10:20am Friday 28th March 2014
THE next eight days will determine whether Cross Keys are Premiership title hopefuls or merely Swalec Cup contenders, writes Chris Kirwan.
Keys travel to Neath tomorrow afternoon, make the short trip to Rodney Parade on Tuesday to take on Newport and then host Carmarthen Quins next Saturday.
The Pandy Park outfit currently sit fifth in the table and are in a tussle with the Quins, Llandovery and Llanelli for the two semi-final spots beneath leaders Pontypridd.
There is plenty of work to do in the bread and butter of the league before their April Swalec Cup date with the Drovers for a place in the Millennium Stadium final.
"It's always difficult keeping minds on the league in the week when you know your semi-final opponent but this is a massive week for us," said head coach Greg Woods.
"Neath are in a relegation battle but had last week off and will fire into us. After this game we have a quick turnaround for Newport and then face Carmarthen Quins.
"These games are huge if we are going to make the playoffs but we have a really strong squad at the moment and can afford to rotate. It's exciting but we need to start with a win against Neath."
Keys have already turned over Neath twice this season, beating them 27-10 at Pandy Park in the league and then earning a hard-fought 23-17 Swalec Cup win at the Gnoll.
If they are to make it a hat-trick of successes against the Welsh All Blacks, who are just five points above bottom club Swansea, then they must thrive at the breakdown.
"Neath are fighting for their lives and we will have to match their physicality," he said. "They will try and slow down our ball so we have got to pick up the speed or rucks to get our game going."
Keys are bolstered by the presence of Dragons back row forward Ieuan Jones, who will slot in at blindside flanker alongside number eight Adam Powell and openside Reuben Tucker.
The trio will be backed up on the bench by 19-year-old number eight Jack Condy, who plays on permit after catching the eye as Penallta Youth's captain.
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