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WRU Premiership Cup Preview, 22/10/2022

Sam Williams has reached 200 not out but has no plans yet to call time on his career with Aberavon.

At least, not while they are the form rugby team in Wales and certainly not before the Wizards’ Premiership Cup campaign kicks off on Saturday at Bridgend.

After overcoming years of injury torment, the 32-year-old second row is adamant he will keep going in order to support those who have helped him on his 15-year journey.

Having sealed six bonus point wins from six in the Indigo Premiership, the Wizards will be hoping their strong squad can help put right the Cup heartache they suffered last season when they lost 25-21 to Newport in last year’s final.

“It is a huge milestone for me,” says Williams.

“It has been a long time coming – 200 appearances is a huge achievement. It has probably taken me 15 seasons.

“It’s funny, I had one of my surgeons replying to the news on Twitter, saying congratulations. That just shows how my career has been. But if it wasn’t for the people at Aberavon, the story might have been different.

“Getting to 200 appearances says a lot more about what we have got at Aberavon. I’m sure there have been plenty of times along this road where it would have been the easy option to step away from rugby.

 “But the support I get here is always amazing and they have kept me positive throughout my journey.”

 Aberavon kick off their Cup campaign with a trip to the Dunraven Brewery Field to face the Ravens.

Despite not quite clicking so far in the league, the hosts began their Cup campaign with an impressive 30-26 win over Pontypridd.

“It is a local derby for us, which is always a tough battle,” adds Williams.

“Bridgend are a strong side on their day. They can beat anyone. We know we need to be on top of our game to make sure we can beat them and keep this run going.”

The Premiership Cup consists of four groups of three teams, before qualification for the knockout stages.

The Cup’s second round of games get underway this weekend, having kicked off on 17th September.

For many, the Cup still provides special memories – bonding players, supporters, and communities by creating unforgettable days together.

There’s no longer one competition for all clubs – that was considered unwise in the safety-conscious days of semi-professionals facing amateurs – but a variety of different Cups at each level.

It means no traditional WRU Challenge Cup but more league-specific Cup opportunities for players to achieve their dream of playing at the Principality Stadium.

For perennial bridesmaids Aberavon, last season was their fourth appearance in a Cup final, with no stored silverware as yet.

They were runners-up in 1974, 1975, 2011 and last year. But for the Wizards, the close-knit nature of the club remains the light that illuminates their way forward and Williams reckons their impressive start can be extended.

“It has been a very positive start for us. Aberavon have been there or thereabouts for as long as I can remember, but not picking up bonus points has always been our Achilles heel.

“To have started to pick those off, early in the season is great. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going through a tough Christmas period and into the new year.

After an agonising defeat last week against Swansea, Newport once again travel down the M4 to face the All Whites.

Swansea won the previous week’s encounter – a late Matthew Jenkins try sealing a dramatic 24-20 win for the home side.

For Newport, it was their fourth straight loss of the season. Winless in the league, Tyron Morris’s side will be hoping a change of competition will help get their season on track. However, it will be a tough test against an in-form Swansea side.

After a tricky start to the season Swansea sit in fifth place in the league. The Whites also won their first game in the Cup against Llanelli and having beaten this week’s opponents so recently, they will be looking to cement their position at the top of Group C.

Merthyr have enjoyed a solid start to the season and sit in fourth place in the league, having only lost against the league’s top three teams.

But they face a tough ask to qualify from the Premiership Cup’s group of death, – Group D – following a poor start to the competition.

After losing 50-15 in the opening weekend to Cardiff, the Ironmen face the unenviable task of taking on Llandovery.

Having lost to the Drovers earlier in the season, Merthyr’s head coach Rowland Phillips hopes his side’s recent form, combined with a few tweaks, will be enough to cause an upset. 

“We have put ourselves in a difficult position in the Cup,” admitted Phillips, the former Wales flanker and most recently the head coach of Wales Women.

“It is going to be very difficult to come back from that, but we are certainly looking forward to playing against Llandovery.

“Llandovery are an excellent side; we are in a different period to where they are. We are putting together a team, whereas teams like Llandovery and Aberavon are settled, and have been able to add quality to teams that are already settled.”

Meanwhile. RGC look to kick-off their Cup campaign with a win over fellow strugglers Carmarthen.

Both sides head into the game with just one win apiece in the league, as they look to change their fortunes in the Cup.

Carmarthen lost 34-14 against Ebbw Vale in their opening game in group A, so face a difficult task to get out of the group.

Northerners RGC will be looking to turn their improving performances into results as they head down to west Wales.

WRU Premiership Cup

22 October, 2022

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