THE battle lines are drawn as Cardigan and Milford Haven prepare to go head-to-head in a WRU National Bowl quarter-final tie at King George V Playing Field next Saturday (February 18) at 2pm.
It is a massive game for the league 3 West A rivals with the winners just 80 minutes away from an appearance in the final at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
In reaching the last eight the Cardis lowered the colours of St Davids, Laugharne, Usk, Bettws and Denbigh while the Mariners swept past Pembroke, Pontardawe, Nantgaredig and Nantyffyllon.
Llyr Griffiths and his Cardigan colleagues could be seen as slight favourites having sprung a 19-8 league win over the Mariners back in September.
But Jamie Parr and his Observatory ground team-mates have improved in leaps and bounds since then and are expected to be a far different proposition this weekend.
Since the league game the rivals have tasted victory ten times apiece including three triumphs each in the Bowl.
The Mariners are never more dangerous than when spreading the ball wide and they will be expected to employ these tactics especially as fullback Craig Barnett, his brother Jamie at outside half and scrum-half Mark Wonnacott can all be match winners.
In the pack skipper and loose-head prop Parr leads by example and lock cum No. 8 Alun Harries who arrived from Haverfordwest has been a big acquisition.
It will be the biggest game for the Pembrokeshire club since reaching the last eight of the former Swalec Welsh Cup 40 years when beaten by then mighty Ebbw Vale.
The days when players were brought in from far and wide putting pressure on the purse strings have long gone at Cardigan with the present side comprising young locals, most of whom have come through the junior ranks and the policy appears to be bearing fruit.
Llyr Griffiths is a big player at No. 8 who has great support in the backrow from vastly-experienced Colin Davies, Kieran Hurley and Gareth Clifford while Rob Connolly is on top of his game in the engine room with second row Dylan Davies and Alec Phillips, Tomos Evans, Ben Hughes and loose head prop Richard Jones are influential in the front row.
The Cardis have Llyr Jones and Arwyn Wilson in contention for the No. 9 jersey with goal-kicking specialist Iestyn Crompton at outside half.
They also have further talented players behind the scrum in fullback John Lumb, winger-cum fullback Rhydian Jenkins, centres Emyr Harries and Marcus Castle and wingers Gruffydd Lewis and Dafydd Walters.
What can be said with confidence is that the game will attract one of the biggest crowds at the Cardigan ground for many a long day – in addition to fans making their own way north Milford are laying on two coaches for supporters.
Eagerly looking forward to the challenge vastly knowledgeable Mariners forwards coach and team manager Alan ‘Macky’ McClelland said “There is no doubt that we have improved since playing Cardigan five months ago but we realise it will be big ask at their place.
“If I’m honest I’d have to say that we will need a very good day at the office to reach the semi-final, but we beat then League 3 West Central A leaders Nantyffyllon away which was a first-rate effort.
“We will have plenty of support in Cardigan and we will try to keep the cup run going,” he said.
Cardigan RFC stalwart Tony Mason said “The game has caught the imagination of people over a wide area and we are expecting a large crowd.
“It is a big occasion for the players, club officials and supporters and with a fair rub of the green hopefully at around 4.10pm on Saturday we will be one game from the Principality Stadium.”