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Indigo Welsh Premiership Preview, 13/10/2022

Aberavon head coach Jason Hyatt believes this year may be different for the Wizards.

Last season, the club finished in third place in the Indigo Premiership, but they were some distance behind champions Cardiff and Newport.

This season, though, it’s the Port Talbot club who are the early pace-settters, with an impressive five bonus point victories from their first five games and they will be looking to extend their lead at the top of the table when they host Merthyr.

It’s a huge clash at the Talbot Athletic Ground on Saturday, as the Ironmen lay in fourth.

“I am very pleased with how we are playing in the early stages of the season. The strength of the squad is phenomenal,” says Hyatt.

“We have some brilliant players coming off the bench, so we know we can try things if we are struggling.

“It is a close-knit group, and the players are at the heart of driving their own standards. It is great to see the fight in them.

“We have won five games, with five bonus points. In previous seasons we have gone on a run, but we have never been consistently scoring bonus points. In this league when you get to the latter stages, those bonus points are crucial.”

The Ironmen are under new stewardship this season, with Rowland Phillips taking over as head coach.

And Merthyr have started the season well, winning three games out of four.

Had events turned out differently, the former Neath and Wales back rower might have been continuing to coach Wales Women at the World Cup currently taking place in New Zealand.

As it is, Phillips will be looking to burst Aberavon’s bubble here at home, while his daughter Carys tries to rise to the challenge of facing the host nation at the tournament Down Under.

Hyatt, though is confident his team’s 33-18 victory at Pontypridd last week proves they are still the team to back.

“It was the third time on the trot that we have gone to Ponty and won. That is a massive achievement for the boys and the club. We know what Ponty belong to and we fully respect it.

“The local derbies with bragging rights are always tough but we always play well against top opposition, so I am sure we can keep this run going.

“In seasons gone by, when we play teams that are doing well in the league, we seem to hit another level and the performance level rises. When I looked at the opening fixtures, we had Bridgend and Swansea, two local derbies, and Llanelli turned up as well, so it has been a difficult start.”

Carmarthen Quins host Pontypridd, in this week’s edition of ‘Thursday Night Rugby’, streamed by S4C under the floodlights of Carmarthen Park.

The hosts are coming off their first win of the season, after beating Llanelli in a dramatic derby last week.

It is a crucial game for the Valley Commandos who have had an inconsistent start to the season, with just one win from four games, coming against bottom side Bridgend.

Sixth-placed Swansea host a struggling Newport side who are yet to win this season.

It has been a surprise to see Tyron Morris’s side languishing around the bottom of the table this year, having won the WRU Premiership Cup and finished second at the death in the league last year.

Swansea have backed their youngsters this season and after a difficult start to the campaign the Whites have picked up some excellent results against the likes of Pontypridd and Carmarthen.

It’s a tough one to call with home coach Hugh Gustafson keen to keep his youngsters moving forward, but Newport desperate to make it fourth time lucky by picking up their first win of the season.

Meanwhile, RGC face a long trip down the West Coast to face an in-form Llandovery side.

The North Walian side, who sit in 8th place, picked up an impressive first win of the season away at Llanelli a fortnight ago, before succumbing to a tight 25-21 loss against Cardiff last week.

The Drovers, meanwhile, have enjoyed an excellent start to the season, with four wins from four and they currently sit third in the table.

Wins over Newport, Ebbw Vale, Carmarthen and Merthyr suggest head coach Euros Evans’ side mean business this year.

“We are happy where we are at a squad, although we have a few incomings who are still bedding themselves in,” says Evans.

“It is difficult to say where we will end up, but I think we have definitely improved on last year.

“Last year was a difficult year for everyone and our home form wasn’t as good as we would have liked. But this year we are looking to change that and turn Church Bank into a fortress again.

“We played well in some tough games last year, against top opposition, and we are never that far away. We have added quality to the team, but not only that, some quality in depth to the squad, too.

“I think that depth is crucial in this league to get consistency in our performances, which we maybe lacked last year. Hopefully, the players who have come in can help us be more consistent and push on this year.”

Elsewhere, Bridgend host an up-and-coming Ebbw Vale side at the Dunraven Brewery field.

The visitors have slipped to fifth, following tight losses against Cardiff and Llandovery, but still remain within touching distance to the top pack of teams.

Bridgend and coach Tom Smith will be looking to turn things around after a dismal start to the season, leaving the Ravens bottom and pointless.

It is a big ask for the Ravens against a now resurgent Ebbw side under Jason Strange.

October 13, 2022 – 19.30

Carmarthen Quins v  Pontypridd

October 15, 2022 – 2.30

Aberavon  v  Merthyr

Bridgend v  Ebbw Vale

Swansea v Newport (16.00)

Llandovery v RGC

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