JUDGEMENT DAY at Principality Stadium has broken the Guinness PRO12 attendance record again, this time with nearly three weeks still to go until kick-off – on Saturday (Apr 30) .
Last year’s Welsh regional double-header was attended by 52,762 fans, comfortably surpassing the previous championship record, held by an Irish derby clash at the Aviva Stadium between Leinster and Munster in 2014.
The annual event, now in its fourth incarnation, more than doubles nearly every other attendance figure in Guinness PRO12 fixture list so far this season and has been tipped to become a must-see capacity occasion in the Cardiff capital by Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies.
With the 52,763rd ticket sold by the Principality Stadium ticket office this morning, the only comparable fixture to Judgement Day this year, to date, is again the Munster versus Leinster derby which attracted 43,108 to the Aviva at the start of this month.
The celebration derby day in Wales, dubbed JDIV, will see Cardiff Blues face the Ospreys at 2.30pm and then European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-finalists Newport Gwent Dragons host the Scarlets at 5pm in back-to-back clashes under the Principality Stadium’s famous roof – in the penultimate round (21) of the Guinness PRO12.
The Blues and Ospreys are both still vying for a play-off spot this season, currently lying 10 and 14 points, respectively, behind the fourth placed Scarlets – with 15 points from three bonus point wins still theoretically available.
The all-important top six spots in the table – which would at present reading bring qualification for the 2016/2017 European Champions Cup – are also within touching distance for each side, as they are currently lying in eighth and ninth places.
Both of these teams will desperately want to beat their close rivals as the business end of the season reaches its climax, after first facing Benetton Treviso (Ospreys) and the Dragons (Blues) at home matches in round 20 this coming weekend.
For the JDIV game one victors it could then be ‘all on’ for round 22, the final weekend of the season, prior to play-offs, when the Blues travel to Edinburgh and the Ospreys host Ulster.
The Scarlets are currently the highest placed Welsh team in the Guinness PRO12 table, but they also have a tough run-in hosting Glasgow and travelling to Munster either side of their JDIV, match two, meeting with the Dragons.
The Newport Gwent region are mathematically out of play-off contention and can’t finish in the top seven, but a strong run in Europe is keeping their season alive in style – they face Montpellier in the European Challenge Cup semi-finals the week preceding JDIV.
The Dragons could qualify for the European Champions Cup outright if they win its sister tournament and so would be forgiven for keeping one eye on that campaign, but derby bragging rights remain at stake as always on Judgement Day to ensure them no respite.
“Last year’s Judgement Day fixtures saw us process thousands of tickets on the day of the event and we fully expect a large walk-up crowd at Principality Stadium for another guaranteed record breaking day this year,” said a WRU spokesperson.
“It will be a proud moment when during the second match of the day we announce our final crowd figure and set another new record for attendance at a Guinness PRO12 match-day.
“But, whilst it is great news for us at the turn-styles that we get so many last minute purchasers for this celebration of regional rugby, we would like to remind people that buying tickets in advance is the best way to ensure they get the seats they want and don’t miss out on any of the action.
“We will continue to monitor sales and keep the public up to date as we near capacity, but the best way to ensure that you don’t miss out on a magnificent day of regional rugby at Principality Stadium is to buy now and join the 53,000 others who have already joined Judgement Day celebrations.”
Commenting on the record-breaking crowd, Martin Anayi, managing director, PRO12 Rugby said:
“Judgement Day has become one of the Guinness PRO12’s ‘must-go-to’ events and it is terrific news that with three weeks to go until the event the previous attendance record has been broken.
“With over 28,000 recently attending the Guinness PRO12 derbies in Wales; over 43,000 flocking to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium for Leinster against Munster; and the climax to the season, the Guinness PRO12 Final at BT Murrayfield on 28 May, already on course to be one of the biggest finals ever; it shows there is a huge appetite and opportunity for fans to be part of some great Guinness PRO12 occasions over the last two months of the season.”
Mark Davies, Chief Executive of Pro Rugby Wales said: “It’s very positive for Welsh Rugby and Guinness PRO12 that this major club rugby event in our season is building so successfully and that we’ll exceed last year’s record crowd at the Principality Stadium.
