Principality Cup holders Pontypridd face a daunting start to the 2002/2003
season with a trip to Dublin to meet defending Celtic League champions
Leinster at the end of August.
And while the 'Valley Commandos' head away for another tough assignment,
Welsh League title holders Llanelli will host Heineken Cup runners-up Munster at Stradey Park.
"We'll have to hit the ground running at the start fo the season with Munster
coming to town," said Llanelli team manager Anthony Buchannan.
"It couldn't have been a harder start for us, but if you are going to play
Munster it's best to get them at home. It should be a fantastic start to the
season and this game will give us a chance to avenge our quarter-final defeat last season.
"When you look at the quality of the sides in both Pools, I think many of the games are going to be on a par with the matches we play in Europe. The Celtic League is developing into an exciting tournament and it will guarantee us a tough start to the season."
Munster and Llanelli will be joined in Pool A by Caerphilly, Ebbw Vale,
Edinburgh, Neath, Swansea and Ulster, while Leinster and Pontypridd will join
Bridgend, Cardiff, Connacht, Glasgow, Newport and Scottish Borders.
"It's great news for the supporters that we will have two away trips to
Ireland, but having to go to Dublin to play leinster first up is going to be
the hardest possible start," said Ponty coach Howells.
"We've been to Dublin in the Heineken Cup before and the fact we are starting
at the end of August, rather than in the middle, is a bonus.
"Some Welsh clubs were criticised for not taking the Celtic League seriously
last season, but looking at the quality of next season's competition everyone
will be giving it their all.
"There is money to be won at the end of it all and I think the Celtic League
title will carry even greater prestige next season."
Leisnter will also host bitter rivals Newport at Donnybrook in Pool B - a
team they played and beat three times last season. All three games were
tinged with controversy, with the floodlights failing during the Heineken
Cup tie at Rodney Parade and Newport prop Adrian Garvey being cited for
stamping in the Celtic League quarter-final in Dublin.
"We lost to both Leinster and Connacht in the Celtic League last season, so
we will be looking to make it pay back time for the Irish when we travel to Dublin and Galway," said Newport manager Jim McCreedy.
"We enjoyed our Celtic campaign last season and we couldn't have asked for
a better start than a home game. A revitalised Brigend are bound to offer a stern test, as will Cardiff at home later on in the Pool stages."
Cardiff, who failed to reach the last eight in the inaugural season, will also kick-off at home with a game against Glasgow. Then they will get the chance to avenge their home defeat against Connacht last season when they travel to The Showgrounds in Galway on the first weekend in September.
Leinster will make their debut at the Arms Park on 20/21 September in what
will be only the second meeting between the two teams. Cardiff won the first in the Heineken Cup semi-final in 1995.
There will be 16 teams in next season;s tournament, as opposed to 15 in the inaugural year, and the format of the tournament has changed to allow the semi-finals and final to be played in
in the new year.
The final will be played two weeks before the start of the Six Nations Championship.
"We are delighted to be able to confirm this quality competition goes into
year two with a sound base on which to build upon," said Bill Watson, the
Celtic League chairman.
"The Celtic identity will come through strongly as the product builds up
and, with the high quality of matches in the Pool stages, it promises to be
an extremely exciting tournament for all concerned. And this season we have
the advantage of the whole tournament culminating before the start of the
Matt Williams, who guided Leinster to the title last season, said: "It will
be great for us to launch our defence of the Celtic League title at
'Fortress Donnybrook' - although we obviously know the quality of
Pontypridd, having seen them reach a European final in May and take the
"We greatly enjoyed last season's Celtic League, which galvanised the
provincial structure in Ireland. Looking at our Pool, we know Newport very well, having played, and beaten them, three times last season, while we
drew with Edinburgh in Dublin two seasons ago - and lost away from home."
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.
The WRU officially unveiled the new pitch today in time for Wales to take on Australia in the first of the Dove Men Series autumn international matches this Saturday. Head Groundsman Lee Evans and colleague Craig Campbell reflect on the 15-week project and look ahead to a pitch perfect future at Millennium Stadium.