THE Premiership starts with a bang at Eugene Cross Park this evening when Ebbw Vale entertain Newport (kick-off 5.30pm).

The Steelmen and the Black and Ambers enjoy just two Gwent derbies this season rather than last year’s eight following the relegation of Cross Keys, Bedwas and Bargoed.

The spoils were shared last year when the teams traded away wins and both will be keen to get early momentum with the aim of spending the season in the tussle for the top half and qualification for the cup with the Scots rather than battling the drop.

There will be a contrast at 10 with experienced Matt O’Brien pulling the strings for Newport and young Ethan Phillips getting the nod for Ebbw after signing from Brynmawr, with Dai Langdon providing some guidance from midfield.

South Wales Argus:

It promises to be a cracking season in the Championship with Pontypool facing a sterner challenge for the title.

Pooler are looking to top the pile for the fourth time on the spin, which this time will lead to automatic promotion to the Premiership.

Head coach Leighton Jones has further strengthened his squad this summer and has opted to give the captaincy to flanker Scott Matthews.

Pooler hand full debuts to props Sam Cochrane and Scott Evans, lock Rhys Clarke, flanker Adam Stratton and centre Amose Nove.

It’s been a summer of change for both Bedwas and Cross Keys after they dropped down from the Premiership.

The rivals clash at Bridge Field tomorrow with the hosts, fresh from a useful friendly against Premiership title hopefuls Cardiff, led by flanker Jonathan Armitage.

A much-changed Keys have a smattering of familiar faces from their Premiership years with stalwarts Tom Lampard, now club captain, and Richard Cornock staying put along with Wes Cunliffe and Joe Thomas.

Bargoed will be looking to be in a title tussle with Pooler and start life back in the Championship with a trip to Cyncoed to face Cardiff Met.

Ebbw Vale (v Newport): D Haymond, P King, D Franchi, D Langdon, D Thomas, E Phillips, M Flanagan, L Garrett, J Franchi, R Sevenoaks, L Randall, A Sweet (captain), D Hill, C Regan, L Young. Replacements: R Jones, R Francis, M Davies, B Hoppe, D Rubasniak, S Ireland, J Goodchild, E Rosser.

Newport (at Ebbw Vale): D Richards, R Gardner, J Morris, A Jones, H Lang, M O’Brien, L Crane, L Smout, J Jeune, G Harris, A Mann, J Bartlett, J Skinner, K Tayler, R Jenkins (captain). Reps: H Palmer, L Jones, T Piper, D Partridge, G Price, G Watkin, H Simons, J Wright.

Pontypool (v Beddau): G Walsh, L Lewis, J Mahoney, A Nove, J Thomas, K Meek, M Luckwell, S Cochrane, D Hughes, S Evans, D Hodge, R Clarke, S Matthews (captain), A Stratton, I Jones. Reps: A Coundley, L Ball, C Gregory, R Powell, A Quick

Bedwas (v Cross Keys): J Hallett, A Jones, M Williams, L Bowden, J Rees, D McIntosh, R Harries, T Devine, M Dacey, O Ford, C Hudd, G Allen, O Jones, J Armitage (captain), D Rogers. Reps: J Tucker, R Hutcherson, M Bovington, M Bancroft, B Williams.

Cross Keys (at Bedwas): L O’Brien, J Adams,A Tetley, C Nicholls, W Cunliffe, K Hill, A Bidgood, R Cornock, C Vaughan, J Rogers, S Andrews, H Reader, T Lampard (captain), Joe Thomas, M George. Reps: Z Hewlett, S Hoskins, C Hague, Josh Thomas, Z Bartlett.