AFTER pushing the Ironmen all the way at Rodney Parade, Newport aim to become the first side to throw a spanner in the works of Merthyr’s Principality Premiership title defence.

The Black and Ambers ran out of time after a late charge in their 34-30 loss to the champions in November when the league was split into east and west conferences.

That should provide them with belief for today’s tough test at the Wern when one, or maybe both, winning records will fall.

Newport have beaten Cardiff, Ebbw Vale and Llanelli since the Premiership was reunited to sit fourth in the table, while their form has also earned a place in the quarter-finals of the WRU National Cup.

Postponements have disrupted their flow but a training session against Wales Under-20s provided a timely tune-up for Merthyr who, after a sluggish start in the eastern division, are four from four and favourites to defend their title.

Newport intend to go on the run to avoid a dogfight with the hosts’ sizable units with livewire wings Jon Morris and Elliot Frewen hoping to get plenty of opportunities to stretch their legs on the plastic pitch.

The going will understandably be a tad heavier at Pandy Park where Cross Keys face a stern test against a Carmarthen Quins side who are in second place.

The west Walians have won four and drawn one since joining the east, although they have also been the victims of a cup upset at Championship leaders Pontypool.

Keys are two from three in the league and their priority is a cup run with a home quarter-final against Llandovery looming.

The Drovers tie fell victim to the weather last week and Morgan Stoddart makes three changes to his planned XV with wing Barney Nightingale, centre Phil Williams and scrum-half James Leadbeater coming in.

Ebbw Vale’s strong form has been disrupted by poor weather and they will hope that their home game with Neath gets the go-ahead.

The Welsh All Blacks are having a torrid time after propping up the west and then enduring a quartet of defeats in phase two.

The Steelmen will start as strong favourites but head coach Greg Woods, who has been pleased with his side’s progress since moving from Keys, will ensure they don’t underestimate their visitors.

Ebbw won a tight tussle at Bridgend last time out and keep changes to a minimum with fly-half Dai Langdon, loosehead Joel Harries, hooker Rhys Francis and number eight Lewis Young coming in.

Bedwas host Llandovery in the first Saturday afternoon game at Bridge Field since November.

Ian Gardner’s men are on a three-match winning streak but will be tested by their guests, who have only managed to play two games since the league was reunited, winning both.

Dragons tighthead Dan Suter starts for Bedwas with fly-half Steffan Jones captaining the side and calling the shots.

Bargoed travel west aiming to add to Llanelli’s woe.

The Bulls started the 16-team Premiership with a big win at Neath but have since lost away to Swansea and Carmarthen Quins.

They fared better on Gwent soil when notching a 16-14 success against Aberavon at Bargoed Park and will hope to inflict a sixth successive league loss on Llanelli.

Newport (at Merthyr): G O’Driscoll, J Morris, H Palmer, T Pascoe, E Frewen, M O’Brien, O Davies, J Lavender, H Palmer, G Harris, J Bartlett, D Partridge, M Burgess, K Tayler, A Everett. Reps: W Evans, M Prosser, T Piper, A Mann, R Cresswell, R James, H Simons, A Sabri.

Cross Keys (v Carmarthen Quins): J Prosser, M Powell, L Andrews, P Williams, B Nightingale, C Shephard, J Leadbeater, G Carpenter, D Hughes, R Cornock, T Lampard, S Andrews, J Skinner, S Matthews (captain), A Powell. Reps: Z Hewlett, C Hewlett, S Evans, A Gibson, J Thomas, B Snell, R Pritchard, N Trowbridge.

Ebbw Vale (v Neath): D Haymond, T Fricker, J Lewis, D Franchi, S Thomas, D Langdon, D Jones, J Harries, R Francis, R Sevenoaks, K Parker, L Randall, R Clarke, R Kynes (captain), L Young. Reps: J Franchi, J Rogers, J Jacas, J Davies, S Ireland, L Dennett, T Hoppe.

Bedwas (v Llandovery): A Bramwell, P Lewis, M Callow, A Williams, M John, S Jones, T Rowlands, B Toms, A Rees, D Suter, G Allen, G Edmunds, J Richards, D McGuigan, A Waite. Reps: D Preece, M Dacey, R Hutcherson, T Devine, B Thompson, L Evans, L Crane, AN Other.

Bargoed: J Hallett, D Evans, J Howells, L Bowden, D Dyer, I Smerdon, M Bancroft, K Bale, L Meades, A Gardner-Key, M Thomas, J Locke, L Blacker, J Armitage, I Jones. Reps: J Mogg, J Pizey, L Smalley, L Johnson, L Weyman, L Lippiett, K Griffiths, R Morgan.