“The Judgement Day double-header will be a fantastic conclusion to a successful series of Welsh derbies over the past month that have captured the spirit and passion of Welsh rugby – with supporters looking forward to another big derby this Sunday at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park as the Cardiff Blues face the Newport Gwent Dragons.
“It’s one of most exciting and significant periods we’ve ever had in a block for professional rugby in Wales with potentially 100,000 supporters enjoying Welsh derbies over a six week period at such a critical stage in the Guinness PRO12 battle for our teams.
“There’s so much riding on these games and with it the chance to see our best players in Wales both current internationals and future stars playing on the same pitch on the same day.”
Tickets for Judgement Day IV have been frozen at 2015 prices and can be purchased now at £10 per person (booking fees apply) from www.wru.wales/tickets (print at home available), by calling 0844 847 1881, in person from the WRU Ticket Office on Westgate Street, from each of the four regions or from Tesco stores throughout Wales.
Season tickets purchased from either of the home teams – Blues and Dragons – include access to Judgement Day IV, with fans asked to liaise with the respective box offices.
Both matches will be shown live on television with BBC Wales showing the first match and S4C the second.
Twins warm up with fine victories
CRYMYCH boxing twins Ioan and Garan Croft warmed up for the forthcoming Welsh championships with fine victories in a Wales Select v England Select tournament at the Hampshire Court Hotel, Basingstoke.
Southpaw Ioan overcame weight issues to win on a split decision against Scott Melvin, an opponent 18 months his senior, in a 56kg contest.
Garan also won on a split against Donte Dixon, a strong opponent almost two years older than his Cardigan ABC rival after boxing him from long range for much of their encounter.
Promising Fishguard schoolboy boxer Mikey O’Sullivan also registered another impressive win recently.
Pitted against Evan Williams (Cwmavon Hornets) at the Pengry Road Social club, Loughor, the Cardigan ABC boxer came out flying, almost overwhelming his opponent and giving him a standing eight count in the first and second rounds.
Williams managed to regroup in the last round, but O’Sullivan had already done enough to win by a unanimous decision.
Joyce named in sevens squad for Commonwealths
ST Davids’ Jasmine Joyce has been named in the women’s sevens squad that will represent Team Wales in next month’s Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Five of the 12-player squad are currently involved in Wales’ Women’s Six Nations campaign: Alisha Butchers, Sioned Harries, Hannah Jones, Jaz Joyce (all Scarlets), and Elinor Snowsill (Dragons). The ‘One Programme’ approach taken by Wales Women has allowed certain players to spend time in both sevens and 15s camps this season.
Head coach Nick Wakley has the benefit of a number of leaders in his squad: the experienced Philippa Tuttiett, captain of Cardiff Blues; two members of the Armed Forces in Army Rugby Union captain Gemma Rowland and the RAF’s Sian Williams (both Dragons); and Shona Powell-Hughes (Ospreys), who won the most recent of her 46 caps in last year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup,
Powell-Hughes is one of a quartet of players with over 40 caps to their name, along with Butchers, Harries and Snowsill, for what is women’s sevens’ first appearance in the Games in its 88-year existence.
Other sevens specialists selected include Sinead Breeze and Laurie Harries, with Kayleigh Powell (Ospreys) the youngest in the side at 18 years of age.
The sevens will be held at the 27,500-capacity Robina Stadium from 13th-15th April. Team Wales have been drawn in a competitive Pool B with Australia, Fiji and England.
The Wales Women squad acquainted themselves with the conditions on the Gold Coast by participating in Brisbane’s Super 7s competition in early February. Before that, they were in action in Dubai’s invitational competition in December.
Nick Wakley, Women’s Sevens head coach, said: “We’re very excited and honoured to be representing Team Wales next month. In regards to the ‘One Programme’ approach through the Women’s Six Nations campaign, Commonwealth Games and World Series Qualifier prep, we have had our players exposed to international rugby week in, week out.
