One of the biggest fixtures in the Welsh regional rugby calendar kicks on Easter Sunday afternoon as Judgement Day II sees the Cardiff Blues take on the Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons get set to face the Ospreys.
With two thrilling Welsh derbies being held at the Millennium Stadium back-to-back on Sunday, there’s plenty riding on the two big contests as the RaboDirect PRO12 season finale edges closer and with both European seeding and derby pride at stake for the competing regions’ players and coaches.
The second RaboDirect PRO12 double-header derby event at the Millennium Stadium will kick off at 2pm this Sunday 20 April 2014, as the annual meeting of the four Welsh regions at the home of Welsh sport.
The double-derby extravaganza sees the Cardiff Blues take on Scarlets at 2pm and Newport Gwent Dragons face the Ospreys at 4.45pm. The unique event, in conjunction with RaboDirect PRO12, BBC Wales and S4C, is the second of a four-year deal with the WRU that sees the Blues and the Dragons play their ‘home’ fixtures against alternating regional rivals on the same day.
At a joint event held at the Welsh capital’s historic landmark Cardiff Castle on Tuesday afternoon, the four Welsh Regions executives, players and coaches were united in celebrating the big regional rugby event as excitement builds for Easter Sunday’s clashes.
So far this season the league’s Welsh derby contests have entertained more than 66,000 regional rugby supporters – with an average attendance at derby fixtures so far this season above 11,000 with more Welsh derby action yet to come.
Acting Chief Executive of Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), Mark Davies said: “It’s a fitting choice of venue to host the preview event at the historic Cardiff Castle as our four regions do battle on the field on Sunday while celebrating that as Regions we are very united in our purpose off the field.
“It’s been a difficult two years and a very intense last six months, and with a fair degree of relief, we can now move on about excited about the structures we now have in place and the positive impact that can have on our league with meaningful fixtures.
“We know that the job is only half done and there is work still to be done - however for our supporters, players and coaches, we can look forward to good competition structures and intense and exciting rugby on the field and that’s what it should be all about.
“This weekend is all about the rugby and will be a great showcase for our Welsh Regions - there’s going to be nothing more intense all four regions performing in one place on Sunday.
“We’ll see 92 of the best players in Wales on the park. Every game has a meaning now and is critical as European seeding for both European competitions is based on final league position – so there’s everything to play for. We hope everyone thoroughly enjoys the day on Sunday. It should be a great occasion.”
Cardiff Blues Coach Dale McIntosh said: “The best players in Wales are under one roof and both games should be great spectacles so let’s hope the fans come in big numbers and get right behind it,” he said.
“It’s all new playing at the Millennium Stadium for many of us, new for me and Johnsey (Paul John) too. The players are excited and you have got to be because it’s a great occasion. These games and occasions are always tight because we have a tendency to know each other as players and coaches, we work reach other out so it becomes a real arm wrestle. But I am sure the youngsters are looking forward to it and we should have two great games.”
Simon Easterby, Head Coach of the Scarlets said: “The Welsh derbies give a clear focus on the level of commitment, passion and endeavour that everyone involved in the regional game gives to Welsh rugby. The players and coaches put their all into these derbies, they mean so much and it’s also reflected in our support – the crowds really have been excellent so far this season and we hope Sunday is no different.
“We approach these games differently as coaches and players - there is more at stake than just league points for all involved. The match-up between players in these two games will be interesting with international places up for grabs - but first and foremost we believe our players are playing for their regions and pride in the jersey.”
Ospreys Captain Alun Wyn Jones said: “Regional derbies are one of the most competitive games you play at club level and as a player they’re the games you’ll always want to be involved in. This Sunday’s double header will be a great occasion for our supporters and a good atmosphere is guaranteed at the Millennium Stadium, so there’s plenty for our regional supporters to enjoy.”
Newport Gwent Dragons international back row Andrew Coombs said:?"They’ll be everything you expect from big derby matches in terms of passion, physicality and controversy and these Welsh games are a big motivation for the players and coaches. Hopefully it will be another a great advert for regional rugby and great occasion for everybody involved.”
The double header derby event follows the success and profile of the Christmas Welsh derby fixtures which kicked off with big crowds at Parc y Scarlets and Rodney Parade hosting more than 23,000 regional rugby supporters in one day; with the Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons recording their biggest crowds of the season at both regions at 14,796 and 8,526 respectively. Cardiff Blues against the Ospreys at the Arms Park on December 20th pulled in another bumper crowd of 10,615.
Once more season ticket holders for the Blues and Dragons are eligible for a free ticket to support their teams who will be hungry for home glory this time round.
Over 36,000fans turned out for the inaugural event when West was proved best, with Scarlets beating the Dragons and Ospreys edging past the Blues.
* Rugby fans can get their hands on tickets to watch the double-header now from £15 at the WRU website: wru.co.uk/tickets