Pro12 Welsh derbies: When the festive niceties cease

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Guinness Pro12: Wales' festive derbies
Game one: Cardiff Blues v Newport Gwent Dragons Date: Monday, 26 December Venue: Cardiff Arms Park Kick-off: 14:05 GMT Coverage: Live on BBC Two Wales BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live scores
Game two: Ospreys v Scarlets Date: Tuesday, 27 December Venue: Liberty Stadium, Swansea Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live scores
Game three: Scarlets v Cardiff Blues Date: Sunday, 1 January Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live scores
Game four: Dragons v Ospreys Date: Sunday, 1 January Venue: Rodney Parade, Newport Kick-off: 17:05 GMT Coverage: Live on BBC Two Wales BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live scores

It's that time of year again. Those who have had their fill of seasonal goodwill can head to a rugby match and revel in the end of pleasantries as Welsh rugby's leading teams set about each other with unremitting zeal.

The "ooohs and aaahs" may sound to some like a night at the pantomime.

But there will be no point shouting "he's behind you" to any ball-carrier. He knows what he is facing.

The bragging rights on offer to all involved as Cardiff Blues host Newport Gwent Dragons on Boxing Day and Scarlets travel to Ospreys a day later will bring cheer to many and fear to as many.

That, perhaps, is part of the main attraction of Welsh rugby's festive Pro12 derbies.

But for the teams - and particularly the hosts - winning or losing can be softened by the knowledge packed stands and terraces will make the tills ring along with the hope the bars run a little dry.

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What's on the line for the teams?

The opening festive derbies mark the half-way stage of the championship race.

On Boxing Day, the east Wales rivalry gives Blues, in seventh, the chance to increase the eight-point lead they have over ninth-placed Dragons in the table.

A win for the hosts would give them six in 11 starts while Dragons are seeking only a fourth win as they again trail the rest of the competition's Welsh teams.

Dragons also hope to end an 11-match losing streak against Welsh regions.

If the quest to be among the top-four play-off contenders remains the target for Blues and Dragons, their west Wales rivals are seeking to stay there.

Ospreys lie third, four points above Scarlets - Welsh rugby's top team in 2015-16 - as 2017 approaches.

The hosts will be hoping to underline their historic superiority from Scarlets with a record of 17 wins, eight defeats and a draw against their local rivals.

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Relive the best of the action from the Welsh derbies last season.

What's at stake for players

Wales' performances under coach Rob Howley have led to much debate, leaving some established stars uncertain of their places as they look ahead to the 2017 Six Nations.

Standing out for the right reasons in the torrid ferocity of mid-winter Welsh derbies is a sure-fire way to gain increased or renewed attention from selectors.

In-form Ospreys open-side Justin Tipuric has Wales captain Sam Warburton in his sights.

And with veteran Wales prop Gethin Jenkins set to miss most of the Six Nations, would be long-term successors Rob Evans (Scarlets) and Nicky Smith (Ospreys) will seek an edge.

The fly-half debate will continue to centre on Ospreys' Dan Biggar and Sam Davies.

Ospreys' teenage wing Keelan Giles may also face the sort of hot-house test that will determine whether or not he is yet deemed ready for a Wales cap.

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Pro12 rugby derbies make for the perfect Christmas

Can fans boost feel-good factor?

Scarlets beat Toulon last weekend in the European Champions Cup and Ospreys twice hammered Grenoble in Europe's second-tier competition in recent weeks.

That has led to hopes of a feel good factor that will attract increased crowds to Pro12 games beyond the traditional boost at this time of year.

In 2012 Ospreys v Scarlets attracted a record attendance at a Welsh domestic game of 15,732.

Ospreys are confident of comfortably surpassing that mark this year.

Ospreys managing director Andrew Millward said: "To see such a big crowd confirmed with a week still to go gives everybody a huge boost and is a clear indication of the interest there is out there for regional rugby."

If the derbies provide the drama, entertainment and talking points to savour, fans can look out for more on New Year's Day when Dragons host Ospreys and Scarlets welcome Blues.

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