Pontypool RFC head into their WRU National Cup quarter-final encounter with Merthyr RFC tomorrow, cast in the unfamiliar role of the underdog. The club has ruled the roost in the National Championship since the start of the 2016-2017 season, winning 37 of their 38 league games to date.
Due to the three-year ring-fencing of the Principality Premiership, Pooler has had to bide its time outside of the top division. With the club so dominant in the Championship, the domestic cup competition has taken on added significance, with it representing the only chance Leighton Jones' team have of testing themselves against the best club sides in Wales.
Last season saw the club defeat Llanelli RFC and Cardiff RFC in the competition, before succumbing to fellow Gwent side, Cross Keys RFC, in the quarter-finals - in a run that captured the imaginations of the Pooler Army.
This season has been no different, with the club defeating fellow Championship side, Tata Steel RFC, 55-14 in the first round before downing Premiership outfit, Carmarthen Quins RFC, 23-8 - in the second round to set up a last-eight encounter with reigning Premiership champions, Merthyr RFC.
The starting scrum-half in both games was Martin Luckwell. The energetic nine, who joined from Swansea RFC last summer, has been in fine form in the cup this season and will want to carry that into tomorrow’s encounter at The Wern Sports Park, as he prepares to face another of his former sides.
From the point of view of the neutral, tomorrow’s encounter will be seen as a game that Merthyr will fancy themselves to win. Dale McIntosh's side top the Premiership and cantered into the last-eight of the cup, but Luckwell believes all the pre-match predictions could play into their hands.
"We'll go about our business as usual," said Luckwell. "We know we'll be massive underdogs going into the game, but I think we can use that to our advantage. There's no pressure on us and we can go out and do what we do best and hopefully cause Merthyr a few problems."
Pontypool RFC’s management has shown their appreciation for the Pooler Army by providing several complimentary shuttle buses to The Wern Sports Park and with over 200 supporters taking advantage of the offer, one starts to get an idea of what the competition means to the club and its fans.
"We're lucky to have them behind us week in, week out." said Luckwell. "The cup adds a bit of spice and gets a few more people on board, which is great.
“It's massive going into the game on Saturday knowing that we have such a big following behind us."
Merthyr RFC v Pontypool RFC takes place tomorrow, with kick-off scheduled for 19:15 at The Wern Sports Park.