by Glyn Barlow
At last the wait is over and we have the new season upon us.
And we start with a most welcome visit from the Welsh All Blacks, Neath RFC. Founded in 1871 Neath are a founder member of the RFU with a long and illustrious history, recognised as the breeding ground for tough as teak Welsh forwards.
In 2003 on the advent of regional rugby in Wales Neath came together with Swansea to form the Ospreys. Rather than holding the club back the advent of regional rugby saw the men in black dominate the semi-pro game, winning four consecutive Welsh Championships (out of a total of seven) and lifted the Welsh Cup three times.
In all Neath have produced 95 players for Wales. Included in those coming through the ranks in recent years are 96 cap Gareth Llewellyn, James Hook, Craig Mitchell, Shane Williams and Adam Jones.
Last season Neath had a very untypical campaign winning only one of their Principality Premiership fixtures to yield their worst performance in the modern era as they ended up bottom of the table. League status was saved by the reconstruction of the Principality Premiership in 2016/17 as the league expands from 12 to 16 teams.
To prepare for the new challenge the club has made a number of new signings including ex-Osprey Lyndon Bateman, scrum-half Josh Guy at scrum half, props Ryan Thomas and Neil White, former Dragons academy and Llanelli player Matthew Pearce, and Jordan Collier, who spent time in the Ospreys Academy. Their marquee signing however is former Wales international centre Gavin Evans, moving to the Gnoll after more than 200 regional games for the Blues. We should also watch out for rising star and Wales U20 international Reuben Morgan-Williams on loan from the Ospreys.
As an indicator of how Neath are preparing for the season, and how much of a challenge they will pose for Birmingham Moseley, they beat Maesteg last weekend 5-45, scoring 7 tries in the process. Head Coach Gareth Llewellyn will be pleased by this first outing.
For our faithful supporters this pre-season game will start to answer the many questions as to how life in National 1 will be approached. With over half the squad new faces to the club we are somewhat stepping into the unknown, with all the excitement and trepidation that brings.
There will be a number of interesting areas to focus on. How will new fly half Elliot Bale approach his playmaker role at fly half? We look to have some very exciting three quarters to bring into play so let’s hope he offers an attacking mind-set to the position. Without being arrogant we probably have a very strong back row who could grace many a Championship club, but as any coach will tell you the bedrock of a win is found in the front five so it will be key to see how they front up to the hard men of Glamorgan.
With so many new players in the squad we need some of our longer serving players like Mike Penn, Greg Charlton and Sam Brown to step up and lead the way on the field alongside 1st XV Captain Greg King and Club Captain Adam Caves.
This could be the first step in an exciting and successful (first) season for Birmingham Moseley Rugby.
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