Survival is the name of the game for Premiership clubs
THEY have a history to stand comparison with any club in world rugby, but for Swansea in the Principality Premiership this season, the name of the game will be survival.
Relegation is back and so is the pressure it brings.
Swansea finished bottom of the table last term, 16 points adrift of the side above them, and if they are similarly positioned next May they will go down if the winners of the Championship meet criteria laid down by the Welsh Rugby Union.
The Whites escaped the drop in 2012-13 because demotion was suspended while the restructured league settled down.
But this term every club will stand or fall on the points they achieve.
It is a situation to concentrate minds at St Helen's. Swansea became the first club to beat New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, in the process giving them a standing throughout world rugby.
But another famous club, Pontypool, slipped out of the top echelon the season before last, proving conclusively that having a big name isn't enough to hold a place in Welsh rugby's elite semi-professional tier: it has to be backed up by results.
Swansea club captain Sam Kiley, who is recovering from a serious knee injury, is conscious that the players will have the weight of history on their shoulders in the months ahead.
"It's a big season for us," he said.
"We all know that last term wasn't good enough in terms of where we finished in the league.
"But there is a good attitude in the squad and we are determined to improve.
"It wouldn't just be bad for Swansea if we were to go down. It would be bad for Welsh rugby as a whole because the Whites are an important club, a city club that needs to be involved at the highest level to encourage youngsters to play rugby.
"Everyone knows the history.
"When I was four my father took me to St Helen's to watch Scott Gibbs's team beat Australia. Stuff like that stays with you and it definitely inspired me to try to play for the club.
"I do mention the club's history to the boys.
"But we also know that it is not going to keep us in the top division. If we want to stay up, we are going to have to work hard and win enough games.
"Is our season about making the play-offs? No, it is about surviving."
The Whites could be helped by Ospreys' youngsters Sam Davies, Rhodri Hughes and Nicky Thomas, depending on whether they are needed by the region.
Relegation is going to change the mindset of every club this term.
There remains an argument that the league should be principally about development, but with the trapdoor set to open for the basement club, results are set to become all important.
All four Ospreys sides — Swansea, Bridgend, Neath and Aberavon — ended up propping up the rest last term, so things are going to have to change if tears are to be avoided at one of them come next May.
Neath are starting life under a new head coach, Neil Edwards, with Patrick Horgan having left in the close season. Edwards isn't promising miracles, but he has experience in James Goode and Liam Williams and Dale Ford is expected to make a mark.
The Welsh All Blacks also have a crop of bright young players, including Jack Jones, Dafydd Howells, Jordan Collier and Calum Davies.
"I have a target for the season, but I don't want to share it publicly," said Edwards, who is rated a bright coaching prospect.
"Pontypridd are going to be the standard-setters again this year. Four years ago we were beating them comfortably, but Dale McIntosh has built his side and they have forged clear of everyone else.
"The key for us will be to focus on performances. If we do that the results will come.
"What we are not going to lack is a good work ethic.
"I was talking to Ron Waldron a few months ago and he was giving me an insight into his coaching values and principles. The game is different now, but certain things — like fitness, commitment to the shirt, always wanting to improve — are timeless.
"We have a young squad, but, hopefully, our players will really strive hard in the months ahead."
Llanelli have already achieved one of their goals for the season by qualifying for the British & Irish Cup. They were well beaten by Pontypridd in the play-off final last term but they insist they will continue to strive to achieve a balance between development and finishing high in the table.
"It is the way it has to be," said head coach Kevin George.
"Our job is to bring through players for the Scarlets. If we can do that while winning games, all well and good, but we can't compromise on development.
"We have had to find four new half-backs this season because last year's crop have stepped up to the senior scene, but that is what it is all about. Already, we like the look of Josh Lewis, a youngster who has come in at fly-half.
"Relegation is going to mean a tougher league, because vulnerable sides are going to do all they can to win their home games. They are going to be less likely to play a couple of 18-year-olds up front, because they know other sides will take advantage."
Aberavon have made it into the B&I Cup after emerging from the Ospreys' group, and Simon King will be looking to build on a strong finish to last term.
Carmarthen Quins also had a fine campaign in 2012-13, finishing sixth in the league, with a 50 per cent win record. And they have a talented group of young players again, dotted with Wales age-group caps.
The season's launch for the league was held at Sardis Road yesterday, with just about everyone acknowledging that Pontypridd would be the team to beat.
But for a number of clubs the campaign will not be about heading the league. It will be about keeping heads above water.