The 2019/20 Indigo Group Premiership gets underway at the Arms Park tonight as Cardiff RFC play host to rivals Pontypridd in a mouth-watering opener.
As the second and third place finishers in the league last season, both will be keen to get off to a good start in their bid to topple three-time back-to-back champions Merthyr from their perch.
The history between the two teams stretching back a long way, with the Cardiff v Ponty game on Boxing Day a staple part of the rugby calendar in South Wales for many years across the 70s, 80s and 90s.
In recent seasons it had been the Valleys side with the upper hand in the league, regularly doing the double over the City dwellers and lifting both the Premiership and Welsh Cup trophies.
However, there was a shift in that dynamic last season, when Cardiff secured a comfortable 34-15 win at the Arms Park on New Year’s Day, part of a stunning three month long winning streak that led to a first Cup triumph since 1997 and a runner-up spot in the league.
Unfortunately there was no win at Sardis Road for the Blue and Blacks, but a 28-19 scoreline was more competitive than it has been, with supporters left wondering what might’ve been had a number of Cardiff Blues players not been parachuted into the squad.
Tonight the only Cardiff Blues player on the field will be in Ponty colours though, as tighthead prop Ben Warren is named as a replacement in an away squad with a number of new faces.
Ben Parry, Morgan Bosanko and Kristian Parker are all new names in the pack, as is James Murphy, although the second row is no stranger to the Arms Park having spent the last seven years as a Cardiff player, amassing 154 appearances.
The backline has a more familiar feel to it, but does not include Ceri Sweeney who retired over the summer, instead Ben Jones starts at fly-half having signed permanently for Pontypridd after his release from the Cardiff Blues Academy.
Jones played for Cardiff Blues A over the last few weeks, as did Huw Owen, Sean Moore, Alex Knott, Dale Stuckey and Ben Stephens.
Pontypridd: Lloyd Rowlands, Alex Webber, Alex Knott, Dafydd Lockyer (c), Dale Stuckey, Ben Jones, Joel Raikes; Huw Owen, Ben Parry, Morgan Bosanko, Sean Moore, James Murphy, Kristian Parker, Rhys Shellard, Morgan Sieniawski
Replacements: Nathan Huish, Ben Stephens, Ben Warren, Lloyd Evans, Sion Parry, Tom Rowlands, Diggy Bird, Corey Sheppard
On the Cardiff side there are a mix of new signings and familiar faces in the team selected by Steve Law, who manages to name 22 Cardiff RFC registered players and a permit player.
Evan Yardley, Ollie Drake and James Ratti are all new signings, with Callum Bradbury playing his first game as a Cardiff RFC registered player, while Alex Everett is a new signing in the back row.
Ben Williams, Sam Beard and Leon Andrews are all new signings in the back row, although Andrews is beginning his second spell at the Arms Park having left for Cross Keys 12 years ago.
There is a core of players who were part of last season’s success though, with one of those in Morgan Allen playing as club captain for the first time having taken over from Joey Tomlinson.
Cardiff: Edd Howley, James Beal, Leon Andrews, Sam Beard, Joe Gatt, Gareth Thompson, Ben Williams; Thomas Davies, Evan Yardley, Ollie Drake, James Ratti, Callum Bradbury, Alex Everett, Zach O’Driscoll, Morgan Allen (c)
Replacements: Hugo Souto, Brynley Toms, Peter Lloyd, Sam Pailor, Lloyd Pike, Zach Bartlett, Joe Scrivens, Barney Nightingale
It’s sure to be a cracking game at the Arms Park tonight so get down for a 7.05pm kick-off for some fast-paced and full-blooded derby action.
Come on Cardiff!