The festive season may be full of sacrifices for the modern-day player but Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies insists it’s one of the most exciting times of the rugby calendar.
While the rest of us may be tucking into a turkey dinner or enjoying a couple of glasses of mulled wine, the stars of the Magners League are afforded no such luxury.
Instead of gearing up for the traditional holiday season that most of us fans are used to, the players themselves are preparing for one of the busiest periods of the rugby year.
All 12 Magners League sides have two massive matches over the festive period as the race for the Play-Offs really begins to take shape. And to add even more Christmas spice, each of those fixtures comes in the form of a mouthwatering local derby.
“Christmas is always a good time,” said Magners League Ambassador Davies, who is hopeful of returning from an ankle injury in time for the Scarlets’ Boxing Day trip to the Ospreys.
“The front five still have their Christmas dinner but the backs have to lay off it a bit more!
“It’s a great time to play, though. The fixture list is quite hectic but having the Ospreys here on Boxing Day last year was a great atmosphere and hopefully it will be the same up there this year.
“It’s a really busy time but it’s probably the best time of the year.”
The Scarlets are flying high in the Magners League so far this term, currently sitting in second place in the standings after six wins and a draw from their opening 10 games.
It’s a massive improvement on last season’s ninth-place finish but Davies is hoping the Scarlets faithful will witness another major difference during the holiday season.
Painful memories of last year’s Boxing Day defeat to the Ospreys still linger large and Davies is desperate to make amends by giving Scarlets supporters the perfect Christmas gift this time around.
Jonathan Davies' Scarlets tasted defeat on Boxing Day last year
“A West Wales derby is something special. To be involved in the last couple makes you understand all the history and the passion the fans have,” added Davies.
“You hate losing to the Ospreys because of that local rivalry and we haven’t had a victory in the last couple of years. We’ve been close the last couple of times but it’s just about getting over that last hump and getting that victory.
“You always get a big crowd for the derby games. The Ospreys crowd love to get on your back, but the boys love it really.
“I think two years ago when we were up there, 22,000 turned up at the Liberty. To have that again this year would be fantastic. It’s something special as you don’t usually get a taste of that big a crowd unless you play international rugby.
“It’s going to be another challenging fixture then when the Dragons come to us on New Year’s Day. We’ve had couple of good results on their patch in the last couple of years and I’m sure they’ll want to do the same against us.
“A huge emphasis has been put on the Magners League this year. Our league form last year was unacceptable. We want to be much stronger in the league and these next few weeks are going to be crucial as to where we’re going to end up at the end of the year.
“We knew before the season started that if we played well, cut out the mistakes and played to our potential, we could be in the Play-Offs. That’s shown at the start of the year and it’s something we can and need to build on.”
The festive fixtures
Fri Dec 24
Treviso v Aironi Stadio di Monigo 2.30pm
Sun Dec 26
Ospreys v Scarlets Liberty Stadium 4.10pm
Connacht v Munster Sportsground 5pm
Mon Dec 27
Dragons v Blues Rodney Parade 3.20pm
Ulster v Leinster Ravenhill 4pm
Warriors v Edinburgh Firhill Stadium 5.35pm
Fri Dec 31
Blues v Ospreys Cardiff City Stadium 2.05pm
Aironi v Treviso Stadio Zaffanella 2.30pm
Sat Jan 1
Leinster v Connacht Royal Dublin Society 5.30pm
Scarlets v Dragons Parc y Scarlets 6.30pm
Munster v Ulster Thomond Park Stadium 7.30pm
Sun Jan 2
Edinburgh v Warriors Murrayfield 5.35pm