t really have asked for a better fixture to capture the imagination of the fans,” said Newport team manager, Mark Workman.
Neath’s trip to the Talbot Athletic Ground will rekindle one of Welsh rugby’s greatest derbies and give both head coaches – Jason Hyatt for the Wizards and Pat Horgan for the Welsh All Blacks – a chance to put one over on clubs they both previously played for.
Horgan played scrum half at Aberavon when they won promotion to the top-flight in the nineties. He then went to The Gnoll, and has served the club as a player and coach almost ever since.
“What a good fixture that is going to be for us,” was Horgan’s immediate reaction to the announcement. “The rivalry between the two towns is as big as that of Llaneli and Swansea, Cardiff and Newport.
“The fact we start the season at the Talbot Athletic Ground, and then get Aberavon coming to us two days before Christmas, is going to be brilliant. They are always fantastic games for the players and the fans.”
Bragging rights will be very much on the line with Aberavon head coach Jason Hyatt also welcoming the return of the club’s most precious fixture.
“The players had nine weeks off at the end of last season because we failed to reach the play-offs. Knowing they have a home game against Neath to kick-off their new campaign will provide added incentive during pre-season training,” said Hyatt.
“I know all about the history and culture of that great club. We want to create good spectacles in the Premiership, and this will give both sides the chance to do that.”
With 13 teams in the Premiership this season, RGC will have a bye in the opening weekend. The derby fixtures played on the opening weekend will then be reversed for the games over the Christmas period.
Reigning champions Llandovery kick-off at Carmarthen Park against the Quins in a game that head coach Euros Evans is a potential banana skin for his side. The big challenge for the Drovers will be to try to maintain their success in winning the title for the first time in their history.
“Carmarthen is never an easy place to go, and the Quins ended last season very well. They had a tough start through injuries and have recruited very well this summer,” said Evans.
“It is vital we get off to a good start to build up new momentum after the highs of last season. We need to beware suffering any hang-over from the emotional high of beating Cardiff in the play-off final.
“There have been a lot of celebrations since then and we certainly expect to be highly competitive once again next season.”