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Welsh Rugby Championship: Season Preview

It’s a long time since Dunvant welcomed Jonny Wilkinson and Va’aiga Tuigamala to their Broadacre base for a European Challenge Cup encounter.

The year was 1999 and the Swansea suburbanites were in a pool with the world-famous pair’s then club Newcastle Falcons, plus Aurillac and Narbonne.

Toulon had visited Dunvant three years earlier.

There had also been games with touring Japan and Romania teams.

But the heady days eventually ended and the village club, that had gone on a journey that had seen them climb eight divisions in 15 years, crashed back to earth.

Of course they did.

Ten years after entertaining Wilkinson and Co they were in Division Two West of the Swalec League, far removed from the days when they rubbed shoulders with Swansea, Cardiff, Neath and Llanelli in Welsh rugby’s top division.   

But, guess what? Dunvant are on the up again.

In the new term they will be playing in the Welsh Championship after winning promotion.

DragonBet make Dunvant 7/1 to win the title.

The section has been rejigged and split into two regional leagues of 12 teams – east and west – with a dozen sides elevated from the various sections in Division One.

A meeting is planned that will hopefully fill in additional detail surrounding the league.

Dunvant, however, will be in the west section, competing against the likes of Narberth, Brecon, Maesteg Harlequins, Bonymaen, Tata Steel and Trebanos.

After finishing fifth in the Championship last term, Narberth under head coach Liam Gadd, will be fancied for another strong campaign, while Bonymaen headed Dunvant in Division One West Central and will be aiming to make an impact at the higher level.

Newly elevated Brecon are sure to be a hard nut to crack after the appointment of Dale ‘The Chief’ McIntosh as director of rugby, with Llangennech, who lost just twice in the league in 2022-23, also quietly fancied.

DragonBet make Brecon 2/1 to win the title.

How Maesteg Harlequins fare will be interesting, the club having seen a double-figure haul of new players arrive at South Parade.

For Tata Steel, the only way should surely be up after a traumatic year that saw the finish bottom of the table without a single win and 1,297 points and 204 tries conceded.

Things should be more competitive this term with Pontypool and Neath, last year’s Big Two, having been elevated to the Welsh Premiership.

In the Championship’s eastern section, Bargoed are expected to be the team to beat after they led the chasing pack behind Pooler and the Welsh All Blacks, with scrum-half James Leadbeater, youngster Dylan Williams and key forward Lewis Johnson outstanding performers.

DragonBet make Bargoed 1/1 to win the title.

Ystrad Rhondda also had a strong campaign, while promoted Newbridge and St Peters will be looking to maintain momentum.

Plenty will be pleased to see Newbridge, in particular, heading in the right direction again, with the former Merit table giants – who count Paul Turner, Jeff Squire and John Dawes among their former players – fresh from a Division One cup and league double.

DragonBet make Newbridge 7/1 to win the title.

Similarly, the sun is shining again for Treorchy.

Remember them?

Back in the early 1990s, they surged into Welsh rugby’s top flight on the back of microwaved success that saw them professionalise their operation in double-quick time and attract a raft of big-name players.

They sold the strategy as “The Dream” and it allowed them to steal a march on others.

Eventually, the established order responded, of course, and the Zebras fell back down the divisions.

But a fine season in Division One East Central last term saw them secure promotion with 99 tries being run in.

DragonBet make Treorchy 20/1 to win the title.

With such an attractive brand of rugby, they will be a welcome addition to the Championship.

Others hoping to make a mark in the eastern block include Penallta and Rumney.

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