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October 2010 Chat With Frank

As we sit in the heady position of 8th place, talk has turned to the idea of hosting Munster and entertaining hordes of Irish rugby lovers at The Park via the British and Irish Cup.  The British and Irish Cup was introduced to provide exposure to a higher level of rugby for those clubs at the top of the Welsh Premiership and to further re-enforce the development and career path of players into their respective regional sides.

Scotland and Ireland, which like Wales have a regional structure to their elite game, provide regional “A” teams to the competition, while in England and Wales, the clubs in the league below the top division (the Magners here and the Aviva Premiership in England) can gain entry.

In Wales, we have six B&I cup places. The top five clubs at the end of the regular season gain automatic qualification for next season’s B&I competition. The sixth place is gained via a series of play-offs.  The two clubs finishing 7th and 8th in the regular season will play each other at the ground of the 7th placed club. The winner of this match will play the 6th placed side at a neutral venue. The winner of this game will gain the final B&I place. Simples. It is the aspiration of Pontypool RFC to participate in the B&I Cup.

Clearly, so soon after two consecutive seasons of relegation battles we need to be realistic concerning our ability to make a top eight finish. While currently we lie in that last play off position, only two points cover the next couple of places below us, so the situation can quickly change in a week or so.

As you would expect there are entry criteria for the B&I Cup, which build upon those for the Premiership. The one criterion for the B&I Cup that we do not meet is for hard-standing covered accommodation for 1,000 spectators (in other words, a covered terrace area).

In our discussions with Torfaen County Borough Council concerning the general poor state of the Grandstand, we flagged up that any remedial work they undertake should take account of this B&I criterion. Our suggestion was to keep a central portion of 500 seats (which could be secured to prevent vandalism and is a minimum Premiership criterion) and to take the end section either side of this central seating area and turn them into terraced areas, as the roof of the grandstand would provide the necessary cover.

This idea appealed to TCBC and they went away to seek funding from the Heads of the Valleys Development Fund. However, the area covered by the HVDF does not stretch to the Pontypool Park Grandstand area and so TCBC believe there are no immediate funds available to them to improve the Grandstand.  We believe that Swansea have done something similar to their stand in order to meet this 1,000 covered terrace criterion. We shall see on Saturday for ourselves.

Whether there is an option for ground-sharing for B&I Cup matches will be up to the WRU. Pontypridd shared with Cardiff when their ground was unplayable last season, but they did meet all the criteria in the first place.  Part of the agreement with the WRU in staging B&I Cup matches is that all home gate receipts of the Welsh clubs for these matches will go directly to the Union BEFORE expenses are deducted. These gate receipts help fund the travel and one night’s accommodation for 28 personnel for the Scottish and Irish matches.

This has caused some comment from participating clubs in so much as there is additional expenditure of match day costs and player wages with no income, except those of club house receipts from bar and food takings. 
For a club like Pontypool with no revenue from a club house, the financial implications require much thought and creativity. Any ideas on a post card.

But all this is a long way away. There are still 18 games to go and as we know from previous seasons much can happen in the intervening months. At the moment we must seek to finish as high up the table as possible.

After eight matches last season we had two losing bonus points from the Bedwas game and it wouldn’t be until December 5th that we would win our first game against Ebbw Vale (which started our current unbeaten home record). My memory goes a little hazy after that, but I’m sure we took almost 20 games last season to get to our current points total for this season – I await correction and clarification on that one.

What a difference a year makes.

James Chapron and his team are still less than 12 months into the job, so still require our patience and support as they build the foundations for sustainable Premiership rugby at Pontypool, and who knows, sustainable B&I Cup rugby at The Park too.

See you at St. Helens on Saturday.