It might be now or never for Premiership players

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When you look at the current Principality Premiership table it is pretty much a two-horse race for the title, with Merthyr currently two points ahead of Cardiff.

Those two teams will also compete in the WRU National Cup Final at the Principality Stadium in three weeks, after they overcame Pontypool and Llandovery last weekend, respectively.

A bit further back in the league table is Pontypridd, a consistent fixture in that top five for years now, giving Cardiff Blues the strongest Principality Premiership representation by a distance.

However, that is going to mean less and less over the next few years with the top level of domestic rugby in Wales taking strides towards becoming amateur, or at least getting ‘less semi-professional’.

That is a blog for another day, probably when I’m bored and looking for an argument over the summer, but this is a bit more short-term, and will be Cardiff RFC-centric as a Blue and Blacks fan.

As the funding for the Premiership decreases and the gap between it and the Guinness Pro14 gets wider, players jumping between the two will get less and less.

The problem will not be in quality per say, there will still be plenty of talented players playing at the level, but the big discrepancy will be in strength and conditioning.

Sam Pailor Cardiff RFC
All Premiership teams will receive less funding from next season

There already is a gap to be bridged by any prospective players making the step up there, with the Premiership being less physical than the Pro14 already, but it is set to widen again.

This is why I say that this summer may well be the last for the Welsh regions to pick up players from the Premiership, however, it may also be the perfect summer to do so.

Of course it is the Rugby World Cup in Japan starting in September, which has resulted in the Pro14’s start date switching from the first weekend of the month to the last.

To fill the void it is expected that the Celtic Cup, the A league competition made up of the four Welsh and four Irish sides, will once again take place at the start of the season, being played across August and September.

This would allow any players brought into a professional setup to get involved in two months of full-time strength and conditioning training across June and July to get them up to scratch in that department.

Then they could get a full Celtic Cup campaign under their belt, enjoying a phased step up on the field from semi-professional to professional, before making the first team if selected.

That first team would of course be without senior internationals away at the World Cup, almost adding another aspect to that phased step up as the Pro14 is weakened without it’s stars.

Celtic Cup
The Celtic Cup will play a bigger role in the coming years

Looking at the Cardiff RFC team that have been in outstanding form in the second half of the season there are a few obvious candidates for players who have the ability to make the step up to the next level.

One of those is Morgan Allen with the big number eight having had experience at Scarlets and Ospreys previously, however he has stated on Twitter that he is happy playing semi-professional rugby and pursuing opportunities away from the game.

Blue and Blacks Captain Joey Tomlinson is certainly a contender to make the step up. The 26-year-old has been in fantastic form this season and has offers on the table from outside of Wales, but with Cardiff blues needing hookers he is well worth a look at.

Full-back Edd Howley is another who might be considered by John Mulvihill, having signed from Neath earlier in the season and impressed by scoring 10 tries in 14 appearances since. A dangerous runner and a handy footballer, the 23-year-old has time on his side to make the step.

And Zach O’Driscoll is another who might come onto the Cardiff Blues radar, with the flanker in the top three of tackles made in the Principality Premiership this season. At 28 he is slightly older than the other two players but he has previously been involved with the Ospreys Premiership Select previously.

At Pontypridd somebody like Alex Knott could be worth a look at to boost midfield options at the Arms Park while Merthyr have an abundance of talent although with the pay packets on offer at The Wern it may be harder to entice some of those players to take a chance at earning a full-time contract.

Supporters may well have bad memories of Dale MacIntosh and Paul John signing a number of Principality Premiership players during their time at the helm of Cardiff Blues, but on this occasion it may be different picking young and clearly talented but raw players with enough time to embed in the professional system rather than being thrown in at the deep end.

Hopefully any Premiership signings will compliment others being brought in by John Mulvihill to boost the particularly key positions such as the front five, as was proved to be required when we were overpowered too easily by Munster last week.

If those players are secured though there is no harm in having a look at a few Premiership players this summer in the hope that they might provide that all-important squad depth for less money then it costs to import players from elsewhere.

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