We’re out of Ireland at last! After four games of Province based punishment we’re back to where the season started, getting ready to take on Zebre. After our 61-13 win at the Arms Park (remember that place?), it’s off to Italy on Saturday to search for those winning ways again.
Despite seeming about two years ago, it was just eight short weeks since we put 11 tries on the Italians to kickstart this campaign. Hat-tricks apiece for Rhys Patchell and Josh Turnbull, matched a pair of braces from Alec Summerhill and Josh Navidi, while Tom James contributed a single score. It could even have been more than 61 points, had it not been for some extremely dodgy conversion kicking, but the win and try bonus point was the target, and they were achieved.
Despite the five points being the aim every time we come up against the Italian whipping boys of the league, it hasn’t always been straight forward for Cardiff since Zebre replaced Aironi in 2012. The Blues have won five of the seven games the teams have played, but the September 2013 loss at home was particularly embarrassing as it was Zebre’s first ever Pro12 win. They then compounded it by winning the return game later in the season, making 2013/14 one to forget for Cardiff fans everywhere.
Since being on the end of that battering at CAP on the first weekend, things haven’t got much better for Zebre. Subsequent losses to Newport, Llanelli and Connacht meant the losing streak was only ended last weekend at home to Edinburgh, their first win coming 19 to 11 points, raising them above fellow countrymen Treviso. Cardiff, meanwhile, as we al, know have had a tough time of it in Ireland as CAP was out of action. We desperately need another comprehensive victory to re-ignite the season and increase positivity in the camp before coming home next week. It’s no lie to say we haven’t been short of effort over on the Emerald Isle, but defensive and disciplinary issues have let us down at different points, alongside an inability to dominate games for 80 minutes.
The good news in the quest to return to winning ways is the increasing availability of our new and returning World Cup stars. Danny Wilson has named Blaine Scully and Lloyd Williams in the squad after training all week. Also providing a boost is the return of Tom James, who hasn’t played since the opening game at home to Zebre thanks to an ankle injury. However, while those World Cup players return, the first back, Cam Dolan, will miss a few weeks after picking up a hamstring injury on his debut at Ulster last week, the American replaced by Ellis Jenkins who recovers from his injury.. Dolan is joined on the sidelines by Sam Warburton, Gethin Jenkins and Alex Cuthbert who all have an extra week off, Rey Lee-Lo misses out due to ‘personal reasons’, while Aled Summerhill has received a three week ban for the tip tackle that saw him sin binned at the end of last week’s game. Still injured are Kristian Dacey, Gavin Evans and Jarrad Hoeata, while Gareth Anscombe and Cory Allen are on the long term absentee list. The other change comes in the shape of Tau Filise starting in place of Craig Mitchell, who drops to the bench. Finally, a massive congratulations to tomorrow’s captain Josh Navidi who racks up his 100th appearance.
Team vs Zebre: Backs: Dan Fish, Blaine Scully, Tommy Isaacs, Adam Thomas, Tom James, Rhys Patchell, Tavis Knoyle.
Forwards: Josh Navidi (c), Ellis Jenkins, Josh Turnbull, James Down, Lou Reed, Tau Filise, Matthew Rees, Sam Hobbs.
Subs: Garyn Smith, Gareth Davies, Lloyd Williams, Manoa Vosawai, Macauley Cook, Craig Mitchell, Thomas Davies, Ethan Lewis
Cardiff record vs Zebre: Won 5 Lost 2
Cardiff Form: WLLLL Zebre Form: LLLLW
Cardiff top points scorer: Rhys Patchell (65)
Zebre top points scorer: Carlos Canna (14)
Cardiff top try scorer: Josh Turnbull (4)
Zebre top try scorer: Dion Berryman (2)
David Wilkinson (IRFU) – Can’t say I’ve ever heard of him but it’s his 33rd competition game so a little bit of experience. Just nice to have an actual neutral referee for once and to avoid Ben Whitehouse.