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Cardiff And Scarlets Heading For Bumper Boxing Day Crowds As Welsh Derbies Prove Their Appeal

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By Simon Thomas

Cardiff Rugby have gained local authority permission to increase the capacity of the Arms Park to around 12,000 for their URC Boxing Day derby against the Dragons.

The demand for tickets has seen 10,000 sold already.

That comes on the back of a crowd of 10,158 for last weekend’s thrilling Champions Cup clash with Bath at the famous old ground.

Cardiff’s Wales wing Josh Adams says it’s a huge positive to see such numbers turning out.

“To be able to attract people back again is vitally important, to get people back through the gates,” he said.

“The fact we are close to being sold out for this game is brilliant. Hopefully we can have a full house and go after it.

“We are really thankful to the supporters for how they have backed us this season. It’s brilliant to have so many of them turning out.

“We try and repay them with fight and effort, giving our best on the pitch to represent the club. Hopefully they are enjoying the experience.

“We are trying to play a brand of rugby that will attract people back to the Arms Park. We are also showing what it means to us as a group to represent the club and the fans. It’s about having a never-say-die attitude and keeping on going at teams no matter what.

“The most important thing is showing spirit, fight, commitment and desire on the field. Those are the things that will connect you better with your supporters and bring them back, along with playing a good brand of rugby.”

Adams is confident of being fit to face the Dragons after picking up a “dead knee” in scoring the second of his two tries in the 39-32 defeat to Bath.

Cardiff also look set to have flanker James Botham available to play his first game of the season after some 12 weeks out with a hamstring tear.

As for the Dragons, they will be looking to build on a positive start to their Challenge Cup campaign which saw them beat Oyannax and then come tantalisingly close to a French double, only to be denied at the death out in Pau.

They have lost their last 17 matches against Cardiff in the URC, a run that continued with October’s 16-9 defeat at Rodney Parade.

Head coach Dai Flanagan said: “We need to get that hoodoo off our back and it’s a big game for us.

“We owe Cardiff a good performance. We were disappointed with the home display against them. I’m sure if we play well, we will stand a chance.

“We need to make sure that collectively we don’t let each other down going into what is a big derby period for us. It’s full of excitement and opportunity. We need to take that.”

Later in the day, the Scarlets host the Ospreys with Dwayne Peel claiming the west Wales derby is the perfect game for his Scarlets as they look to turn around their season.

Peel’s team have lost seven of their nine games in all competitions, culminating in last weekend’s shock 23-7 defeat at home to Georgian outfit Black Lion in the Challenge Cup.

He says he understands the fans’ anger and will be looking for a reaction from his players in the festive showdown with arch local rivals Ospreys.

“I think this now is the perfect game, in terms of sharpening the focus,” said the head coach.

“It is one of our biggest games of the season, a Boxing Day derby.

“It will be a good occasion with more than 9,000 tickets sold already.

“Having the fans behind us and a great atmosphere is what we all enjoy. I know there will be 10,000, if not more, here on Boxing Day and it will be an incredible atmosphere.”

Peel continued: “We recognise the frustrations of the fans. We feel the disappointment as well.

“I understand their (fans) anger and it’s important to note we as a squad, us staff and collectively as a club understand it. Everyone is working hard to turn things around and I’m sure we will.

“I’ve supported this club since I was three or four years old. We’ve been through some bad times before and I know how amazing our supporters are and they’re 100% behind us.

“Obviously, they’re disappointed at the moment and I understand their frustration, but for me as head coach I’m incredibly proud of what they give us.

“I have been in teams before where we have lost poorly and it’s how you bounce back. We will work hard to make sure we put a performance together.”

The Scarlets are set to be boosted by the return of Tongan lock Sam Lousi from injury for his first game of the season, while prop Wyn Jones and centre Joe Roberts could also be back in the mix.

As for the Ospreys, they have experienced mixed fortunes in the Challenge Cup over the last couple of weeks, beating Benetton at home, but then losing heavily out in Montpellier.

Looking ahead to the Boxing Day derby, head coach Toby Booth said: “It means a lot. It’s a hotly contested game and one both regions look forward to. There’s derbies and there’s derbies. This is the one that means the most.

“We earned a good result last time at home which makes it double the trouble because there’s nothing motivates you more than a scorned performance.

“So we are expecting a pretty hostile welcome.”

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