PONTYPOOL will prepare for the defence of their WRU National Championship crown – and another bid for Premiership promotion – by locking horns with English opposition, writes Chris Kirwan.

Leighton Jones’ men won their third title on the spin and won all 22 games for the second successive season only to lose their play-off with Llanelli for a place in the revamped top flight.

The Championship promises to be a toughter proposition next season with Bedwas, Cross Keys, Bargoed and Neath joining Pooler and last year’s rivals Ystrad Rhondda, Narberth, Cardiff Met, Tata Steel, Trebanos, Maesteg Quins, Glamorgan Wanderers and Ystalyfera.

Pooler’s first summer encounter will be a trip to Dings Crusaders on Saturday, August 10 (kick-off 2.30pm) to face the Bristol-based National League Two South side, who lock Danny Hodge used to play for.

Jones’ men will then travel to the outskirts of Reading for a six-team tournament hosted by National League One side Rams RFC on Saturday, August 17 (1pm start).

Pontypool round off their preparations with an encounter against National League One Canterbury at Talywain’s Emlyn Park on Saturday, August 31 (kick-off 2.30pm).

"Our pre-season schedule will see us take on plenty of teams from across the border and that's an exciting prospect,” said head coach Jones.

“It can be hugely beneficial to play sides outside of Wales and it will be a good test for the squad.

“We failed to hit the ground running in pre-season last year and that is something we will be looking to put right this time around. With it set to be the most competitive WRU National Championship season ever, the need to start well is evident.

"To once again be able to use Talywain's Emlyn Park during pre-season goes to show the close relationship that continues to exist between the two clubs and we thank them for their continued support."