Let’s be fair, this season has been a debacle, apart from an 80 minute period at the start of September against an under-strength Zebre. But good news! The league is taking an hiatus for a few weeks, and what time like a European campaign to really kickstart a season? Especially when it comes up against Italian part-timers Calvisano, no disrespect intended.
To be fair we can’t even afford to be disrespectful seeing as the team played like Welsh amateurs the last time when they were in Italy (https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/zebre-26-15-cardiff/). That was in our other life as league losers though, now we’re European hopefuls and we are on a decent run against the Italian league sides after beating Rovigo home and away last year, including a record 104-12 win.
Calvisano themselves have been far from league losers recently, unlike us, as they won the National Championship of Excellence, which I will call the Italian Super 10, last season, and are currently only second on points difference to our old friends, Rovigo. They’ve only lost one of their five games so far, and come into this weekend’s match on the back of a tight away win at Lazio. In terms of their previous European participation, Calvisano have played in the Heineken Cup seven times between 2001/02 and 2008/09, and four times in the Challenge Cup, most recently in 2013/14, but have never progressed past the pool stages in either competition. They have just five wins and a draw to their names in 66 matches.
Cardiff have been drawn in their group on two of the occasions they entered the Heineken Cup, firstly 10 years ago when we did the double over them in December 2005, before 20-56 and 62-20 wins in the 2008/09 competition. Gethin Jenkins will be one man used to winning against the Italians, having featured in all four previous encounters, while Tau Filise joins him as being the only surviving squad members from the 2008/09 meetings.
With the poor run in mind, Danny Wilson has taken a very strong side out to Italy in search of an elusive win. Just the two changes from the team that ran Glasgow close last week, as Jarrad Hoeata properly returns from injury in place of Lou Reed, and Dillon Lewis makes his full debut at prop, replacing the injured Sam Hobbs. Cory Allen and Gareth Anscombe are still on the long term injury list, while Hobbs joins Josh Navidi and Cam Dolan in the treatment room. Dolan’s international team-mate Blaine Scully returns to a bench that also includes Jarrod Eans with the senior team, rather than the A side. Finally, congratulations to Lloyd Williams bringing up 100 Cardiff appearances.
Cardiff team v Calvisano: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams; 1 Gethin Jenkins (c), 2 Kristian Dacey, 3 Dillon Lewis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 James Down, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 7 Sam Warburton, 8 Josh Turnbull
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Blaine Scully
So a strong team and opposition we really should be beating. It’s a big day for Danny a Wilson and his staff, but if a few tweaks are made from the Glasgow loss last week, then a commanding performance awaits. Safe trip to any fans travelling, come on Cardiff!
Cardiff record v Calvisano: Won 4 Lost 0
Cardiff league form: WLLLLLL Calvisano league form: WWLWW
Cardiff top league points scorer: Rhys Patchell (88)
Cardiff top league try scorer: Josh Turnbull (4)
Calvisano player stats unknown
Craig Maxwell-Keys (RFU) – I can’t find much in relation to Mr. Maxwell-Keys, even the Aviva Premiership website doesn’t acknowledge his existence! What I do know is that he’s young, English and Ian McGeechan isn’t his biggest fan: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/club/11501752/Craig-Maxwell-Keys-shouldnt-have-refereed-Northampton-vs-Wasps.html