It may seem the wrong way round given Cardiff’s illustrious history, but it will be Merthyr who will travel to the Arms Park for the second round of the WRU National Cup as firm favourites to beat the home side and continue their incredible rise up Welsh rugby’s rankings.
Last season’s Principality Premiership champions were beaten in the semi-finals of last year’s cup by eventual winners RGC 1404 and have their eyes on a league and cup double this campaign. They currently sit on top of the Premiership table.
Their Blues regional derby clash at the Arms Park will be one of the highlights of the second round on the weekend of 27 January. The draw contains no fewer than six of the clubs that took part in the original South Wales Challenge Cup way back in its inaugural season of 1877-78.
Cardiff, Merthyr, Carmarthen, Llanelli, Pontypool and Newport all played in that original competition 140 years ago and they will all be dreaming of reaching the Principality Stadium for finals day in May.
SOUTH WALES CHALLENGE CUP
The first ties for this cup have been drawn with the following results:
Carmarthen v Cardiff, at Neath
Talgarth v Merthyr, at Merthyr
Brecon v Monmouth Grammar School, at Cardiff
Cowbridge Grammar School v Llanelly, at Neath
Carmarthen Grammar School v Lampeter College, at Carmarthen
Glamorgan 10th R.V v Llandovery College, at Swansea
Pontypool v Newport, at Newport
Llandilo v Neath, at Neath
Swansea v Abergavenny, at Brecon
With last season’s two finalists, champions RGC 1404 and runners-up Pontypridd, both knocked-put in last weekend’s opening round, this year’s tournament is wide open.
“It’s a great draw within our region and it there will be some big bragging rights up for grabs as well as a place in the next round. Merthyr are the standard bearers at our level at the moment and we will look to raise our game,” said Cardiff head coach Steve Law.
“It is a difficult weekend for us because of Anglo-Welsh commitments, a Wales U20 training camp and a Wales Sevens tournament, but we will look to get the most out of the players we’ve got. It is a great opportunity to knock over the reigning Premiership champions.
“We snatched victory at the death at Neath last weekend in a game in which the whole team show immense character. What we will need in the next round is a bit more quality.”
The two teams meet again at the Arms Park in the Premiership on 7 February and the Ironmen will be hoping to do better than they did the last time they headed to the Welsh capital when they were beaten 24017 on 2 September. They won the return match at The Wern 27-23.
Llandovery will welcome Llanelli to Church Bank aiming to make it a hat-trick of wins over their regional rivals. Unbeaten in eight games at home this season, the Drovers were 19-5 winners at Parc Y Scarlets in September and won the return 29-8 in November.
There are two more all-Premiership clashes with Newport hosting Aberavon and Bridgend welcoming Ebbw Vale. Carmarthen Quins have to travel to Pontypool to face the Championship leaders, while another Championship side, Beddau, will entertain Bedwas. The other tie sees Bargoed, of the Premiership, welcome Rhydyfelin.
WRU NATIONAL CUP ROUND 2
Matches to be played on the weekend of 27 January
Bargoed v Rhydyfelin
Beddau v Bedwas
Bridgend v Ebbw Vale
Cardiff v Merthyr
Cross Keys v Bedlinog
Llandovery v Llanelli
Newport v Aberavon
Pontypool v Carmarthen Quins