Strange – who recently signed off his summer stint on the coaching staff of St Helens by helping them rule rugby league’s Super League for the fourth successive season – now has all his focus on his other coaching job with the Steelmen and insists the Premiership “is a minor miracle.”
The Steelmen host Llandovery tonight (Thursday, 6 October) in a match that is live on S4C Clic in a tournament Strange believes defies the laws of professional sport.
Watch live coverage of Ebbw Vale v Llandovery from 7.15pm on S4C Clic and the S4C YouTube page
“For me, this league is the crown jewel of Welsh rugby and vastly under-rated and under-valued. The standard so far this season has been really good,” said Strange, who played for Ebbw and then coached them to Division 1 and Championship titles in the past.
“People talk about relative standards with other leagues, but what the Premiership clubs are achieving on their budgets is a minor miracle. When I see the millions spent in other areas and look at what we are doing, I’m amazed.”
The Indigo Premiership is thriving with buoyant attendances, regular TV exposure and a competitive 12-club tournament which this season has attracted a number of players to move from the United Rugby Championship.
Aberavon leads the way at the top of the table, but have played a game more, but Llandovery are in third with three wins from three. Ebbw Vale have only suffered a narrow one-point defeat away at champions Cardiff.
The Steelmen suffered for much of last week’s game at the Arms Park and Strange believes his squad are showing remarkable form, given the complete re-fit undertaken during the summer.
“We brought in 26 players in total, so it was a huge turnover,” added Strange, who doubles his winter stint as head coach at Eugene Cross Park with his other role as kicking coach at mighty northern code giants Saints.
“But the way these players have connected with each other and gelled, has been fantastic and something I’m very proud of. They have bought into what the club is about – putting the team first and understanding what type of club and team we want to be.
“Llandovery are always a strong team, a really solid Welsh Premiership club who have always been well coached by Euros Evans. We know it will be a real challenge for us.”
It’s not just Ebbw who have benefitted from the outside influence of a full-time professional environment in these early weeks of the campaign, though. Llandovery line-up this season with hugely experienced former Wales, Dragons and Scarlets center Adam Warren in their ranks.
The 31-year-old was one of a number of players cut from the Dragons squad in the summer by director of rugby Dean Ryan. It was a call Waren still believes was unfair but the new man at the Drovers has moved on, combining semi-professional rugby with a new day job at Llandovery College as the school’s backs and strength and conditioning coach.
“I am really enjoying it. I’ve had to get used to the real world, putting in daytime hours and then training at night. It’s sometimes like having two jobs and it can be tough.
“But I am enjoying my rugby and playing again with a smile on my face. I couldn’t be happier with my day job.
“It’s such a great set-up and there is an opportunity for me to go further down the teaching route as well. There are certain moments when I watch the pro game that I feel deep down that I’m still good enough to be playing there.
“But mentally, I feel in a much better place than some of the boys still playing full time rugby. I couldn’t really be happier. I didn’t expect my full-time rugby career to come to an end as abruptly as it did, but the way things have fallen, this was the best way for me to transition out.”
Warren’s influence is apparent, too, as Llandovery have beaten Carmarthen Quins, Merthyr and Newport so far this season and will feel confident they can make it four in a row.