by Jim Harris
Judgement Day IV is already shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested in recent memory as Wales’ four Guinness PRO12 regions go head-to-head inside Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on Saturday 30th April.
The four regions: Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets, and Newport Gwent Dragons; have all had below par campaigns to date, and will undoubtedly hope to use Judgement Day as a catapult to take them into the final fixture of the season with positive momentum.
Scarlets are the top ranked side in this year’s PRO12 and the only left with a realistic chance of breaking in to the top four play-off places, whilst Cardiff Blues and Ospreys both harbour aspirations of a top six finish, and with it a place in next year’s European Champions Cup. The Dragons, meanwhile, are sat safely in 10th place with Italian outfits Benetton Treviso and Zebre propping them up, yet following the departure of Director of Rugby, Lyn Jones, last week, preparation for next season’s campaign might have already begun.
Crowds in excess of 50,000 are expected to flock to the Principality Stadium on Saturday, with Cardiff Blues first taking on the Ospreys at 2:30pm, before the Dragons take on Scarlets at 5pm. The Scarlets look likely to require two wins from their final two fixtures if they’re to have any hope of overtaking Ulster in fourth place, meanwhile the Blues-Ospreys match will take extra significance, with the loser most likely having to kiss goodbye to any hopes of Champions Cup qualification.
Despite a patchy start to 2016, Danny Wilson’s Blues side have enjoyed a rich run of form in recent weeks, picking up five wins from their last six, including an impressive scalp at Parc Y Scarlets at the start of April. Wilson will be able to pick from a near-full strength squad, so fans can expect to see Wales stars Sam Warburton, Tom James and Gareth Anscombe all in the squad again this weekend.
For the Swansea-based, Ospreys, Steve Tandy’s side have suffered inconsistent form through 2016 but did put 48 points past Treviso during their last outing earlier this month, and their 13-6 win against Blues in the reverse fixture in November will also give them further confidence. Wales’ half-back pairing of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar are the stand-out stars in this Ospreys side, and whilst Alun Wyn Jones has not played since Wales’ Six Nations defeat to England on 12th March, the veteran Second-rower could be in contention for a return on Saturday.
The five o’ clock kick-off sees fifth placed, Scarlets, take on Newport Gwent Dragons with top four qualification still very much in the sights of the former.
The Dragons have won just seven of their 31 PRO12 meetings with the Llanelli club and have not won in the league since a 23-13 win over Leinster on 29th January. Taulupe Faletau and Cardiff University’s-own Hallam Amos provide the Dragons with some international firepower, but it will take more than these two to stop an in-form and star-studded Scarlets outfit.
Wayne Pivac’s side are the top performing Welsh region this year and sit just two points adrift of fourth placed Ulster in the PRO12 ladder. That said, they’ve not won since beating Ospreys at the end of March and fell out of the top four following a humiliating 46-10 defeat at home to Glasgow nine days ago. Quite simply, another slip up will all but end their hopes of securing a play-off place.
Whatever unfolds, fans are sure to be entertained by an afternoon of high quality rugby showcasing some of Wales’ and the world’s finest players.
14:30 – Cardiff Blues V Ospreys
17:00 – Newport Gwent Dragons V Scarlets