Welsh Premiership play-off final preview
Pontypridd v Llanelli, Sardis Road, Friday, 7.35pm
BILL Murray’s character eventually got to like Groundhog Day
in the 1990s film of the same name.
However, weatherman Phil Connors first had to live through
day after day of frustration in the town of Punxsutawney, PA.
If they lose the Welsh Premiership play-off final to
Llanelli on Friday night, Pontypridd’s personnel will probably start to feel a
bit like the Channel 9 Pittsburgh forecaster.
This time last year the Valley Commandos went into the
corresponding clash with the Turks at their Sardis Road home – also the venue
for Friday’s encounter – still jubilant having beaten Aberavon to lift the
However, they were brought crashing down to earth in the
Premiership finale by a Llanelli side boosted by the selection of a collection
of players with regional experience.
Friday’s visitors to the House of Pain have the chance to
repeat that 24-18 success of 12 months ago, and they looked in ominous form
towards the end of the semi-final victory over Aberavon last Saturday.
Pontypridd, who also reached the Swalec Cup final this year
before losing to Cross Keys, will need to lift themselves one last time if they
are to get anything tangible from this season.
They did finish top of the Premiership table again but will
need to be on the ball if they don’t want to spend all of Friday night seeing
shadows – a sign of six more weeks of winter according to famous groundhog
Unlike 2011, when Llanelli ended the campaign 16 points
behind Pontypridd, this season saw the sides separated by just two and each beat
the other when they had home advantage last autumn, Pontypridd 29-16 at Sardis
Road on October 1 and Llanelli 24-16 at Parc y Scarlets on November 26.
The Swalec Cup final aside, Pontypridd have won their last
six while the triumph against Aberavon last weekend was Llanelli’s seventh in a
row. And for Scarlets director of rugby Anthony Buchanan, his players are ready
to go to the well one last time.
“We have a great team spirit in this squad,” he said. “If
there’s one thing you need at Sardis Road, it’s team spirit, and I’m sure our
players will have it in buckets.
“Pontypridd are a difficult team to play against, with top
players and excellent coaches. It’s a tough place to go, but we’re looking
forward to it and we’re full of confidence.”
He added: “Pontypridd have won the league and we
congratulate them on that, but this is a play-off challenge we want to win. We
went to Sardis Road and won last year, and it wasn’t a very pleasant
“Pontypridd were the champions by some distance last season,
but the Premiership has been much closer this time. Will it make us champions
if we win? No. But it will be more pleasing because the gap is so much smaller
Full-back Jordan Williams starred against the Wizards in the
semi-final as his side ran in some delectable tries towards the end of the
match. And given Pontypridd’s disappointment at the Millennium Stadium, as well
as what happened last season, Llanelli are arguably the marginal favourites
this time around.
“If someone had offered us the chance to be in the play-off
final at the start of the season, we would have been delighted, added Buchanan.
We had a lot of new coaches and young players coming through, and we’re very
pleased with how they have progressed.
“They have come into an environment where we have a very
solid backbone of players. The likes of Justin James and Adam Powell are the
experienced heads, the unsung heroes of the squad. They will play anywhere for
you and give their all every time.
“When the young players come up from the academy, that rubs
off on them and it makes for an excellent working environment.”
Pontypridd head coach Dale McIntosh is under no illusion how
important this game is, even going as far as labelling it as “probably the most
crucial 80 minutes for Ponty in the semi-pro era”.
He will have to pick his players up from the setback against
Cross Keys and only needs to remind his squad of Llanelli’s visit last May to
get them up for this one.
“We will need to fly into Llanelli with no holds barred,
that must be our response to last week’s cup final defeat,” he said. “Llanelli
are looking sharp at the end of the season and will provide us with a huge
“I hope that there will be a big turnout for the game and
that our supporters can maintain their faith in us as players and coaches. It
should be a great spectacle between two teams committed to attacking rugby and
a great occasion to end the season.
“We can only give a commitment as a squad that we will turn
up and give everything for the club jersey and for the club support.”
David's Williams's prediction - Llanelli by seven points