Pro14: Welsh regions enjoy rare Christmas Day off

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales
Ospreys and Scarlets do battle in the Pro14
Scarlets claimed a hard-fought Pro14 win over Ospreys at Parc y Scarlets in September

Sport is as entrenched a Christmas tradition as excessive eating or bickering over board games, but there will be a rarity for Wales' rugby players this year - having Boxing Day off.

This is usually the date when the four Welsh regions face each other or, at the very least, train in preparation for a match the next day.

But this season Pro14 organisers have decided against a Boxing Day fixture, keeping the festive matches to the weekends of 22 December and 29 December.

The hope is that a less congested calendar will protect the players physically and, having trained on Christmas Day in previous campaigns, they are not complaining.

"That extra day to get away from rugby can freshen you up," says Scarlets captain Ken Owens.

"Rugby purists enjoy their Boxing Day rugby and supporters get down here and, as players, we always enjoy that.

"The league have taken the viewpoint that three matches in 10 days is probably unsustainable on the body, so player welfare has come into it. The players have asked for that and the league have delivered."

Scarlets visit Ospreys on Saturday before hosting Cardiff Blues seven days later, while the Blues are at home to Dragons on Friday and then on Sunday, 30 December Dragons entertain Ospreys.

So, with Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, the big question is: can the players let their hair down?

Well, to some extent.

"We are talking nutrition because it is important," says Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac.

"It doesn't sound a lot but a few celebratory drinks and a few extra desserts and it does make a difference.

Wales rugby international Jake Ball shows Sport Wales the considerable amount of food he has to eat to maintain his weight.

"Huw Davies, head of our strength and conditioning department, is on to that. The boys have got a lot of recommended meals and when to have them.

"Sleep's important. They sound like small things but you get it all right, your preparation goes a long way to a good performance."

Is a traditional Christmas dinner permissible? Turkey is quite a lean and healthy meat, isn't it?

"It's the trifle and pavlova and stuff like that you've got to watch," Pivac says with a grin.

Ospreys 'can eat what they want'

One player who may be relieved to have left the Scarlets, then, is Wales centre Scott Williams, who crossed the Loughor Bridge to join arch rivals Ospreys at the start of this season.

Before the two sides meet at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, it seems the hosts are a little more relaxed about the players' festive eating habits.

"This is the first time really I can enjoy Christmas because normally we play on Boxing Day," Williams tells BBC Sport Wales.

"We can eat a full plate of dinner and that's what I'm looking forward to."

It seems Williams will have his coaches' blessing to do so as well.

"As long as they play well, they can eat what they want in my opinion," says Ospreys backs coach Matt Sherratt.

Word travels fast. While Williams was moving to the Ospreys, his Wales team-mate Dan Biggar was on his way out to join Northampton.

After a decade at the Liberty Stadium, Biggar feels he may have left at just the wrong time: "The first year I leave the Ospreys and there's no game on Boxing Day!

"We [Northampton] have got Christmas Eve afternoon, Christmas Day and Boxing Day off. It's nice to go home and spend some time with the family.

"I may even tune into Ospreys and Scarlets on Saturday to see how that goes. It'll be the first time in 10 years that I haven't played in that fixture."

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