CHRIS KIRWAN: Premiership success can be regional fillip

LAST WEEKEND may have been a grim one for Wales and the Dragons but it was all smiles for Gwent in the Premiership.

Newport, Cross Keys and Bedwas were all toasting victory on Saturday evening while the latter went to the top of the table for the first time in their history.

That is encouraging because just like strong regions are good for the national side (something that the Welsh Rugby Union would be wise to heed), strong clubs are good for the Dragons.

It is worth noting that the bottom four places in the table are filled by clubs from the Ospreys region and last week there was some grumbling from St Helen’s.

“We are in danger of losing our identity,” Swansea team manager Ian Hopkins told the South Wales Evening Post. “We need to preserve our traditions as a club and balance that with our commitments with the Ospreys.”

That will be familiar for Newport supporters.

In past seasons the Black and Ambers were perhaps too strongly aligned with the Dragons, leaving them vulnerable when the region were struck down by injuries.

The balance is much, much better this season.

They have a strong core of Newport players but have bolstered their side with young Academy talent like Alex Jeffries and Ashton Hewitt while senior Dragons Tim Ryan, Ieuan Jones and Mike Poole have made telling contributions.

It is well documented that the Dragons do not possess the biggest of squads but it’s vital that their resources are spread evenly throughout the Premiership.

If Cross Keys and Bedwas benefit from regional players being sent out for game time then it not only helps them but ensures that Newport are able to retain the spine of their side rather than chopping and changing.

The Dragons want to have three strong sides so that they can put their players into a good environment.

That ensures they can learn more about prospective players – Ross Wardle is impressing this season because Bedwas have made great strides while previously Darren Waters and Andrew Coombs caught the eye because Pontypridd and Newport were playing good stuff.

But the trickle down approach needs to also be adopted by the Premiership clubs; they can do their bit to help those beneath them.

To be fair they usually do this (and Newport are providing a good example with their efforts to help Pontypool this term) but it is not always the case.

When Ebbw Vale dropped out of the Premiership two years ago there was a concerted effort to improve their relationship with smaller clubs within the area.

The feeling from Eugene Cross Park was that they had been aloof so they sought to foster better relationships.

Fierce rivalry is one of Gwent rugby’s biggest assets and the battle to finish above near neighbours is quite rightly actively encouraged.

But that shouldn’t be at the expense of losing sight of the bigger picture – Newport finishing 10th wouldn’t be reason to pop open the champagne just because Keys were 11th and Bedwas 12th.

“We need to be more joined-up in how we approach the rugby issues,” said Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis this week when talking about a deal with the regions.

It’s a statement that is also appropriate WITHIN regions.

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