Rugby Union: Club by club guide to the Heineken League first division

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THEY have axed the man who kicked them back into the top flight, the outside-half Byron Hayward, for allegedly being too greedy, but although they will miss his points they have recruited well and Kevin Price will add a new dimension. The former Wales hooker Nigel Meek and the lock Mike Whitson will add firepower, but they still look relegation favourites.

In: Richard Lewis (Blackwood); Nigel Meek (Pontypridd); Mike Whitson (Neath); Brandon Cripps (out of retirement); Kevin Price (Mountain Ash); Kevin Price (Mountain Ash). Out: Eugene Glastonbury (Blaina); David Jones (Blaina); Byron Hayward (Newport). Capt: Mark Rossiter. Last season: 2nd in Second Division. Prediction: 12th.


New signings should make them stronger up front this season. In Rob Howley and Matthew Lewis they have potentially the best club half-back pairing. Not strong enough to sustain a title push, but should step out of the mediocre.

In: David Rees (Bridgend); Anthony Jones (Aberavon); Emyr Williams (Aberavon); Rhodri Jones (Tenby Utd); Gareth Thomas (Pencoed); Stuart Price (Llanharan); Matthew Back (Pontypridd); Neil Baxter (Cardiff); Austin Howells (Maesteg Celtic). Out: Tony Bumford (Treorchy); Owain Lloyd (Treorchy); Jeff Daley (Tredegar); Graham Evans (Narberth); Ceri Thomas (Pontypridd); Jonathan Hudson (Dunvant); Julian Derrick (Treorchy); Matthew Pearce (Abercynon); Kevin Mably, Thomas Morgan, Mark Hopkins (released). Capt: Robert Howley. Last season: 6th. Prediction: 5th.


WINNING the Swalec Cup last season proved they can win major trophies. Their pack that day was superb and with the 6ft 10in lock Derwyn Jones they should be laughing up front. The addition of Emyr Lewis will make them the most powerful club in the vital back-row area. There is plenty of try-scoring potential behind, but Mike Hall must work on his side's mental approach if they are to win their first title.

In: Andrew Booth (Swansea); David Joseph (Llanelli); Emyr Lewis (Llanelli). Out: Tony Rees (Kobe Steel, Japan); Andrew Williams (Newport); Neil Baxter (Bridgend). Capt: Mike Hall. Last season: 4th. Prediction: 1st.


SHOWERED themselves in glory last season by remaining in the First Division. Their rise was based on home-grown talent. It was just enough to keep them in the top flight last winter, but they have wisely spread their net now. Their pack should perform well, but much will depend on the outside-half, Mark Thomas.

In: Kevin Allen (Aberavon); Jonathan Hudson (Bridgend); Darren Richards (Hendy); Mark Thomas (Neath Athletic); Paul Johnson (Tenby Utd); Carl Morgan (Cardiff Inst); Andrew Orrells (Neath); Mark Watters (Abertillery). Out: Richard Llewellyn (Swansea); Mark Bernard (Bonymaen); Darren Thomas (Bonymaen); David Charles (Bonymaen); Byron Lloyd (Merthyr). Capt: Dean Evans. Last season: 10th. Prediction: 11th.


FELL from grace last season, yet still reached the Swalec Cup final. The summer saw turmoil and the departure of a number of players. The club faces financial difficulties which brought pressure on the field last season. Rupert Moon has called for a return to adventurous and entertaining ways. Tricky times ahead yet they cannot be totally counted out of the title race.

In: Ian Hembrow (Maesteg Celtic); Lee Williams (Aberavon); Duncan Hughes (Newport); Adrian Varney (Neath); Matthew Codd (Youth). Out: Lloyd Davies (Treorchy); Gary Jones (Porth); Lyn Jones (Treorchy); David Joseph (Cardiff); Paul Pook (Newbridge); Emyr Lewis (Cardiff). Capt: Rupert Moon. Last season: 5th. Prediction: 6th.


Runners-up last winter, Neath have hand- picked players over the summer in order to bolster their squad for a title charge this season. They will be hampered by the loss to Cambridge University of the rapidly developing outside-half Matthew McCarthy, but will be as strong as ever up front. Their game remains based on pressure and statistics - they claim to score once in every three visits to the opposing 22 - but they will need greater flexibility in their approach to outgun Swansea, Cardiff and Pontypridd.

In: David Llewellyn (Newport); Chris Wyatt (Newport); Andrew Thomas (Aberavon); Steve Bowling (Pontarddulais); Paul Jackson (Aberavon); Chris Scott (Newport); Jonathan Westwood (Newport). Out: Steve Crandon (Dinas Powys); Chris Bridges (Treorchy); Kevin Phillips (Cardigan); Anthony Donovan (Llanharan); Alun Bevan (Bonymaen); Mike Whitson (Abertillery); Richard Rees (Newport); Adrian Varney (Llanelli); Robin Jones (Swansea); Andrew Orrells (Dunvant). Capt: Gareth Llewellyn. Last season: 2nd. Prediction: 2nd.


HAVE once again lost key players and seem destined for another struggle. They just managed to stay out of the relegation zone late last season, but need greater depth and stability within their squad to crawl out of the bottom half of the table. The new captain, Peter Crane, is guaranteed to lead by example and if his infectious enthusiasm can spread throughout the team then they will be hard to beat at home.

