By Huw S Thomas
Indigo Premiership champions Llandovery are looking forward to defending their title in the face of a huge challenge from the other 12 clubs that will compete in this year’s campaign.
The two promoted clubs from the Championship – Pontypool and Neath – will make the season even more competitive despite the loss of Llanelli who have withdrawn from the Premiership.
Llandovery will be targeted more than most by clubs keen to bring down the champions and boost their chances of making the putative Elite League for season 2024-2025.
With the WRU aiming to bridge the gap between Premiership and regional rugby by introducing a semi- pro Elite league of 9 or 10 clubs, there will be a general urgency for sides to perform well enough to make a real statement of intent.
Head coach Euros Evans has no illusions about the task ahead.
“The fact that last season ended so late – with the Premiership final against Cardiff on May 21 – has made pre-season planning a little challenging.”
“That said, we are happy with the squad that we have assembled and are hopeful of another good season in what is looking to be even more a test than last year.”
“We have lost two outstanding players in back five forwards Iestyn Rees and Griff Evans who have left to further their ambitions with English Championship side Ampthill.
Hooker Ricky Guest has retired and Kristian Jones has gone back to his home town club Trebanos after giving us six great years of service as an utility back”
“Our new signings are a mixture of seasoned performers and blossoming talent and will fit in with our philosophy of open and entertaining rugby.”
Chief amongst them is Taylor Davies (see photo) who comes to Church Bank after being released by the Scarlets.
The 27 year old played 18 games for the Drovers in the early part of his career whilst No 8 Nathan Hart and lock Chris Long arrive from disbanded Llanelli.
Both Hart and Long are wily campaigners who will bring a hard edge into the back five of the scrum.
Between them they made nearly 300 appearances for Llanelli and both proved considerable thorns in Llandovery’s side in many a Premiership battle.
Another ex-Llanelli player to join is former Scarlets Academy and Wales U18s hooker Llew Phillips Taylor, son of the 52-times capped Wales centre Mark Taylor.
One more new signing to keep a keen eye on is former Ospreys Academy captain Finn Evans who can play across the back three and is a player of some promise.
The Drovers have arranged three friendlies in August – away at English National One side Cinderford (Aug 12) and Llangennech (Aug 16), home to Premiership club Bridgend (Aug 19).
They will also send a side to compete in the returning Aberaeron 7s on Bank Holiday Sunday before facing Carmarthen Quins at Carmarthen Park on the opening day of the season –September 2.
The Quins who have recruited well in the summer are sure to test the mettle of the Drovers in a Tywi Valley local derby which gets the season off to an intriguing start.
The Drovers, Carmarthen Quins and Swansea have a bye in the first round of the WRU Premiership Cup on September 23.
The big tie of the first round sees Cup holders Cardiff entertain Newport in a replay of last season’s final which saw the Blue and Blacks win 13-10.
Full draw: Aberavon v Pontypool; Bridgend v RGC; Cardiff v Newport; Neath v Ebbw Vale; Pontypridd v Merthyr