Cross Keys open the 2016/2017 Principality Premiership season with what promises to be a tough opening encounter with Premiership new boys, Merthyr, who lifted the Championship trophy at the end of last season. The big spending Ironmen are much fancied to make a big impact in their debut Premiership season but Keys will be hoping that their established squad has what it takes to stop the Ironmen from hitting the ground running.
The close season was fairly calm at Pandy Park with only a handful of new signings coming to the club, together with several who had featured previously for The Keys on permits throughout last season. Cardiff prop Lewis Smout and Penallta product Corey Hewlett, who featured for Keys in the Fosters Challenge Cup last season boost the options available to Keys in the front row, following the departure of Anthony Lott to Bargoed and the retirement of club stalwart Craig Gould. Elsewhere in the pack Keys have signed back row man Max George from Cardiff Met., his arrival offsets the departure of Reuben Tucker, who makes the short journey to join Newport at Rodney Parade.
In the backs Keys have boosted their options by bringing in another player who featured several times for Keys on permit last season in scrum half Ross Pritchard from TATA Steel, as did exciting young centre Lewis Barnett who joins Keys permanently from Penallta. A new face in the Keys squad will be centre come wing Jacob Unwin who impressed on trial over the summer. The more experienced signings in the back line are outside half/ full back James Thomas who joins Keys from Cardiff and centre Aled James, who rejoins Keys after a brief sabbatical at Newport last season. Aled will also take up the role of defence coach amongst the Keys management. Another new member of the coaching setup at Keys is the new Strength and Conditioning coach Ned Partridge who replaces Steve Pledger. The emphasis on youth is clear to see as 22 Year Old Scott Matthews takes over the captaincy from Leon Andrews, and Scotty’s deputy will be scrum half, James Leadbeater.
Back to Saturday’s game with Merthyr and Keys have confirmed their team to take on the Ironmen in the season opener. The pack will see Lewis Smout making his debut for the club and Josh Skinner is moved into the second row, otherwise the pack has a fairly familiar look to it. In the backs only Lewis Barnett would be considered an unfamiliar face and after an impressive showing in the victory over Llantrisant in the final pre-season game last Saturday, in which he crossed for a hat-trick of tries he is given his chance at outside centre, with Leon Andrews not quite fully fit to return to action.
The Cross Keys team in full for Saturday’s game is:-
15. Ethan Davies
14. Mathew Powell
13. Lewis Barnett
12. Phil Williams
11. Nathan Trowbridge
10. Josh Prosser
9. James Leadbeater
1. Lewis Smout
2. Darren Hughes
3. Richard Cornock
4. Danny Hodge
5. Josh Skinner
6. Ieuan Jones
7. Scott Matthews (c)
8. Adam Powell
Replacements: 16. Ellis Shipp, 17. Corey Hewlett, 18. Gary Carpenter, 19. Max George, 20. Jacob Unwin, 21. Barney Nightingale, 22. Owain Leonard, 23. Tom Lampard.
Merthyr have confirmed their squad for Saturday’s game and it includes a trio of former Keys players in Owen Howe, who starts at full back and prop Nathan Buck and Dean Gunter who are named amongst the replacements. Former Wales back row Andy Powell starts at number 8 for the Ironmen.
Merthyr: 15. Owen Howe, 14. Kyle Evans, 13. Matthew Jarvis, 12. Aaron Pinches, 11. Terri Gee, 10. Gareth Davies, 9. Rhys Downes, 1. James Howe, 2. Rhys Williams, 3. Garry Powell, 4. Craig Locke (c), 5. Ben Murphy, 6. Edward Siggery, 7. Osian Davies, 8. Andy Powell. Replacements: Louis Jones, Matthew Dwyer, Nathan Buck, Ben Sier, Matthew Rees, Tom James, Dean Gunter, Matthew Trowbridge.
Cross Keys v Merthyr Principality Premiership
Date: Saturday 3rd September 2016
Venue: Pandy Park, Cross Keys
Kick Off: 2.30pm
Referee: Gwyn Morris Assistants: Peter Mortimer & Richard Deacy