“We have been building up to these tournaments for two years and we have developed a real mental toughness which will be tested in the two weeks post-Six Nations to get us back up to speed. It is a real credit to all of the players’ commitment and dedication that they find themselves in these huge global tournaments which could go a long way towards sculpting the environment for the next generation of Welsh women rugby players.”
Helen Phillips, Chair of the Commonwealth Games Wales Board, said: “Congratulations to all the players who have made it to the final squad for Gold Coast. It’s excellent to have such a strong Team Wales squad heading to Australia for what will be the first time ever women’s rugby sevens tournament in the history of the Commonwealth Games.”
She added: “Women’s rugby in Wales has seen a huge growth over the past few years, and we congratulate the WRU for all the development work that’s been done to put the Welsh squad in such a strong position to qualify for Gold Coast 2018.”
Prior to travelling to the Gold Coast, the same squad will compete in the Hong Kong Sevens (6th-8th April) as Wales Women seek to qualify for next year’s World Rugby Sevens Series.
Team Wales Women’s Sevens: Alisha Butchers; Elinor Snowsill; Gemma Rowland; Hannah Jones; Jasmine Joyce; Kayleigh Powell; Laurie Harries; Philippa Tuttiett (c); Shona Powell-Hughes; Sian Williams; Sinead Breeze; Sioned Harries.
Joyce stars as Wales beaten by Italy
WALES’ Women were beaten by Italy on Sunday (Mar 11), in front of a crowd of just over 11,000 fans at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
It was the visitors who opened the scoring as Isabella Locatelli ran over for the try which Beatrice Rigoni converted.
St Davids’ own Jaz Joyce was back in the fold having been with the Wales 7s team out in Australia but she showed no signs of jetlag as she made a bursting run to put the home side in a good position.
Hannah Jones also went on a good run and after she was brought down, Italy were guilty of an infringement and Robyn Wilkins sent the resulting penalty through the posts to reduce the gap.
Another good move involving Alisha Butchers, Elinor Snowsill, Wilkins and Kerin Lake came to an end as Italy defended well.
Butchers then passed to Lake who juggled the ball, doing well to keep hold of it, before passing to Jones who was held up just before the line. They kept at it and it was Butchers who made her way over to put the home side into the lead. Wilkins then sent the conversion wide but Wales led 8-7.
Joyce then picked the ball up inside the Wales 22 and beat two players and was only halted by the third just past the half way line.
Italy won the ball back and Manuela Furlan found Maria Magatti who made her way over for their second try to put them back in front. Rigoni’s kick looked to be going over but it fell just short of the posts and that was the end of the first half.
Ten minutes into the second half the Italians increased their lead as Rigoni went over for a try in the corner but she couldn’t add the conversion and the visitors held an 8-17 lead.
Just past the hour mark Butchers was given a yellow card for a tip tackle but much to their credit, they did not concede any points during that period.
Joyce again showed what she could do with another powerful run but she was brought down. Alecs Donovan also made a good burst through before winning a penalty for her side.
Wales were forced to bring Joyce off for a head injury assessment and fellow Pembrokeshire woman Lisa Neumann was brought on in her place.
With seven minutes to go Wales finally made the breakthrough as Sioned Harries picked up the ball and touched down in the right corner and Wilkins added the extras to bring Wales to within two points of Italy.
Italy hit back and put the pressure on as they kicked to into the 22 before the ball bounced out. Wales looked to play out of their own 22 but dropped the ball only to win it back again moments later.
However, Harries was then given a yellow card meaning her match was over and Wales would finish with 14 women on the field.
Thankfully for Wales, Joyce was ok and she was brought back onto the field for the remaining minutes.
With three minutes to go Italy worked the ball out wide and Michela Sillari made her way over for the try despite the best efforts of Joyce to stop her. Sillari then sent the conversion wide and Italy led 22-15 with little time left to play.
Wales were unable to find a way back despite their best efforts but they did earn a losing bonus point for being within one score.
Defeat for Wales is their third of the season while Italy celebrated their first win in nine Six Nations matches.
Wales may be fifth in the table but they could still have a say in who wins the title in the final round of fixtures.
On Friday (Mar 16), Wales take on leaders France knowing that a win could open the door for England to win the title, should they beat Ireland on the same day.
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