WRU Cup: Grand Slam winners Mark Jones and Ceri Sweeney ready for big day

By Aled WilliamsBBC Wales Sport
Ceri Sweeney and Mark Jones
Ceri Sweeney and Mark Jones were both Grand Slam winners with Wales
WRU National Cup Final: Pontypridd v RGC 1404
Date: Sunday, 16 April Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Kick-off: 17:35 BST

Mark Jones and Ceri Sweeney have played for club and country at the home of Welsh rugby on numerous occasions.

Sunday's WRU National Cup final at the Principality Stadium will be no less of an occasion for the two former Wales internationals, who will be on opposite coaching teams when RGC 1404 face Pontypridd.

Ex-Wales, Scarlets and Llanelli wing Jones is head coach of north Wales side RGC 1404 while Sweeney is part of Pontypridd's coaching team.

Ponty are regulars at the stadium - having played in every final from 2011 to 2015 - winning three of them. RGC 1404 are playing in their first national final.

"It's a brilliant day out playing at the national stadium in front of your own supporters on that pitch," said Jones, who scored 13 tries in 47 appearances for Wales.

"That's a pretty big thing and I was fortunate to be part of that. I was conscious that I wanted our players to be able to try and experience that."

Sweeney is now 37 but continues to play for his hometown club, although will nor feature in Cardiff this weekend.

He will be part of a coaching set-up which includes former Sardis Road team-mates Gareth Wyatt and Robert Sidoli.

Ceri Sweeney takes on Cross Keys' Phil Williams
Ceri Sweeney in action for Pontypridd in their semi-final win over Cross Keys

The fly-half scored 22 points as Pontypridd withstood a spirited Cross Keys comeback in the semi-final to secure their place at the Principality Stadium.

"It's great to go back there," Sweeney told BBC Wales Sport.

"You see how excited the younger boys are about going. It may be the only opportunity they'll get to play in our national stadium.

"That's the bit I'll enjoy about it - seeing how excited people are about going and the great day out it will be for both teams."

Why is Sweeney still playing?

After a professional career which saw stints with Celtic Warriors, Newport Gwent Dragons, Cardiff Blues and Exeter Chiefs. Sweeney returned to Sardis Road in 2015.

"I'd come to the end of my professional career and with a business going as well it was a nice transition for me," Sweeney added.

"I was still fit and Gareth [Wyatt] phoned me and said 'do you want to come back and help out for a bit?'

"I'm a bit more relaxed because it's not my first line of work and it's nice to go back and enjoy rugby."

Welsh Cup: A proper final means playing Ponty, says RGC's Mark Jones

Sweeney was 22 when Pontypridd beat Llanelli 20-17 to win the Principality Cup in 2002.

"It seems such a long time ago but I still have great memories of that time," Sweeney said.

"There was a good group of young boys coming through at Pontypridd at the time and it was a good group of boys who grew up together."

'Won more than I lost'

Jones was in that Llanelli team that lost to Pontypridd in 2002.

But he was on the winning side in two other finals the first of which he was a replacement in the 22-12 win over Swansea.

"Thankfully we won more than we lost but I certainly remember that loss against Pontypridd," Jones recalls.

"I know full well what it's like to lose to Ponty in a final."

Jones was on the winning side 12 months later, scoring two tries in a 32-9 win over Newport in the last-ever final before the introduction of regional rugby in Wales.

"It was a pretty special trophy," 2008 Grand Slam winner Jones said.

Mark Jones (centre) with Llanelli team-mates Garan Evans and Salesi Finau
Mark Jones (centre) with Llanelli team-mates Garan Evans and Salesi Finau after their 2003 Cup win.

"We came out pretty handsome winners. It was a memorable day for myself but more importantly for the team."

Familiar foes

Jones and Sweeney were Wales team-mates but their association goes back further, playing age grade rugby together.

"His knees are obviously in better condition than mine," Jones laughs.

"Ceri's had a tremendous career as a player and you can see his imprint on Pontypridd.

"I just hope he's not as instrumental in this game as he was in the last cup win at the stadium when we were both playing."

Sweeney acknowledges the work Jones has done at Colwyn Bay-based RGC since his appointment in August 2016 ahead of their debut season in the Welsh Premiership.

"He's gone into coaching and seems to be doing really well with RGC. He's got a good group of boys there and they seem to be playing for that shirt, which is really important.

RGC players celebrate their semi-final win over Merthyr
RGC players celebrate their dramatic 24-20 win over Merthyr in the semi-final

"They're a really dangerous side. I watched their semi-final and they didn't give up.

"They seem to be building their own culture there and they've got a very good environment by the look of it."

'Good place to be'

Sweeney, a member of Wales' Grand Slam winning squad of 2005, says he will continue to play for Pontypridd "as long as they need me."

"I think I'm going to have another year next year - they've asked me to stay on," he said.

"I'll probably try not to play as much but try and push these boys through a bit more."

While Sweeney is undertaking coaching duties at Pontypridd, it's a path Jones took after he was forced to retire through injury in 2010.

He spent five years as Scarlets attack and skills coach and was head coach at Rotherham as well as interim attack coach for Wales during 2013.

"My coaching career has been something I've been privileged to be part of," Jones said.

"I've been able to come up to north Wales now and share in the success that we're achieving here together."

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