As if Welsh derbies couldn’t get any more intense, this weekend’s Cardiff Blues v Ospreys encounter is a winner takes all clash with a place in the Heineken Champions Cup play-off on the line.
In many ways it’s a shame it’s not happening at a sellout Arms Park as it really should be, and is being hosted at a Principality Stadium packed largely with spectators who don’t have a true passion for regional rugby and what the game means.
However, at least Judgement Day will live up to it’s name as the season ending for both teams is decided in the 80-minute contest.
The game itself is set to be keenly contested with the teams looking fairly even on paper, although coming into it with contrasting form and after very different seasons. I’ve had a look at some of the key on-field battles.
Rory Thornton v Adam Beard
These two men were at one point seen as the future second row pairing at both the Ospreys and for Wales, but find themselves lining up against each other this Saturday evening.
Obviously Alun Wyn Jones is back fit and packing down in the Ospreys engine room, but let’s be totally honest, most second rows in the world are going to struggle head-to-head with the Wales captain, so I’ve focused on the battle next to him, with Beard close to establishing himself as his partner at both club and international level.
Meanwhile Thornton, still on loan at Cardiff Blues from the Ospreys although that could well be made permanent this summer, has worked to put himself at the heart of the ‘home’ pack over the last month.
If Thornton can lead the Cardiff Blues forwards in standing up physically to their counterparts, as well as pushing the lineout to somewhere above 90%, then we have a great chance thanks to the firepower in our back line. If Beard gets the upper hand it could be a long evening though.
Olly Robinson v Justin Tipuric
Whenever Welsh teams come head-to-head the breakdown is the centre of the contest, as each region shows off their array of back row talent in an attempt to get a foothold in the game.
Cardiff Blues may not have a Welsh openside on Saturday night, but Olly Robinson’s performances over the last 18 months have made him a familiar figure in Welsh rugby and a definite favourite on the terraces at the Arms Park.
His battling style in the defensive side of the game regularly make him centre of attention, both with his tackle count and turnover numbers, but don’t discount him in attack as although he’s not the most naturally athletic player, an eye for a line makes him threat with ball-in-hand.
On the opposite side there is little I can write about Justin Tipuric you don’t already know, as he’s established himself as one of the best back rowers in the world over the last few years. Whoever wins the battle on the floor could well do enough to push their team to victory.
Tomos and Lloyd Williams v Aled Davies
Another dynamic on Saturday evening is the international aspect, with potential Rugby World Cup squad members having a last chance to impress Warren Gatland before he names his Wales training squad on Tuesday.
Scrum-half is a position within that squad that is very much still anyone’s to claim, with Rhys Webb still in exile at Toulon and Gareth Davies having not entirely nailed down the number nine jersey as of yet.
Three contenders for that starting spot are the Williams’ and Davies, with all looking to show that they are well-rounded scrum-halves capable of performing on the big stage at the World Cup.
Tomos Williams is arguably the better attacking option, with Lloyd definitely the more experienced game manager and has the best box kick, while Davies is somewhere in between, but they will no doubt be keen to test all aspects of their game out and inspire their teams to a win at the Principality Stadium.
Rey Lee-Lo v Cory Allen
Perhaps an underrated battle will be in midfield on Saturday evening between two players who have performed consistently well for their respective regions this season.
For the first time since making the switch west from Cardiff Blues, Cory Allen has managed to get a full season under his belt at the Ospreys, scoring seven tries in 22 games across all competitions.
On the opposite side Rey Lee-Lo has been a stalwart of the Arms Park centre partnership for four seasons now, but has arguably been in his best form so far during this campaign, with nine tries across 22 appearances in all competitions.
With both more than solid defensively it will be interesting to see who can make the most of any ball that comes their way in the wide expanse of the Principality Stadium pitch.