CROSS Keys have signed Cardiff Blues lock Damien Welch as they continue to strengthen their squad for the return of relegation in the Principality Premiership, writes Chris Kirwan.

The lock, who is 36 this summer, will bolster the Pandy Park side's pack with the aim of providing quality ball for a back line that will be marshalled by former Dragons favourite Jason Tovey, who will arrive from Edinburgh at the end of the season.

Reading-born Welch went to Cardiff University and has previously played for Cardiff RFC, Pontypridd, Llanelli, Carmarthen Quins and Llandovery in the Premiership.

The 6ft 6ins forward boasts regional experience with the Scarlets and the Blues, who he joined after a successful five-year spell with Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership.

Welch has made 20 appearances for the capital region this season, playing five times in the pool stages of the European Challenge Cup for the finalists.

He will give experience and bulk to the Keys tight five and replace Scott Andrews, who is joining Neath when his Dragons contract expires at the end of the season.

"Damien is a good athlete and a first-class lineout caller who will add real size and experience to our pack," said head coach Morgan Stoddart.

"We've been good friends since we played for Ponty and we were also at the Scarlets together, so I know that he will be a good fit for the club.

"It was an easy deal to sort out, the same as Tovey, and it is a massive signing for us."

Keys currently sit 10th in the Premiership with an eye on building for next season, when the top flight will no longer be ringfenced.

The Welsh Rugby Union have announced that the division will be culled from 16 teams to 12 for 2019/20, meaning at least four clubs will drop down with a fifth potentially facing the Championship title winners.