Pooler face tough initiation as the begin life in the Championship
PONTYPOOL start life back in the second tier of club rugby with a stiff challenge when they host Beddau this afternoon.
Pooler endured a summer of legal jousting with the Welsh Rugby Union that ultimately ended in their failure to remain in the Premiership.
It means that they head into the new 14-team Championship with a raw side that will have to learn fast against some imposing, battle-hardened sides.
But getting back in action against familiar foes like Ebbw Vale, Blackwood and Newbridge as well as some new western rivals like Tata Steel, Bonymaen and Narberth is just the ticket after close season frustration.
“Finally after a busy and unsure summer we can concentrate on rugby and that’s a relief,” said head coach Mike Hook.
“This year will be a massive challenge for the club and we will have a better picture of where we stand after the first month of the season.
“It’s going to be tough and we will be looking for our experienced core of players – the likes of (captain) Jamie Jeune, Dan Matthews, Chris Macey, Sam Mills and Luke Dyckhoff – to lead the way.
“We have put a lot of work in, the boys have really stepped up to the mark and it should be a good test against Beddau first up.”
Ebbw Vale are sure to be in the running for the title after lifting the Division One East trophy for the previous two seasons.
The Steelmen have lost a few key figures – notably half-backs Gareth James and Dorian Jones, who have headed to the Premiership with Pontypridd and Cross Keys respectively – but have also recruited well.
And they have also retained the services of influential lock Ashley Sweet who will skipper them at Glamorgan Wanderers and be part of a pretty formidable tight five.
“This season will be a massive challenge for us as we really do not know what to expect from around half the clubs who we have never played before,” he said.
“We know what to expect from the east sides but the west is something of an unknown quantity. We have never met clubs like Tata Steel and Whitland and we are really looking forward to those new experiences.”
Newbridge will be keen to carry on where they left off at the end of last term when they pushed Premiership champions Pontypridd hard in the Swalec Cup semi-final before inflicting a first Eugene Cross Park defeat on Ebbw Vale.
The Welfare Ground outfit have lost talisman number eight Ross Coombs to Newport but have gained a player of Premiership quality in openside Craig Hill, who has headed the other way.
Blackwood start life under a new coaching team with a trip to play Cardiff Met (UWIC in old money).
Director of rugby Matthew Back and head coach Matthew Veater have come in from Gilfach Goch with Gareth Williams joining as backs coach and Jeremy Lloyd continuing to work with the pack.
The club is developing links with Bedwas in the Premiership and Blackwood Stars of Division Five South East. And after an encouraging pre-season former lock Veater believes they could turn a few heads.
“I want us to get Blackwood back to being a fortress and a difficult place to come,” he said. “If we do that then I am sure we will be surprising a few people this season.
“There is a lot of excitement ahead of the new season and we want to instill the same village mentality that we had at Gilfach where most of our players came from the area and wanted to play for their club.”