A RAFT of Dragons players will bolster Gwent sides when the Principality Premiership gets under way this afternoon, writes Chris Kirwan.

The presence of professionals should provide a welcome boost for the start of a crucial season that sees the return of the threat of relegation with up to five teams dropping down to the Championship.

Rynard Landman makes his competitive debut for Newport at Carmarthen Quins after the South African lock featured in the Black and Ambers’ friendly win against Swansea last week.

Last season’s WRU National Cup finalists field a familiar looking set of backs that will be guided by experienced half-backs Ryan James and Matt O’Brien but they are without Geraint O’Driscoll, who is on honeymoon, so speedster Elliot Frewen deputises at full-back.

Cross Keys have had a summer of change with a raft of departures countered by the signings of former Dragons fly-half Jason Tovey from Edinburgh and lock Damien Welch from Cardiff Blues, with the European Challenge Cup winner captaining the club.

Their side for the opener with Bridgend at Pandy Park is a mixture of youth and experience with Keys stalwarts Leon Andrews, Richard Cornock and Tom Lampard joined by breakdown king Nic Cudd and his Dragons teammate Jarryd Sage, an abrasive South African centre with Newbridge roots.

Ebbw Vale don’t have any senior Dragons in their side for the trip to Llanelli but they do have plenty of regional experience thanks to their summer recruitment drive.

Lock Ashley Sweet makes a welcome return following his release by the Dragons, as does South African full-back/centre Carl Meyer, who starts in the unfamiliar 13 jersey.

Fly-half Rhys Jones, son of former Ebbw captain Kingsley and older brother of Eugene Cross Park favourite Dorian, will pull the strings at his old stamping ground after his move from the Scarlets.

Bedwas are boosted by a familiar face with ex-captain James Thomas, whose Bridge Field exploits earned a Dragons contract, starting at blindside in the home clash with Pontypridd.

His regional teammate James Sheekey is among the replacements as Bedwas start life under new head coach Stefan Sankala.

Bargoed have made a number of impressive signings – notably former Dragons hooker Rhys Buckley – and will be hoping they settle in swiftly for their home encounter with Llandovery. Dragons tighthead Nicky Thomas is among the replacements.

Newport (at Carmarthen Quins)t: E Frewen, H Lang, C Smith, T Pascoe, J Morris, M O'Brien, R James, D Preece, H Palmer, T Piper, J Bartlett, R Landman, J Skinner, K Tayler, R Jenkins (captain). Replacements: E Whitson, L Smout, G Harris, J Reid, M Reed, G Watkins, M McGovern, T Lucas.

Cross Keys (v Bridgend): L Andrews, W Cunliffe, D Williams, J Sage, R Budina, J Tovey, O Leonard, C Hewlett, R Jenkins, R Cornock, D Welch (captain), T Lampard, L Evans, N Cudd, T James. Replacements: C Vaughan, S Evans, G Carpenter, H Reader, J Carlin, B Snell, M Evans, D Fidler.

Ebbw Vale (at Llanelli): D Haymond, S Thomas, C Meyer, D Franchi, T Fricker, R Jones, M Flanagan, J Harries, R Francis, R Sevenoaks, K Parker, A Sweet, R Kynes (captain), O Young, L Young. Replacements: L Kinsella, R Jones, C Hicks, L Randall, C Regan, D Jones, G Price, P King.

Bedwas (v Pontypridd): M Hathaway, D Evans, M Callow, A Williams, J Rees, J Scrivens, L Crane, B Toms, A Rees (captain), R Hutcherson, C Hudd, J Richard, J Thomas, J Armitage, N Hudd. Replacements: S Cochrane, D Rogers, C Budgen, J Sheekey, G Allen T Rowlands, D McIntosh, K Teear-Bourgh.

Bargoed (v Llandovery): C Jones, D Dyer, B Nightingale, D Humphries, A Norton, J Prosser, M Bancroft, R Morgan (captain), R Buckley, A Gardner-Key, G Edmunds, G Rogers, J Williams, C Davies, A Gibson. Replacements: J Hallett, M Billett, J Howells, A Herbert, L Johnson, L Lippiett, M Kavanagh, N Thomas.