The festive season is almost upon us, and that means for us rugby fans a number of Welsh derbies for us to enjoy over this period. The games have so many Welsh internationals or potential internationals up against each other, it is like the old trial matches just before the beginning of the Five Nations (as it was then) when The Probables played The Possibles (I loved those games), so Warren Gatland and his coaching staff get to see many matchups over the next two sets of games in the Pro 14 League. So whether you are going along to any of the games to get away from leftover turkey or just to get away from your families, here are my thoughts and predictions on the upcoming games.
Boxing Day – Dragons v Cardiff Blues 2pm kick-off time.
Sell out capacity crowd already for this one. The Dragons fresh off the back of their recruitment programme for next season will be relishing the opportunity to get a victory over their big rivals Cardiff Blues, especially at home. Dragons will be disappointed with their last outing which was a narrow loss to Newcastle and I fully expect Bernard Jackman and his charges to be looking for a quick start against a Cardiff Blues side, who have achieved a mixed run of results recently, but in their last outing put in a professional display against Sale. Dragons will look to start quick and put doubt in a Cardiff Blues team who have been inconsistent and a side with many challenges off the field.
Team line up’s for this one as will be with all the games over this period with only a five-day turnaround for all 4 of the Welsh teams, so squad depth and luck with injuries will play a massive part.
There should be some great individual battles on display for this one including Gavin Henson up against Gareth Anscombe, Hallam Amos up against a young emerging talent in Owen Lane, who has impressed a lot in recent games, the in-form Welsh hooker this season, Elliot Dee up against Matthew Rees, a player who is playing really well as well this season. James Sheeky discarded by Cardiff Blues but now starting at 8 for the Dragons up against Nick Williams could be a real clash to savour, as is Cory Hill, who got the starts in the autumn for Wales when Jake Ball got injured and played well, up against Seb Davies, a player with huge potential. All great prospective match ups.
I am going for a narrow Cardiff Blues victory in this one to start the festive Welsh derbies, just feel there is enough ability in the side to sneak an away victory in this one.
Dragons 21 Cardiff Blues 23
Boxing Day – Scarlets v Ospreys 5.35 kickoff time.
This West Wales derby as per the East Wales derby earlier in the day is one to really look forward to. Scarlets, fresh off a bonus point victories against Benetton Treviso are the best side in Wales and only a few weeks ago would really fancy their chances in this one for a big victory against their rivals the Ospreys. However, Ospreys fresh from victories over the Northampton Saints now must have a lot of confidence in their squad right now. A number of their players are now showing the form of old, Bradley Davies was excellent last week, Dan Lydiate was back to his chop tackling best, and with Justin Tipuric back, then the tandem could cause Scarlets real problems at the breakdown if they can get on the front foot, with Lydiate’s defence and Tipuric’s ability over the ball. Ospreys also seem to have found finally their best centre partnership in Owen Watkin and Kieron Fonotia, and with Dan Evans at 15 as always in good form, then Ospreys are looking dangerous again. With Sam Davies getting the choice at 10 over Dan Biggar, Ospreys are rewarding Davies for his performances in recent weeks plus looking to next season when Biggar leaves for Northampton.
The Scarlets have not yet been at their very best from last season but are still a very good side. With James Davies back fit this allows Tadhg Beirne to move back into his best position at lock, which is great timing with the long-term absence of Jake Ball. The Scarlets back three is very dangerous on the counter-attack especially Jonny McNicholl and Steff Evans so any wayward kicking it being Sam Davies or Dan Biggar will be punished.
Individual battles to look out for include Hadleigh Parkes against Owen Watkin, Scott Williams against Kieron Fonotia, this one especially interesting with both crossing over to their respective rivals next season. In the pack, Tadhg Beirne against Alun Wyn Jones should be an immense clash, one to really enjoy, similarly as will Aaron Shingler against Dan Lydiate and the clash of the 7’s, James Davies up against Justin Tipuric, could be one really to enjoy for all rugby fans.
In a close encounter, again I am going for the home side to get the win, in another great watch.
Scarlets 32 Ospreys 25
New Year’s Eve – Cardiff Blues v Scarlets 3.15pm kickoff time
On a pitch designed for open attacking rugby and two sides who like to play that way, this could be a high scoring spectacle for fans to enjoy. Scarlets dependant on selection could have Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Patchell running out on the Cardiff Arms Park again so the reception they receive will be interesting to see and hear. Both where great players for Cardiff Blues so hope the reception is a positive one.
Battles to look out for include potentially Josh Navidi against Aaron Shingler, Ellis Jenkins who is rumoured to be making a return after a long absence, up against James Davies, Seb Davies against Tadhg Beirne, two excellent locks. Gareth Anscombe up against the man who wanted to be the first choice 10 for Cardiff Blues and left to play regularly in that position, Rhys Patchell and Willis Halaholo against Hadleigh Parkes just to name a few.
This game has all the hallmarks of a really entertaining watch with a number of tries, but I am going for the Scarlets to come away with the win after a great game.
Cardiff Blues 26 Scarlets 31
New Year’s Eve – Dragons v Ospreys 5.35 kickoff time
The final game over the festive period sees the Dragons at home again, this time against the Ospreys. Will the Dragons strength in depth currently struggle with the quick turnaround? We shall see, there is no doubt the player resource is getting better and next season even more so, but right now in my view a quick turnaround still challenges them massively. Ospreys have a bigger pool of players so this one will be interesting.
Individual battles to keep an eye out for include Hallam Amos (if chosen at fullback), up against a former fan favourite at Rodney Parade, Dan Evans. Jack Dixon against Owen Watkin could be a very physical confrontation, Gavin Henson against Sam Davies/Dan Biggar. In the forwards, Cory Hill against Bradley Davies and also Leon Brown against Nicky Smith
For this one, I see the Ospreys getting the points, with their additional strength in depth coming off the bench late on having too much and the Ospreys going back to West Wales with the spoils.
Dragons 18 Ospreys 27
So there you have my predictions and thoughts on the upcoming matches. Should make for some great viewing over Christmas. I will share with you my team of the week from the matches, which could be some tough selections to make. Remember that as always, my team of the week selections will be discussed by our friends at The Attacking Scrum on their weekly podcast which I highly recommend.
If you have any of your own thoughts or predictions on the upcoming games then please let me know would love to hear from you.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas thanks for viewing our site this year and look forward to sharing my thoughts on many Welsh sporting matters in the future.
Feature Picture Credit: http://www.espn.co.uk