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What to expect at Welsh rugby's Judgement Day

The finale of the Welsh domestic rugby season is finally upon us this weekend as the long, and often arduous campaign, limps into June.

The annual Welsh rugby regional double-header is billed as Judgement Day but it is not being staged at the Principality Stadium this season.

The four Welsh professional sides will find themselves a mile-and-a-half down the road at the Cardiff City Stadium, a venue normally more associated with football.

On Saturday, Scarlets play Dragons first (15:00 BST) before Cardiff battle it out with Ospreys (17:30 BST).

Why the new venue?

The Principality Stadium has normally hosted the Welsh double-header, but the lateness of this season's fixture meant it clashed with the concert season at the venue, with Bruce Springsteen, Pink, Taylor Swift and Foo Fighters all playing in May and June in Cardiff city centre.

Former Wales flanker Josh Navidi will combine rugby and music when he provides some of the entertainment at the Cardiff City stadium with his DJ set.

The Judgement Day event has traditionally been held around Easter, but this season was moved later due to the 2023 World Cup delaying the United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign.

Cardiff City Stadium has a capacity of 33,280, compared to 74,500 at the Principality Stadium. Last season's event, in April 2023, attracted a crowd of 41,139 for the two matches.

Expectations of crowd numbers amongst Welsh rugby bosses are lower this time, with the hope the attendance will be at least half of last season's on Saturday.

The argument whether the games could have been staged separately at Parc y Scarlets and Arms Park this season will rumble on.

Judgement Day will be held on the traditional slot of Easter Saturday on 19 April, 2025 as it returns to the Principality Stadium.

What is being judged?

From a team perspective, there is little on the line to play for.

It will definitely be the final game of the season for Scarlets, Dragons and Cardiff, with only Ospreys going into the final weekend with a slim chance of finishing in the URC top eight and reaching the play-offs.

Ospreys have already won the minor Welsh Shield accolade with their performances in the derby matches.

All four Welsh teams are languishing in the bottom half of the table with Ospreys 11th, Cardiff 12th, Scarlets 14th and Dragons 15th.

Dragons are hoping to complete a league double against Scarlets and repeat their Judgement Day success in the same fixture last year.

Dai Flanagan's side are also hoping not to finish bottom, but that threat will be averted if Glasgow defeat Zebre on Friday night. Dwayne Peel's Scarlets side have the chance to overhaul Sharks and finish 13th.

There will be farewells to players with Cardiff quartet Rhys Carre, Willis Halaholo, Lopeti Timani and Shane Lewis-Hughes, Scarlets trio Wyn Jones, Ryan Conbeer and Kieran Hardy and Dragons centre Sio Tomkinson playing their final matches for their respective sides.

Wales prop Nicky Smith will join them if it proves to be Ospreys' last game of the campaign.

Can Ospreys qualify for play-offs?

The URC website gives Ospreys a 5% chance of play-off progression, which does rise to 12% if they win against Cardiff. That probably tells you all you need to know.

Ospreys will need to beat Cardiff with a bonus point and hope three other unlikely results go their way.

By the time Ospreys kick off on Saturday evening they could already be out of contention, because those three matches are taking place before the Welsh derby against Cardiff.

Connacht are at Leinster on Friday evening, Lions face fellow South African side Stormers on Saturday lunchtime, just before Benetton host Edinburgh.

So it is between Edinburgh, Benetton, Lions, Connacht and Ospreys for the final two play-off places.

If teams are tied on league points, it then comes down to matches won before points difference comes into the equation.

Ospreys need Connacht to miss out on maximum points, Lions to get no more than a match point and either Benetton or Edinburgh to come away pointless from their meeting.

There is also the possibility of Ospreys pipping Benetton on points difference should they finish level with them on match points. Ospreys are currently 25 points behind the Italians on points difference.

One thing that will not happen is Ospreys finishing seventh and playing in the Champions Cup next season, after the Sharks qualified for Europe's top competition by winning the Challenge Cup last weekend.

So there will be no Welsh side in Europe's premier tournament for the first time next season, a painfully ironic situation with Cardiff's Principality Stadium hosting the Champions and Challenge Cup finals in May 2025.

Wales places up for grabs

While there is not much to play for apart from pride with regards to teams, individuals will be looking to impress Warren Gatland enough for him to pick them to face South Africa and Australia this summer.

Just two days after the double-header, the Wales head coach names his squad to play the world champions Springboks at Twickenham on 22 June, before two Tests against the Wallabies in July.

Taulupe Faletau, Adam Beard, Leon Brown, Teddy Williams, Rhys Davies and Joe Roberts will miss the summer programme because of injury, while fly-half Gareth Anscombe will also be absent as he recovers from a groin problem.

Gatland will also be missing players who play club rugby outside of Wales for the Springboks game, because it falls outside World Rugby's international window.

That accounts for the likes of Tommy Reffell, Will Rowlands, Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza, Nick Tompkins and Archie Griffin.

So there will be places up for grabs and some new faces will be hoping to shine in their final audition.

Meet the headline acts

Scarlets v Dragons (15:00 BST)

Scarlets: Ioan Nicholas; Tomi Lewis, Johnny Williams, Eddie James, Ryan Conbeer; Sam Costelow, Gareth Davies; Kemsley Mathias, Ryan Elias (capt), Harri O’Connor, Alex Craig, Sam Lousi, Taine Plumtree, Dan Davis, Carwyn Tuipulotu.

Replacements: Shaun Evans, Wyn Jones, Sam Wainwright, Morgan Jones, Jarrod Taylor, Kieran Hardy, Ioan Lloyd, Macs Page.

Dragons: Ewan Rosser; Rio Dyer, Joe Westwood, Aneurin Owen, Chris Hollis; Will Reed, Rhodri Williams (capt); Rhodri Jones, Brodie Coghlan, Chris Coleman, Ben Carter, Matthew Screech, Ryan Woodman, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: James Benjamin, Rodrigo Martinez, Dmitri Arhip, George Nott, Dan Lydiate, Che Hope, Steff Hughes, Sio Tomkinson.

Cardiff v Ospreys (17:30 BST)

Cardiff: Cameron Winnett; Theo Cabango, Rey Lee-Lo, Ben Thomas (capt), Mason Grady; Tinus de Beer, Ellis Bevan; Rhys Carre, Evan Lloyd, Keiron Assiratti, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Rory Thornton, Ben Donnell, James Botham, Alun Lawrence.

Replacements: Efan Daniel, Corey Domachowski, Rhys Litterick, Seb Davies, Lopeti Timani, Willis Halaholo, Jacob Beetham, Gabriel Hamer-Webb.

Ospreys: Max Nagy; Luke Morgan, Owen Watkin, Keiran Williams, Keelan Giles; Dan Edwards Reuben Morgan-Williams; Nicky Smith, Dewi Lake, Tom Botha, James Ratti, Huw Sutton, Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric (capt), Morgan Morris.

Replacements: Sam Parry, Gareth Thomas, Rhys Henry, Victor Sekekete, Harri Deaves, Luke Davies, Owen Williams, Harri Houston.