In: Jeremy Lloyd (Pontllanfraith); Paul Pook (Llanelli); Richard Smith (Oakdale). Out: Ian Wilkinson (Pontypool); Ken Waters (Abergavenny); Andrew Collins (Treorchy); James Churcher (St Peter's); Wayne Grimstead (Blackwood); Andrew Griffiths (Newport); David Roberts (Newport); Andrew Green (Tredegar). Capt: Peter Crane. Last season: 8th. Prediction: 10th.


REMAIN in a state of flux despite the best efforts of the chairman, David Watkins to provide a platform. Much will depend on the form and availability of the Canadian outside-half Gareth Rees and what sort of pack the new captain, Richard Goodey, can command. This season seems destined to be another one spent taking tiny steps forward. They cannot afford to slide any further and must aim for consolidation this term.

In: Malcolm Jenkins (Pontypool Utd); Andrew Williams (Cardiff); Richard Rees (Neath); Geraint Bowden (Newport HSOB); Mark Werkman (Machen); Matthew Kehoe (Swansea); David Roberts (Newbridge); Andrew Griffiths (Newbridge); Andrew Pickering (Pontypool); Ian Harvey (Loughborough Univ); David Rees (Cross Keys); Martin Jones (Ebbw Vale); Robert Morgan (Pontypool Utd); Byron Hayward (Abertillery). Out: Roger Bidgood (Rumney); Simon McCracken (Rumney); Chris Scott (Neath); Andrew Dibble (Treorchy); David Waters (Retired); Chris Wyatt (Neath); David Llewellyn (Neath); Paul Watkins (Rumney); Andrew Lewis (Treorchy); James Alvis (Swansea); Jonathan Westwood (Neath); Duncan Hughes (Llanelli). Capt: Richard Goodey. Last season: 7th. Prediction: 9th.


HAVING staved off relegation, the once all-conquering Pooler are looking forward with greater optimism. They also understand the need for a huge improvement. The biggest question marks still surround their pack. Behind, they are a match for most teams. What they must do is turn the near misses of last season into wins.

In: Jim Ridley (Cross Keys); Dave Robbins (Talywain); Jason Thomas (Pontypool Utd); Jason Jones (Pontypool Utd); Mark Jones (Monmouth- hooker); Ian Wilkinson (Newbridge); Shay Billen (Gwernyfed); Martin Hayter (Cwmbran); Nathan Humphreys (Gwent Police); David Lynch (Tredegar); Lloyd Isaac (Aberavon); Steve Alton (Tonyrefail); Sam Haile (Monmouth); Wayne Morris (Aberavon); Paul Graham (Abergavenny); John Crandon (Ebbw Vale); Martin Squires (Pontypool Utd); Ray David (Garndiffaith). Out: Matt Keenan (returned to Western Samoa); Paul Thomas (Garndiffaith); Andrew Pickering (Newport); Capt: Mark Ring. Last season: 9th. Prediction: 8th.


IF Neil Jenkins continues his prodigious points-scoring then Pontypridd will be there or thereabouts. They have proved they can beat anyone among the top teams, triumphing against Neath, Swansea, Cardiff and Llanelli last winter, and remain the side everyone hates to visit. With greater front-five consistency they could be the dark horses.

In: Leighton Phillips (Abercynon); Ceri Thomas (Bridgend); Lindsay Harvey (Maesteg); Richard Erskine (SW Police); Lyndon Lewis (Aberavon); Darren Gibbon (Glamorgan Wanderers). Out: Chris Jarman (Rhymney); Nigel Meek (Abertillery); Matthew Back (Bridgend); Robert Davies (Ystrad Rhondda); Steve Cody (Blackwood). Capt: Nigel Bezani. Last season: 3rd. Prediction: 3rd.


THEIR coach, Mike Ruddock, knows it will not be as simple this winter. Big names have gone, and there are early-season fitness problems surrounding Robert Jones and Stuart Davies. They have strength in depth and excellent off-the-field organisation, but this just might be the season they build for the 1995/96 title.

In: Lyndon Griffiths (Pencoed); Richard Llewellyn (Dunvant); Roddy Boobyer (Maesteg); Chris McDonald (Narberth); James Alvis (Newport); Robin Jones (Neath). Out: David Rees (Bridgend); Mark Titley (Merthyr); Andrew Booth (Cardiff); Ben Childs (Tenby Utd); Matthew Kehoe (Newport); Capt: Anthony Clement. Last season: 1st. Prediction: 4th.


FOR the Rhondda dream to become a reality the newcomers will have to get all their recruits playing at their best. That is asking a lot, but do not underestimate the Zebras. They will field nine debutants in their opening match at Neath and will be better able to assess their chances after they have played Swansea and Llanelli in their next two fixtures. They have predicted a top-six finish, but that might be asking too much.

In: Lyn Jones (Llanelli); Lloyd Davies (Llanelli); Dominic St John (Glamorgan Wanderers); Andrew Dibble (Newport); Owain Lloyd (Bridgend); Chris Bridges (Neath); Lloyd Gilby (Maesteg); Andrew Collins (Newbridge); Andrew Lewis (Newport); Tony Bumford (Bridgend); Julian Derrick (Bridgend); Nigel Berbillion (Llanharan). Out: Phil Bromwell (Mountain Ash); Sion Davies (St Peter's); Brandon Cook (Mountain Ash); Andrew Jones (Mountain Ash); Martin Rowe (Mountain Ash). Capt: Keith Orrell. Last season: 1st in Second Division. Prediction: 7th.