THE 15th Student Rugby League Home Nations Championships kicks off in two months’ time with Wales confirmed as the host nation and all games being played at Sardis Road in Pontypridd.
International rugby league has been held in Pontypridd a number of times in the past. Wales played four full internationals at Taff Vale Park between the two World Wars, which included memorable wins over New Zealand and England, whilst in 2009 in front of the Sky Sports cameras, Wales beat Ireland at Sardis Road on their way to winning the European Cup.
It’s only the fourth time that Wales have hosted the tournament and it will be part of a week-long festival of Rugby League in South Wales.
The event kicks off on Tuesday 17th July with a clash between the auld enemy – England v Scotland. Wales v Ireland then follows, on Thursday 19th July it’s Ireland v England that kicks off proceedings with Wales v Scotland following, then on Sunday 22nd July, Scotland v Ireland are on first before the tournament concludes with Wales v England.
The games are scheduled for 2.30pm and 4.45pm on each day so local workers and schoolchildren will have a chance to go straight to Sardis Road and support Wales.
In addition to the internationals, local rugby league fans can enjoy a Welsh Premier League match at Sardis Road on Wednesday 18th July when Rhondda Outlaws, who in addition to Pontypridd RFC are based at Sardis Road, face Cardiff Blue Dragons (kick-off 7.30pm).
There’s another Premier League match locally on Saturday 21st July just up the road at Treharris RFC where Valley Cougars face Llanelli Knights. Further west that day, Bridgend Blue Bulls will take on Torfaen Tigers and West Wales Raiders will host Workington Town.
And finally on the Sunday morning and early afternoon, before the final day of the Home Nations starts, there will be junior rugby league fixtures at Aber Valley Wolves, Bridgend Blue Bulls, Valley Cougars and Penlan Wild Stallions (Swansaea).
Wales last won the trophy when they were last hosts – in 2012 – when they beat England 20-18 in a dramatic encounter in Wrexham. They also won the trophy in 2009 in Leeds and in 2004 in Aberavon.
England are the current holders after winning the trophy in 2016 in Edinburgh, their 11th success in this four nations tournament.
Scotland and Ireland have yet to win the tournament but the Scots did take second place in 2003 and 2006.
The tournament has become a launchpad for a number of players in their Super League and international careers. Future Warrington Wolves and Wales and full Wales international Gareth Davies captained Wales Students in the first tournament back in 1994, whilst Phil Carleton and Neil Davies were two future full Wales internationals who played in the 2004 tournament win, Lloyd White, Christiaan Roets, Owain Brown and Rhys Griffiths were just four who starred for Wales in 2009 whilst Izaac Duffy and Yannic Parker played in 2012.
Wales head coach Paul Emanuelli said: “First of all I’d like to thank our hosts at Pontypridd RFC. Their 4G pitch will lend to some fantastic running rugby over the week.
“It’s really great that we are hosting this year. We’ve a good record as hosts and it also gives a lot of local players’ families a chance to come and support.
“Having a Home Nations is always special for everyone involved and as we’ve a week-long festival of rugby league, fans may be able to watch 11 or 12 matches in the space of five days.
“Let’s hope we can give the home support something to cheer about by taking that trophy back. We’ve a quality side this year and we’re certainly capable of doing that.”
Wales released their training squad for the tournament last month.
Tuesday 17th July – England v Scotland (2.30pm), Wales v Ireland (4.45pm)
Thursday 19th July – Ireland v England (2.30pm), Wales v Scotland (4.45pm)
Sunday 22nd July – Scotland v Ireland (2.30pm), Wales v England (4.45pm)