Greg Woods has spent 18 months away from coaching and that is why he is convinced both he and his Ebbw Vale side will be ready to rock when the Indigo Group Premiership Cup begins. by WRU
Welsh rugby’s semi-professional level has been decimated by the pandemic, but it will finally return to action on September 18 with a knock-out competition split into east and west pools. “On the whole we’ve had a really good pre-season with four tough games.
“It’s been of a very good standard. The Welsh Premiership is the last thing to come back if you like with the league starting on September 18. We kept the squad active through lockdown and kept the players fit.
“They came in on a voluntary basis through the summer and then we have had eight weeks getting the players ready for contact. We’ve played Brecon, London Scottish, Aberavon and Cardiff Met so we’ve definitely done the hard yards.
“I’m pleased with how we’ve gone against quality opposition. The Cardiff Met game was going fantastically until the floodlights went out! I think it was due to them not being used for 18 months!”
Woods – who has coached in the Welsh Premiership since 2004 and remains one of the league’s best bosses – has made a marquee signing in two-cap former Wales wing Dafydd Howells. Woods added: “The Premiership Cup is split into east and west and we will play under the modified rules because of Covid-19 for the first few games.
“I feel we’ve adapted to that well and we’ve played under those rules for pre-season. Things like only having a scrum for a knock on take a little bit of getting used to.
“We hope to start the Premiership proper on December 18, but this cup competition is going to be a tough 10-week block. “It will be a really tough run of games. We’ve got to be ready for that as a squad because there could be injuries with the players having not played for so long.
“We’ve got a great relationship with the Dragons Academy and an exciting squad. I think we have to look at this as a stand-alone tournament we want to win.
“The last 18 months is the longest period of time rugby has not been played at Eugene Cross Park since the World Wars so I think we’ve to be excited about getting back into action. We want to win, but we also have to balance that with giving young players an opportunity.
“Hooker Conor Chapman was in the Wales Under-20 squad for the Six Nations and is a local lad from the Dragons Academy. Wings Ewen Rosser and Carrick McDonagh both have gas to burn.
“Alex Grey who we signed from Wales Sevens has had a brilliant pre-season and has been superb for us. We had a squad ready for the season which was cancelled due to Covid-19 and we’ve kept 90 per cent of that squad together.
“I’ve been coaching in the Welsh Premiership since 2004 and I’ve never seen as many players out there hungry to play. They have had 18 months of no rugby and they are desperate for action.
“I’ve gone back to the Ebbw Vale of old with a big pack and some big, big boys in the front five. But our team also has to be mobile because we are going to be playing quite a few games on 3G pitches.”
Howells stepped away from professional rugby with the Dragons this summer having also played for the Ospreys. His two Wales caps came in Japan in 2013 and Woods is delighted to have him on board at Eugene Cross Park.
“We had Daf on loan for about 12 games in the past. He decided to step away from professional rugby because his body was struggling and he couldn’t get injury free,” he added.
“He’s focused on his career in his friend’s family business but I think it’s a really good indictment for Ebbw Vale that he’s decided to join us. He’s an outstanding person and leader.
“When he speaks in training the rest of the boys listen. He wants to play every Saturday and every minute and he can play 13, wing or full-back for us which is priceless.
“He already has several tries for us in pre-season.”