Pontypridd are on the verge of back-to-back league and cup doubles
The Principality Premiership reaches a thrilling climax on Sunday evening as Pontypridd go in search of a league and cup double against Cross Keys at Sardis Road.
Ponty are looking to create history at the House of Pain as they aim for an unprecedented double double. No side has ever won both the Principality Premiership and SWALEC Cup in successive seasons but Ponty are already three quarters of the way there after claiming cup glory in Cardiff earlier this month.
That success also came against Cross Keys, with the favourites running out 21-8 victors at the Millennium Stadium in a fierce battle that hints at the nature of what is to come tomorrow night.
Ponty finished nine points clear of third-placed Keys in the regular season but Jonathan Westwood and Greg Woods' side have already stunned them once at Sardis this road this season when they won 38-17 in December.
Ponty had a week without a game after their cup triumph and they stick with the majority of that squad for the final fixture of the season. Rhys Shellard returns from Wales Sevens duty in one of two changes to the starting XV as he takes over at openside, with Wayne O'Connor moving to blindside. Liam Belcher's promotion to hooker in place of Aled Morris is the only other change in personnel to the starting XV.
Prop Lewis Jones is drafted on to the bench on permit from Merthyr but centre Adam Thomas wasn't available for selection after he damaged his shoulder playing for Wales Sevens at Twickenham last week.
There is no sense of complacency in the Ponty ranks despite their Cup win and the fact that they are chasing a third Premiership title in a row, though, with skipper Dafydd Lockyer insisting improvements will have to be made if they are to rewrite the record books.
"We didn't really play well in the SWALEC Cup Final and we will need to put on a much better show," said Lockyer. "It will be difficult to go head-to-head against Cross Keys again, but mentally and physically we need to be up for this game more than any other.
"We expect another physical encounter and the game will be won up front. If we can set a forward platform and claim possession then we have the ammunition to fire along the backline."
Keys stick with the same side that won at Carmarthen Quins in the semi-finals last week as they bounced back from their SWALEC Cup heartache in style with a 31-20 success against the side that finished a place above them in the Principality Premiership standings.
The return of Wales U20 openside Scott Matthews to the bench is a boost for the visitors after he missed the win in West Wales due to the Junior World Championship warm-up clash with Scotland.
The underdogs are still without a host of injured players but back row Reuben Tucker joins Matthews in returning to the matchday 23 as Keys opt for six forwards among their eight replacements. The presence of utility back James Leadbeater, who is on permit from Newport, means Keys can afford to carry just one other back in the squad as they look to make up for their Millennium Stadium near miss.
"We can't afford to play like we did in the SWALEC Cup Final, when I think the occasion got to us and we were outmuscled," said Cross Keys captain, Leon Andrews, who is hoping to lead his side to just their second major title in their 129-year history, with the 2012 SWALEC Cup their only other senior national success to date.
"We're lucky to have a second bite at the cherry and the boys are determined to right some wrongs after the SWALEC Cup. I can't take another loss. Ponty are favourites but I've got a lot of faith in our team and I'd back us against anyone when we are on song.
"We have already won at Sardis Road this season and we can take a lot of heart from that. To do it again and lift the trophy would be amazing."
Principality Premiership Play-off Final (Sardis Road, Sunday, 5.30pm)
Pontypridd: G Walsh, L I Williams, G Dacey, D Lockyer (captain), M Nuthall, S Humberstone, J Raikes, J Howe, L Belcher, K Jenkins, C Locke, C Dicomidis, W O'Connor, R Shellard, D Godrey
Replacements: L Williams, D Flanagan, A Summerhill, A Morris, J Sieniawski, O Sheppeard, L Jones, C Phillips
Cross Keys: R Lee, E Jones, L Andrews (captain), P Williams, N Trowbridge, D Jones, O Jones, R Cornock, D Hughes, A Lott, D Hodge, T Lampard, I Jones, J Groves, A Powell
Replacements: H Palmer, L Garrett, C Gould, R Tucker, S Matthews, N Williams, J Leadbeater, S Higgins
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