Crosskeys College is an impressive facility nestled in the heart of the Gwent village. It is the largest campus of Coleg Gwent and is just a short stroll from the local train station. Today’s visit to the campus was not with enrolling for a course in mind, rather to speak to Pontypool player-coach, Matthew Jones.
The College has been Jones' place of work since 2013. The once-capped Welsh fly-half oversees the development of some of Gwent's most promising young players as they look pursue to a career in professional rugby.
Walking into Jones' office, you get an idea of the institution's sporting pedigree. The College's international roll of honour sits proudly on the main wall, with more than a fair share of recognisable names adorning the perspex board. Tyler Morgan, Ollie Griffiths, Jack Dixon, James Benjamin and Elliot Dee all spent time at the college before going onto a career in professional rugby.
It was the opportunity to work at the college that persuaded Jones to move from professional to semi-professional rugby in 2013, although he still values his rugby career highly. "I still loved the game but I had the opportunity to get work outside of rugby and plan for the future,” said Jones.
"I probably retired a year or two early as a professional and regretted it a little bit initially, but I hugely enjoy what I do now and I believe my roles with Crosskeys College and Pontypool RFC compliment each other well.
"I actually think I've become a better player since I've started coaching at Pontypool, as I think you develop a greater understanding of the wider game.
"I'm still relatively fit so will keep playing for as long as I can, as you're a long time retired."
Jones' desire to wring every last drop out of his career is one to be admired and his continued presence on the field at Pontypool Park can only be beneficial to those around him, especially the likes of fellow playmakers Kieran Meek and Matthew Lewis.
"Moving forward, we want to focus our attacking game around having a couple of first receivers on the pitch at any one time. Tens see the game differently and are able to get the ball into space and create things.
"With that in mind, we are very fortunate to have Kieran and Matthew at the club as they are both comfortable playing in more than one position. They both have the best years of their careers still ahead of them and I look forward to working with them on and off the field.”
Jones was attracted to the club by the defined goals and targets that were being set in the aftermath of the failure to earn promotion to the Principality Premiership in 2016. They continue to motivate him in a season where he will have turned 35 by its conclusion.
"These three years have been building towards something. Winning the league the last two years has set us up nicely for a tilt at promotion and achieving our ultimate goal is hugely motivating," explained Jones.
The pursuit of a third consecutive league title and the chance to challenge for promotion is well underway. Pooler have opened their account with victories over Ystrad Rhondda, Tata Steel, Beddau and Newbridge, but it's only in the last few weeks that Jones feels the team has started to hit its stride.
"It's taken a game or two but we are now hitting the standards and heights that are expected of us. We know what is stake at the end of the season, teams have strengthened their squads just like us and we know it is going to be tough.
"Whether we like it or not, we are a targeted team in this league and we need to be prepared for the battle.”
Pontypool RFC's league campaign continues this weekend with a trip to face Rhydyfelin RFC. Team news for the fixture can be found here → bit.ly/2zCAJ8b