JACOB Botica will pull the strings for Cross Keys as they attempt to boost their bid to beat the Principality Premiership drop with a derby win against Newport this afternoon (kick-off 2.30pm).

The fly-half signed from RGC 1404 in the summer and was chosen by Ebbw Vale in the Dragons’ draft.

However, the 25-year-old will make his second appearance for Keys at Pandy Park to deputise for Jason Tovey, who is on the region’s bench for tomorrow’s home encounter with the Ospreys in the Guinness PRO14.

Botica is one of a raft of changes to the home side after last week’s home 20-9 loss to Carmarthen Quins.

Captain Damian Welch moves from lock to the back row because of injuries with Garin Price slotting in at number eight and Tom Lampard shifting to openside.

Harvey Reader comes into the second row while Corey Hewlett replaces Gary Carpenter at loosehead.

Owain Leonard is Botica’s half-back partner and Leon Andrews moves from full-back to midfield with Canadian Will Kelly in at 15.

Wing Wes Cunliffe faces his former Newport teammates, as does Llywarch Ap Myrddin on the other flank with ‘Larry’ playing on permit from Cardiff.

Keys currently sit in the relegation zone with just Bargoed and Neath below them, although Morgan Stoddart's side are only a point behind Llanelli, who are in the promotion/relegation play-off spot, and four back on Bridgend, who are in the final safe spot.

Newport have no such worries and head to Pandy Park looking to back up their wins against the Quins and Bargoed.

The Black and Ambers sat in sixth at the start of the weekend and coach Craig Warlow keeps changes to a minimum.

Up front there are starts for hooker Will Evans and number eight Mathew Reed with Josh Skinner moving forward to lock. The only change in the backs sees Tom Lucas come in at scrum-half.

Bargoed will be hoping for a Newport win at Pandy Park while they try and upset the odds against champions and leaders Merthyr.

The Bulls are one from the bottom despite a heavy summer recruitment drive and haven't won since October.

Nonetheless, they are still just a couple of successes away from joining the congested scrap for 11th and safety.

Merthyr are the strongest team in the Premiership but Bargoed can take heart from the Ironmen's recent inconsistency with Bedwas providing the blueprint on December 22 when they scrapped for what could turn out to be a precious losing bonus.

The Bulls make five changes to the side beaten 33-23 by Newport with full-back Jordan Purcell, centre Jordan Howells and wing Ashley Norton coming into the backs and prop John Lavender and hooker Lewys Lippiett getting the nod up front.

Cross Keys: W Kelly, L Ap Myrddin, L Andrews, D Fidler, W Cunliffe, J Botica, O Leonard, C Hewlett, E Shipp, R Cornock, H Reader, S Andrews, D Welch (captain), T Lampard, G Price. Replacements: W Griffiths, G Carpenter, S Evans, J Thomas, AN Other, S Majkic, R Budina, C Nicholls.

Newport: D Richards, H Lang, C Smith, G O’Driscoll, E Frewen, M O’Brien, T Lucas, D Preece, W Evans, T Piper, J Bartlett, J Skinner, R Jenkins, K Tayler, M Reed. Replacements: H Palmer, L Smout, N Thomas, H Taylor, C Williams, G Watkin, H Simons, A Evans.

Bargoed: J Purcell, D Dyer, J Howells, D Humphries, A Norton, J Prosser, J Leadbeater, J Lavender, L Lippiett, A Gardner-Key, L Blacker, B Morgan, B Fry, C Davies, A Powell. Replacements: I Burgwin, C Jones, B Nightingale, G Rogers, R Buckley, K Bale, G Edmunds, R Morgan.

Fixtures: Bargoed v Merthyr, Cross Keys v Newport, RGC v Bridgend, Swansea v Llanelli (Cardiff v Pontypridd on New Year's Day)