The crown worn by the best student rugby team in Wales will be up for grabs on Wednesday night when Cardiff Met host Cardiff University at the Arms Park.
It will be the second time this season the top two college rugby sides in the country have met and will give a clue as to whether the gap is closing.
Both are part of the leading student rugby tier – the BUCS Super League – but Cardiff Met sit second in the table, whilst their city rivals are second from bottom.
When the two teams first met in October it was last season’s runners-up, Cardiff Met, who triumphed 31-17.
Having graduated into the top tier of student rugby this season, Cardiff University had a tough start, shipping 30 or more points in six of their opening seven matches and they had to wait until game eight before finally tasting victory.
But things have started to look up for Alun Wyn Davies’ side and with two wins in their last three games, and boosted by the addition of Wales Under 20 centre Ben Thomas and Wales Under 19 caps Cam Lewis and Ioan Davies, they look set to give an even better account of themselves tonight than they did on 3 October in the battle for bragging rights in the Welsh capital.
“Our target was to get to 15 or 20 points by Christmas and we’ve done that. We don’t have the same strength in depth of the other teams in this league and we are the only University that doesn’t have a sports degree,” said director of rugby Davies.
“A lot of our players have had experience of playing in the Principality Premiership, but this level of rugby has greater ball in play time and is incredibly competitive. We knew we wouldn’t have the luxury of having a bedding in period and the only disappointment is that we haven’t picked up more wins.
“We could have beaten Hartpury in their opening game and should have beaten Durham and Northumbria. Our goal isn’t to simply stay up, we want to be competitive in every game.”
If it was boisterous two months ago, it promises to be even livelier at the Arms Park for the re-match with a crowd of up to 3,000 set to roar on the two teams.
With home victories over Northumbria University and Leeds Beckett University moving them off the bottom of the table in recent weeks, the perfect Christmas gift would be a hat-trick for Cardiff’s co-captain, James Davies
“After going seven games without a win we did start to doubt when the first victory would come along, but we’ve taken massive confidence from our wins over Northumbria and Leeds Beckett,” said James Davies.
“It really felt like we’d turned a corner after the first win and it feels like we’ve adapted to the fast-paced nature of the league. We’ve also tightened up our defence and the foundations for our two wins were laid on our defence.
“We’ve changed the way we play since we last met Cardiff Met. We tried to play them at their own game and we were a bit too open.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) December 12, 2018
“I think we are now starting to impose our style on the league and there is a lot of momentum and belief in the squad. We’re almost at full strength after getting players back from injury and while Cardiff Met are a really good side, we feel like we have turned a corner.”
While Cardiff University are fighting for their lives to stay in the Super League, Cardiff Met are hoping to head back to Twickenham to try to win the title that was snatched from their grasp at the death by Hartpury College last season.
It is tight at the top of the table with Cardiff Met locked on 36 points with the reigning champions. Exeter University are a point behind and Durham and Bath are a further three points back.
“We’d love to go back to Twickenham this season, but there is a lot of rugby still to be played. The game against Cardiff University will be another tough test for us and they have improved greatly since we last met them,” said Cardiff Met director of rugby, Danny Milton.
“To put 30 points on Leeds Beckett was very good and they will come into our game having won two of their last three. That means they will be full of confidence and very dangerous.”
It is equally tight at the bottom, where Cardiff University’s recent wins have lifted them to a point ahead of basement side Leeds Beckett and put them one behind Nottingham Trent. However, having played one more game than both of them they are by no means safe.
— Cardiff Met RFC (@cardiffmetrfc) December 12, 2018
They have two wins to their credit to date and have secured seven bonus points from their 10 matches. They have scored 30 tries at an average of three per match and have picked up five try bonus points.
Cardiff Met: Tom Benjamin; Andrew Nurse, Luke Northmore, Jack Wright, ZachClow; Harry Johnston, Matt Marsh; Sam Cochrane, Jack Samuel, Harry Seward, Jac Arthur, Edoardo Balocco, Harvey Scott, David Rubasniak, Aled Ward (captain)
Reps: Shawn Howard, D Kennett or O Andrews, Luke Yendle, Joe Jackson, Will Gibson, Ellis Bevan, Russ Bennett, Barrie Karea
Cardiff University: Owen Williams; Adam Sadbri, Rhodri Wall, Ben Thomas, Marcus Ramage; James Davies, Owen Davies; Cry Davies, Cam Lewis, Jesse Outlaw, Alex Everett, Luke Waller, Rom Wilson, Seb Herold, Gareth Ansell
Reps: Ben Edwards, Ben Thompson, Freddie Barnes, Jake O’Leary, James Jennings, Ioan Davies, Sion O’Brien, George Mears.