Pontypool RFC head coach Leighton Jones is looking forward to getting the club's National Cup campaign underway after being drawn away to Cross Keys RFC in the second round of the competition, writes Andrew Deering.
The Pontypool Park club had been drawn at home to Principality Premiership strugglers Neath RFC in the first round, but due to the financial issues that continue to plague the famous club, the Welsh All Blacks were unable to fulfil the fixture and Pooler were given a bye into the next round.
Since the introduction of ring-fencing in 2016, the National Cup has taken on an added importance to the club. The competition has provided Jones' men with their only opportunity to test themselves against Premiership opposition, as they patiently await the opportunity to challenge for promotion back to the top division once again.
National Cup victories over Llanelli RFC, Cardiff RFC and Carmarthen Quins RFC are some of the most fondly remembered matches in the club's modern history and a large away support is sure to head to Pandy Park at the end of the month, as the club goes in search of another Premiership scalp.
"We wanted a Premiership team,” said Pontypool RFC head coach, Leighton Jones. "The boys like playing against Premiership teams and it's good for the club as we want to be playing against this sort of opposition week in, week out.
"After missing out on the chance to play Neath at the Park, we would have liked a home draw for our fans, but we will go to Cross Keys and give it a good go.”
The last time the two teams met was back in 2017, when there was a National Cup semi-final place at stake. The game was played at Pandy Park with the home side running out 19-3 victors. Just a month after the tie, Pooler claimed the WRU National Championship title for the first time and have since gone on to win a second league title after enjoying an unbeaten league season.
Jones fully believes that the squad has developed and evolved since the two clubs last met and is looking forward to renewing relations in just over two weeks time. "We've added a few players to the squad since the 2016-2017 season and the players still with us from that time have also developed. We feel as if we now have a stronger group of players here and competition for places is fierce.
"Looking ahead to the Cross Keys game, we have a couple of boys who played in the quarter-final, for and against us. It will be a good test for us and I'm sure there are some boys in our camp who have a score to settle with Cross Keys and will look forward to that game when it comes.”