The long close-season is finally over this coming Saturday when Cross Keys head to the Wern to take on the Champions Merthyr in the opening game of the Principality Premiership season. The big spending Ironmen arguably start the coming season as favourites to retain their title so the start could not be any tougher as far as this young Keys squad are concerned.
The pre-season has seen Keys come away with a 100% record but the intensity of pre-season fixtures will be nothing compared to the intensity and quality that Keys will face in the Principality Premiership, starting on the 4G at the Wern on Saturday. Over pre-season Keys came away with victories in the games against Abercarn, Risca, Monmouthshire County, Old Redcliffians and Newbridge with several new faces showing up well in readiness for the season, alongside the more familiar faces within the Keys squad. Keys also triumphed in the Monmouth RFC 10s tournament in the opening weeks of pre-season preparations.
Merthyr have, once again had a busy close season off the field where Dale McIntosh now heads their coaching team and they have bought in a host of players with recent regional rugby experience including former Ospreys and Dragons back row Joe Bearman, former Dragons hooker Darren Harris and Scarlets cult hero Pete ‘the meat’ Edwards in the front row.
Keys have also bought in some new recruits over the summer, with Keys emphasising the importance of development. Prop Nathan Buck has re-joined the Keys from the Ironmen and he will joined in the pack by former Newport second row Dan Mock and also back row Liam Davies who comes in from Ystrad Rhondda having impressed for Keys several times in the Fosters Challenge Cup last season. Chris Cornock will compete for a place at prop alongside his older brother Richard as he returns to Pandy Park where he previously played for Cross Keys United. In the back line Keys have boosted their options with the signing of Corey Shephard, an outside half/full back also from Ystrad Rhondda and last season’s Cardiff captain, centre Luke Ford has also re-joined Keys to boost the midfield options. 17 year old Dragons Academy prospect David Richards has also linked up with the Keys after impressing in pre-season on the wing and at full back. The other new faces in Keys’ squad are centre/wing Ben Snell and Corey Nicholls who comes in from Risca. Other more familiar players who have joined on permanent deals are Josh Skinner, Barney Nightingale and Joe Goodchild who all join Keys permanently from the Dragons.
Back to Saturday’s game at Merthyr and the two sides met at the same stage last season when the Ironmen visited Pandy Park for their Principality Premiership debut and they came away with the spoils when they ran out 18 points to 3 winners in heavy rain. The Keys’ only points of the game came from an Ethan Davies penalty with Merthyr’s scores coming via tries for Rhys Williams and Osian Davies with former Osprey Matthew Jarvis kicking a conversion and 2 penalties to give his side their victory.
The Cross Keys side for Saturday’s league opener has a relatively familiar look to it and will see just one player making his competitive debut for Keys. Full back Dai Richards will start for Keys with Leon Andrews unavailable. There is also a start up front for new signing Liam Davies but he previously played in the Fosters Cup for the club when on permit from Ystrad Rhondda. On the bench, prop Nathan Buck will be closing in on his 50th appearance for the club should he get on. Josh Prosser makes his 50th appearance as he starts at outside half.
The Cross Keys side in full is:-
15. David Richards
14. Mathew Powell
13. Lewis Barnett
12. Barney Nightingale
11. Joe Goodchild
10. Josh Prosser
9. Owain Leonard
1. Corey Hewlett
2. Darren Hughes
3. Richard Cornock
4. Tom Lampard
5. Josh Skinner
6. Liam Davies
7. Scott Matthews (C)
8. Adam Powell
Replacements: 16. Rob Jones, 17. Lewis Smout, 18. Nathan Buck, 19. Joe Thomas, 20. Max George, 21. Corey Shephard, 22. James Leadbeater, 23. Ben Snell.
Merthyr v Cross Keys – Principality Premiership East
Date: Saturday 26th August 2017
Venue: The Wern, Merthyr, CF48 1AF
Kick Off: 2.30pm
Referee: Simon Rees