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Shane Williams column: We’ll see who thrives in pressure cauldron

Liam WilliamsNext Saturday’s Judgement Day could be just that for the Welsh regions and some players hoping to get into Warren Gatland’s summer squad.

Two years ago Gatland came up with the idea of rekindling the old-style trial match between the Probables versus the Possibles.

This time the WRU have taken care of that for him with the fourth instalment of Judgement Day when Ospreys face Cardiff Blues and Scarlets take on Newport Gwent Dragons at what is looking likely to be a pretty full Principality Stadium.

Ospreys against Blues should be a cracker because it is effectively a semi-final within the Guinness Pro12.

Both sides have to win their last two games to stand a chance of finishing in the top six. So the side that wins carries on to the final week with at least a chance of qualifying for the European Champions Cup.

For the loser, it’s all over and they have to start picking the bones over what went wrong. Not just in the game, but the whole season.

It takes me back to when I was part of the Ospreys side that faced Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium in 2007 in a real semi-final – the EDF Energy Cup.

It was a hell of a game and only made all the tastier by Mike Phillips and Justin Marshall going head to head.

Phillips had already signed to join the Ospreys for the following season while Marshall was desperate to show he wasn’t about to hand over his number nine jersey in a hurry.

Of course, being such shy and retiring types (!!) neither of them would back down. The result was the pair of them kicked off in the tunnel at half-time and I think they had another go at each other at the end as well.

Don’t ask me what the trigger was, but let’s face it, with those two it wouldn’t have taken much. But what it did show was the commitment and passion to win and get one over your opposite number. That’s exactly what the current players need to show.

Next week we will see some key clashes between the likes of fly-halves Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe, wingas Eli Walker against Tom James and in the back-row Dan Lydiate and James King take on Sam Warburton and Ellis Jenkins. With Justin Tipuric out of the tour, they all know there is a spot available.

And they will all know that Gatland will be watching closely. Gat’s loves seeing how his players handle these sort of occasions and how much someone wants it.

There will be a few players feeling a bit of pressure after the Six nations while there are others who see this as a shop window to prove they should be included in the tour.

For the last couple of seasons the Ospreys have had the upper hand but now it’s a far more level playing field.

Cardiff Blues are probably playing their best rugby of the season right now. There have been signs all season but it looks as though something has finally clicked.

For the sake of Welsh rugby, it’s vital one of them pushes their way into the top six to give Wales two teams in the Champions Cup.

It’s just another reason why next weekend is so interesting and why the fans have responded.

Judgement Day is becoming a great occasion. It’s great to see the support growing every year for these games. There seems to be a buzz about the day and the games which the regions have been desperate for.

At times they have looked half a step behind the English clubs in the Aviva Premiership in marketing and promoting the game.

But already we’re looking at more than 60,000 coming next week and now it’s down to the players to put on a show.

Wayne Pivac has a big job on his hands this week because all the good work he has done during the season could be about to go up in smoke.

Losing to Cardiff Blues was disappointing, but losing 46-10 at home to Glasgow last week was a disaster.

The players may have been feeling sick during the week but that’s nothing compared to what they must have felt after the game as they slipped out of the top four.

I said before they will not want to travel to Thomond Park on the final weekend needing a result but that’s exactly what has happened.

First they have to beat the Dragons who are coming off the back of a bruising match against Montpellier yesterday.


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