It is a first in Welsh rugby this weekend as the first ever derby double header is to be played in the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. As the Dragons face the Scarlets and the Blues look to halt the Ospreys, it’s an opportunity for all the regions’ fans to converge on the capital city for a great celebration of regional rugby.
Each side has international stars back for this one, as they look to bring the confidence of a successful Wales campaign back to their regional teams. Both the Scarlets and the Ospreys secured wins for themselves last weekend also and as they both fight it out for a play-off spot, will be pushing hard for wins against their Welsh rivals.
The Dragons and Blues have had more disappointing seasons thus far, but nothing can beat a derby, in playing for pride and getting one over your closest rivals. A welsh derby day always has a bit of extra spice about it and these two matches should see all four sides holding nothing back.
The first match, kicking off at 2.30pm between the Dragons and Scarlets will see the home side for this fixture desperate to avoid another heavy defeat like the one dished out to them by the Ospreys last week. The Dragons have a frailty in their front five, yet their backrow is dangerous and could win them good ball at the breakdown. They have a young and inexperienced backline, and it will be a big ask for the likes of Jack Dixon as they come up against a Scarlets backline full of internationals.
The Scarlets’ pack is much more settled, with their second row pairing of Earle and Snyman really working well together. Snyman showed the backs how it was done with a superb individual try last week and as players such as North, John Davies and Scott Williams take to the field in a Scarlet shirt again, they will be hoping they can create just the same opportunities themselves.
Looking at the two teams, it is the Scarlets that go in as favourites. A more abrasive forwards pack and a more experiences backline, yet they will still have to keep their concentration and up their performance from last week to ensure they secure a good win.
The Blues v Ospreys game kicks off at 5.15pm. The Blues’ pack has been their weakness throughout the whole season and they face a very daunting task of taking on the Ospreys’ pack which is stacked full of internationals. With the likes of Hibbard, Adam Jones, Ian Evans and Alun-Wyn Jones in the front five it could be a long day at the office for the home side.
Their backrow is much more competitive and the battle between Warburton and Tipuric as the two 7’s vying against each other should be a good one. Both sides have experienced and exciting backlines yet it is hard to see past a more dominant Ospreys’ forwards and set piece securing the win for the Swansea based region.
It may have taken five years of negotiations for this double header to have finally come about, but now that it’s here it is a chance for the regions’ fans to show their support en mass. The problems with the domestic game in Wales have been reported on in the Welsh media this week. With players of Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones’ calibre speak out about the need to retain the best players in Wales it is clear that there are big issues that the WRU and the regions together need to be facing.
The PRGB is the ideal way for this to be done. The WRU needs to get its act together and work things out with the regions for this board to actually get up and running. The fans know it and the players know it; the powers that be at the WRU need to get on board and start addressing the problems. This double header is the start of a collaboration in helping moving the regional game forward; let’s take the chance to build on it, instead of seeing the sad situation where stars such as young as 20 in George North could soon be plying their trade across the border.
Newport Gwent Dragons v Scarlets KO 2.30pm
Dragons: Tom Prydie; Will Harries, Pat Leach, Jack Dixon, Ross Wardle; Dan Evans, Jonathan Evans; Aaron Coundley, Hugh Gustafson, Dan Way, Andrew Coombs (capt), Rob Sidoli, Dan Lydiate, Toby Faletau, Nic Cudd.
Replacements: Sam Parry, Owen Evans, Nathan Buck, Jevon Groves, Ieuan Jones, Wayne Evans, Steffan Jones, Adam Hughes.
Scarlets: Gareth Owen; George North, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Liam Williams; Owen Williams, Aled Davies; Phil John, Matthew Rees, Samson Lee, George Earle, Johan Synman, Aaron Shingler, Rob McCusker (capt), Johnathan Edwards.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Rhodri Jones, Deacon Manu, Sione Timani, Josh Turnbull, Rhodri Williams, Aled Thomas, Gareth Maule.
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys KO 5.15pm
Blues: Leigh Halfpenny; Owen Williams, Gavin Evans (c), Dafydd Hewitt, Harry Robinson; Rhys Patchell, Lloyd Williams; Sam Hobbs, Marc Breeze, Scott Andrews, Filo Paulo, Lou Reed, Michael Paterson, Luke Hamilton, Sam Warburton.
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Thomas Davies, Taufa’ao Filise, Robin Copeland, Rory Watts-Jones, Lewis Jones, Ceri Sweeney, Gareth Davies.
Ospreys: Richard Fussell; Tom Habberfield, Jonathan Spratt, Ashley Beck, Tom Isaacs; Dan Biggar, Kahn Fotuali’i; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Ian Evans, James King, Jonathan Thomas Justin Tipuric.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Duncan Jones, Dmitri Arhip, Lloyd Peers, Joe Bearman, Rhys Webb, Matthew Morgan, Ben John.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 95th competition game)