TOMORROW’S British and Irish Cup fixture between Newport and Cross Keys at Rodney Parade is an unpredictable encounter.

On the surface it will be a clash between two sides that are already out of the competition because Newcastle are romping to Pool Four top spot.

The squads will be tinkered with and niggles will be protected.

One would imagine it is a Gwent derby that will lack the spice of the Premiership fixture that takes place on the same ground on the last weekend of March.

But you wouldn’t bank on that – the prospect of the two familiar foes going through the motions is unlikely even when more important challenges lie ahead.

“It’s a funny one,” admitted Newport head coach Sven Cronk. “There is technically nothing on the game but you still have to address the players in the same way.

“There is a balance to be found between trying to get a derby victory against rivals and looking ahead to games that might be considered more important.

“It is still a useful game for us coaches and we will be looking for progress from last weekend’s game against Llandovery (a 18-18 draw).

“We want to see an improvement in both our attacking and defensive patterns which let us down for a variety of reasons.

“Keys are a good side that are going well, so it will be a really good test for us and it will be up to us to get our game going. We fell apart against them in the second half at Pandy Park last month (losing in the Premiership 29-9 after trailing 7-6 at the break) and I want to see a response to that.”

Key will be adopting a similar approach with a raft of their mainstays putting their feet up.

Head coach Greg Woods believes the tinkering could lead to an open encounter with players desperate to impress.

“There is a lot at stake for some of our boys,” he said. “There are contracts to play for and places in future matchday squads.

“This is the biggest game of the season for some of them and they will be champing at the bit.

“Perhaps the tournament structure needs to be looked at and it should go back to two teams qualifying, but we are still grateful for the opportunity to give some youngsters a go in a proper game.

“It may be a dead rubber but it’s still a derby match and we are putting a side out that we know is capable of winning the game. They know that there is still the expectation on them to perform.”

Newport will be without lock Adam Frampton and flanker Craig Attwell who have been carrying bumps for a number of weeks and will be rested.

Cross Keys will be led by hooker Garry Horrigan and an interesting sub-plot will be the duel between two teenage opensides.

Newport’s Ollie Griffiths, 17, will be locking horns with Keys’ Scott Matthews, 18, at the breakdown.

The Black and Ambers won 24-20 when the teams met at Pandy Park earlier in the tournament.