THREE of Gwent’s Principality Premiership contingent face extremely tricky ties when the WRU National Cup gets under way this afternoon, writes Chris Kirwan.

Ebbw Vale and Cross Keys are underdogs when they entertain holders RGC 1404 and runners-up Pontypridd respectively while the clash between Newport and Swansea at St Helen’s is a tough one call.

The Steelmen enjoyed a pair of fine wins against Bedwas and Llanelli to end 2017 but need to produce their best performance of the season against the north Walians, who topped the west conference and doubled Ebbw last season with both games in Colwyn Bay.

Keys also need to hit top form if they are to upset Ponty, who are starting to hit their straps after a challenging (by their standards) start to the campaign.

The pair have frequently locked horns in the cup in recent times with a Keys comeback falling agonisingly short in the semi-finals last season. The Gwent side famously beat Ponty to lift the trophy at Principality Stadium six years ago with the Sardis Road men getting revenge in the capital two years later.

Newport have won their last three meetings with Swansea but last year’s meeting in the cup means they know they face a tough test out west.

It took a second-half comeback for the Black and Ambers to edge to a 21-18 success at Rodney Parade.

Max George, son of Newport hall of famer Glenn, makes his debut in the back row.

Pontypool will be quietly confident of making it through to have another crack at Premiership teams after knocking out Llanelli and Cardiff last year.

Pooler host Championship rivals Tata Steel, who they edged out 20-18 in testing conditions in October, with the aim of making it 14 wins from 14 games this season.

Newbridge also face familiar foes when they head to Rhydyfelin, who are one from bottom of the league but won 17-0 when the teams met last autumn.

Narberth are runaway leaders Pooler’s nearest rivals in the Championship and they could be a stern test for Bedwas.

Bargoed, fresh from a fine 40-17 win at Neath, will also be wary of a banana skin when they entertain Trebanos, fourth in the second tier.

Ebbw Vale (v RGC): D Haymond, S Thomas, D Franchi, D Langdon, T Fricker, Dorian Jones, Dai Jones, R Jones, R Francis, J James, K Parker, R Clarke, C Regan, R Kynes (captain), L Young. Replacements: M Williams, I George, R Sevenoaks, B Papp, J Franchi, L Dennett, S Majkic, E Bevan.

Cross Keys (v Pontypridd): L Andrews, M Powell, L Barnett, P Williams, B Nighingale, J Prosser, J Leadbeater, G Carpenter, D Hughes, R Cornock, T Lampard, D Mock, J Skinner, S Matthews (captain), A Powell. Replacements: R Jones, L Smout, C Hewlett, L Davies, L Dyckhoff, C Shephard, O Leonard, N Trowbridge.

Pontypool (v Tata Steel): T Hancock, J Thomas, C Gullis, K Meek, R Usher, M Jones, M Luckwell, A Coundley, J Jeune, R Harford, B Egan, R East, J Williams, R Nash, M Herbert. Replacements: TBA

Bedwas (at Narberth): A Bramwell, L Evans, M Callow, C Edwards, A Williams, S Jones, L Crane, D Preece, A Rees, J Williams, C Hudd, G Edmunds, G Lee (captain), N Hudd, A Waite. Replacements: B Toms, M Dacey, R Hutcherson, B Thompson, G Allen, J Richards, M Hathaway, T Rowlands.

Newport (at Swansea): G O’Driscoll, J Morris, C Smith, T Pascoe, E Frewen, M O’Brien, R James, N Boyce, W Evans, T Piper, R Cresswell, J Bartlett, M George, K Tayler, A Everett. Replacements: M Prosser, E Whitson, G Harris, A Brown, A Mann, R Bates, H Simons, A Sabri.

Newbridge (at Rhydyfelin): L Hudd, T James, P King, S Williams, R Evans, S Veall, T Bainton, M Kavanagh, A Isgrove, S Norton-Hoskins, A Symons, J Duffy, C Francis, L Morgan, A Hughes. Replacements: C Hicks, G Young, G Price, C Jones, W Cunliffe, J Edwards, J Kedward, G Lucas

Fixtures: Aberavon v Skewen, Bargoed v Trebanos, Keys v Pontypridd, Ebbw v RGC, Glynneath v Bridgend, Narberth v Bedwas, Neath v Cardiff, Newcastle Emlyn v Merthyr, Pontypool v Tata Steel, Rhydyfelin v Newbridge, Swansea v Newport, Cardiff Met v Llanelli.