Rugby Union: Neath are steeled for Swansea: Robert Cole previews today's top games in the Heineken Welsh League

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The Independent Online
NEATH'S chances of winning the Heineken League title for the second time in three years may rest in the hands of other teams, but they intend to make it as difficult as possible for anyone else to win the top prize in Welsh rugby.

That process starts at The Gnoll today where the reigning champions, Swansea, know that only victory will do if they are to retain their crown. That makes it more than just the match of the day in Wales, it is the most important to date in the second half of the season.

'If we are going to win the title we have to win all our remaining games,' Leighton Davies, the Neath coach, said. 'Our destiny is largely in the hands of other teams following our failure at Newport.'

Davies criticised his players for believing they merely had to turn up at Rodney Parade to win. There will be no room for such complacency in one of the traditional heavyweight derby matches.

For their part Swansea will be looking to recover from their home defeat by Llanelli in their last league outing, and trying to win at The Gnoll for the first time since October 1981. They will include three of their four players due for Welsh duty against England next weekend. The odd man out is Richard Webster, who is rested. That means there will be a family duel at scrum-half between Robert Jones and his younger brother, Rhodri, who has established himself as Neath's first choice scrum-half, forcing the former international, Chris Bridges, to move to Pontypool.

Bridges, meanwhile, will find himself embroiled in another great derby when resurgent Newport travel to Pontypool Park. While Bridges will be getting involved for the first time, the new Welsh hooker, Nigel Meek, will be missing as he preserves his strength for his international debut.

The new Welsh front row, Ricky Evans, will also be rested as third-placed Llanelli attempt to maintain their pursuit of the title against Aberavon.

Cardiff, who travel to South Wales Police, may be two points clear at the top following their 6-3 victory at Pontypridd on Tuesday, but they cannot afford to slip up or Neath may well slip in.

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