Thursday, 19 December 2013

Principality Premiership Weekend Predictions and Festive Musings

As Noddy Holder put it, ’IT’S CHRISTMASSSSS!’, and after the break for British and Irish Cup action, we return to a full program of the Principality Premiership with all 12 teams in action.
As we reach the half-way point of the season, I thought I would take a look back at some of the events and stories that have led us to this point so far, and unfortunately that also means paying our respects to Pontypridd prop Stuart Williams, who suddenly passed away in October this year.
If last season was a one horse race with the Valley Commandos running away with things, this term has been a much more balanced affair, although divisions have formed in the league with teams fractured into title contenders and those sides who are very much in the fight for survival. Unlike last year, no team remains unbeaten heading into Christmas while Neath have the very unflattering label of being the only side without a win to their name.
It has definitely been a season of chopping and changing in the Premiership and, with the very real danger of relegation, clubs have been a little less lenient on the men at the helm with several falling foul of management.
Neath are the most recent team to implement a change with Patrick Horgan being drafted back in to sort out the Welsh All Blacks on-field problems, while Llŷr Lane and Robin Sowden-Taylor were informed their services were no longer required at the Gnoll. Newport’s backs coach Jon Bryant took the fall for the Gwent side's impotent form behind the scrum, while remaining coaches Sven Cronk and Dai Gray got the dreaded vote of confidence from the Newport Chairman Will Godfrey.
Earlier in the season, Pontypridd received the news that was always going to happen to such a talented coach - Dale McIntosh moved on to the Blues Regional set-up, with Geraint Lewis moving from Championship highfliers Ebbw Vale to the Valley Commandos.
Elsewhere, Simon King’s tenure at the Talbot Athletic Ground came to an end and ex-Wizard Jason Hyatt was the man chosen to get the Port Talbot side moving in the right direction again.
Finally, up until now I have failed to comment on the battle royale currently taking place between the WRU and the Welsh Regions as, to be honest, between all the politicking it is rather hard to distinguish fact from fiction. However, I do feel quite strongly about the fact that, for a number of seasons, the WRU has held the utmost disregard and contempt for the regions as commercial commodities and really only care about the success of the national side.
As Graham Henry so aptly put it, ‘Wales is the biggest club side in the world.’ I for one, however, will be taking up a New Year’s resolution of getting out and supporting regional and club rugby, and I hope that when all is said and done the winner will be the future of our national sport in Wales! #uniteandfight

Bedwas v Newport
This Dragons regional showdown is the second between the sides in a matter of weeks. The Wass won the initial encounter and giving Newport’s performance against Cardiff last week I feel there will be little festive cheer for the Black and Amber supporters on Saturday.
Verdict- Bedwas by 10 points
Carmarthen Quins v Cardiff
Undoubtedly the clash of the day! The Quins will be hopeful of completing the double over Martyn Fowler’s troops after dispatching the Blue and Blacks 22-7 at the Arms Park, and I think the West Walians will once again come out on top.
Verdict- Quins by 7 points
 Cross Keys v Aberavon
Neither of these sides managed to pick up wins in the British and Irish Cup over the past couple of weekends; though the Keys will have a lot of positives to take out of their clashes with Leinster A, the Wizards on the other hand will have to do a lot of soul searching after they were walloped and conceded 150 unanswered points. Hopefully, from Aberavon’s point of view, they can put the hidings behind them but Pandy Park is just behind Sardis Road as difficult places to go in the Premiership and I really can’t see the visitors picking up any points from this clash.
Verdict- Cross Keys by 20 points
 Llanelli v Llandovery
This Scarlets regional clash should be a tasty encounter; the last time the sides met, it was the Drovers that put their counterparts to the sword with a 41-3 thrashing. I have a hard time believing that there will be such a margin of victory tomorrow. However, I think this is a difficult one to predict: weather conditions aren’t meant to be great on Saturday so it may come down to who can play the territory and possession game, and I think Llandovery will just sneak it.
Verdict- Llandovery 3 points
Neath v Bridgend
Will Neath get their maiden win of the season at their tenth attempt? The return of Patrick Horgan will be a boost to the players while Bridgend may be slightly rusty from a four week break from competitive rugby. This match has some huge consequences at the bottom: if Neath win, it draws everyone at the basement a lot closer; if the Ravens get the victory, it gives them a bit more room to work with.
Verdict- Neath by 3 points
 Pontypridd v Swansea
Although Ponty are in the midst of an injury crisis, I really cannot visualise Swansea (who have won just once this season) getting anything out of their trip to Sardis Road.
Verdict- Pontypridd by 12 points


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