Rugby Union: Neath in fear of the drop

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The Independent Online
Darryl Jones, the Neath coach, fears that one of the most progressive player development schemes in Welsh rugby could be blown apart by next season's new eight-club premier division.

The League champions, Neath, are now battling against relegation after the Welsh Rugby Union general committee's decision to prune their 12-team top flight. Four sides will be demoted instead of two, as originally planned, with no promotion from the Second Division.

That could mean Neath's WRU-contracted internationals Steve Williams, John Davies and the Lion Barry Williams playing against lower-quality opposition from 16 August.

"I thought that we were in the process of developing players in Wales, but it seems we are not," said Jones, whose side are currently two points above ninth-placed Dunvant with demanding fixtures against Pontypridd, Swansea and Llanelli looming.

"I have a major development programme going on here, yet it seems that if the unexpected does happen and we go down, then the Union might not give me a chance to continue it."

Jones has already found a notable ally in David Rees, coach of Second Division leaders Cross Keys. "They have the basis of a future Wales team at Neath, but what good is it going to do if they are playing in division two?" Rees asked.

"The Union will be praying that they don't go down, because if they do then it will mean the decision to cut the top flight to eight clubs will have backfired on them."

The general committee's plan was ratified by member clubs last Sunday, who voted 206 to 147 at a special general meeting in Cardiff. But the Second Division combinations meet later this week, with Cross Keys official Alan Talbot warning that strike action may be considered in protest at the controversial change.