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Merthyr ready to strike on two fronts – Locke

Merthyr ready to strike on two fronts – Locke

Craig Locke with the Indigo Prem trophy

With the top four in the Indigo Premiership battling it out against each other in recent weeks, the form of the side just behind that group may have slipped under the radar.

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Merthyr have been on an excellent run of form in recent weeks, winning their past four matches in the Premiership. The Ironmen enjoyed a faultless November, seeing off Swansea and Aberavon at The Wern before picking up wins on the road at Carmarthen Quins and RGC.

They currently sit fifth in the table, seven points behind both Pontypool and Newport, but have two games in hand on Pooler while have also played a game less than Newport. It’s six wins and three defeats so far.

“I think we had a couple of losses on the bounce in October, which was unlike us,” said Merthyr second row Craig Locke. “We just had a bit of a group meeting and ironed a few things out on the table and worked on what we needed to achieve and what needed to happen – and since then we’ve kicked on.

“We lost games that we could have won but didn’t take our chances and other teams took the opportunities. But we’ve won our last four on the bounce and the aim for us is just about getting that consistency.

“We’re definitely in the mix and we just need to take what we’re doing in training into the games, which we have been doing the last few weeks.”

Merthyr were due to face rivals Pontypridd in the A470 Taff Valley derby on Saturday but the match at The Wern was one of four scheduled Premiership fixtures postponed.

Attention now turns towards cup rugby and the quarter-final visit from Carmarthen Quins in the WRU Premiership Cup. They will face a Quins side who have been struggling in the Premiership where they are on a run of seven straight defeats.

One of those defeats came at home against Merthyr a fortnight ago where they surrendered an 18-7 advantage, eventually going on to lose 22-18. The west Walians’ home clash with Cardiff yesterday was postponed.

But Merthyr stalwart Locke says his side can’t afford to take anything for granted, with a place in the semi-finals at stake. He knows full well from experience just how league form can go out of the window in the cup. He was part of the Pontypridd side who were stunned by Bridgend in the 2015 Swalec Cup final.

“With cup rugby as always it’s all about who turns up on the day and takes those opportunities. I know from past experience you can’t go on league positions; with my previous club Ponty we’d won the league and Bridgend I think were lower half of the league – and they turned us over on that day in the final,” he said.

Locke, of course, played in seven WRU Cup finals, winning three of five with Pontypridd between 2011-2015. He captained Merthyr to cup glory in 2018 and led the Ironmen back to the Principality Stadium in 2019, where they lost to Cardiff.

Meanwhile, he helped knock former club Pontypridd out of this season’s Premiership Cup competition, scoring a try in Merthyr’s 30-27 win back at Sardis Road back in September.

He added that the postponement against Ponty over the weekend may actually work in their favour, adding: “We’ve struggled a bit with numbers this season compared with previous seasons. Last weekend at RGC we were short on numbers and we picked up a few little bumps and niggles and a couple of boys didn’t train this week.

“So the game against Ponty being off gives a bit of a rest for the boys ready to go into the cup game next week against the Quins.”

Meanwhile a frozen pitch at Newport Stadium forced the postponement of the clash between Newport and winless bottom side Neath. It was the same story at St Helen’s where Swansea’s fixture with league leaders and reigning champions Llandovery was off.

Llandovery would have been looking to go further clear at the top while for Newport there was an opportunity to climb back up into second.

The fixture between RGC and Pontypool had already been postponed earlier in the week by the latter due to a lack of front row forwards. Ebbw Vale host Cardiff next Saturday in the quarter-finals of the WRU Premiership Cup and will be looking to bounce back from their league defeat by Aberavon.

Swansea and Bridgend Ravens also go head-to-head for a place in the last four of the cup.

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