The United Rugby Championship’s Welsh Shield isn’t exactly something that will be paraded in the clubhouse in years to come.
Seven weekends boasting at least one Welsh derby per round to end the season ought to have been accompanied by play-off pushes. Alas, with just a few games to go, that’s looking unlikely.
The Scarlets harbor slim play-off hopes, sitting five points behind eighth place, simply waiting for the Vodacom Bulls or Edinburgh to slip up.
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However, while Dwayne Peel’s side would like to be looking up at reaching the play-offs and putting together a repeat of their 2017 triumph, the fact that the Welsh Shield isn’t sewn up means they still have to keep one eye looking over their shoulder.
With each of the Welsh sides outside the top eight, topping the Welsh Shield becomes the automatic route into Champions Cup rugby. Right now, the Scarlets are in control of that – leading the Ospreys by nine points.
The Swansea-based side have three games to go rather than two, but regardless of the extra match in hand, their chances of overtaking the Scarlets are somewhat slender given their chronic lack of bonus points. Perhaps crucially, in a twist that could make things interesting, is that the two sides face each other this weekend.
Were the Ospreys to beat the Scarlets at the Swansea.com Stadium, then the gap could be as small as four points between the two teams. Were that the case, the pendulum might just threaten to swing a little in the Ospreys’ favour.
Then it would come down to the teams’ run-ins. The Scarlets will only have the Stormers to come on the 21 May. That’s quite a wait if their Welsh Shield fate was still undetermined.
As for the Ospreys, they’ll have played their last two matches before the Scarlets finish their season. They host the Dragons on May 8, before welcoming the Bulls to Swansea on May 20.
Quite simply, this weekend’s derby, the first west Wales showdown in Swansea since 2019, could either inject some late jeopardy into the Welsh Shield or allow the Scarlets a last-gasp crack at gate-crashing the play-offs.
For Peel, that pressure of vying for Champions Cup qualification and a possible play-off place is something he’s enjoying.
“We’re obviously looking at the Welsh Shield as well, we want to be the top Welsh team, and by doing that it gives us potentially a crack at the playoffs,” he said last week. “We can’t afford a slip up in either of those challenges really.
“It’s big; good pressure on the game and pressure on us as a group, which is what we want, we want to be under pressure going into games.”
As for the Ospreys, the prospect of dragging their closest rivals back a bit in order to pass them will be an enticing one. Lock Will Griffiths grew up watching the Boxing Day derbies so it means that little bit more to him
“This game used to be always on Boxing Day and my birthday is on Christmas Day and going to this game was a regular party time for me.
“We used to go and watch the game and then all go back to mine and there are some really good memories when I was younger.”
“To finally get to play in one in front of crowd will be pretty special. I never thought I would get the chance to play in the derby.
“I never thought that would happen. The Scarlets is the great rivalry.”
Come Saturday night, the Welsh Shield might be wrapped up and the Scarlets will be looking up to see if anyone allows them to nick into the playoffs.
Or, it just might be up for grabs if the Ospreys have anything to do with it. It’s not quite the straight shootout for Champions Cup rugby the two sides had in 2019, but it might just be the biggest Welsh derby we’ve seen since then.