European nights are back with a bang at the Arms Park, as we welcome English big-hitters Harelquins to Wales in the second round of Challenge Cup fixtures. After beating Calvisano in Italy on Saturday, the big tests start now if the team harbour any hopes of making it to the knockout rounds, and turning CAP into the fortress that Danny Wilson wants it to be.
Following that 50-9 victory last week, Cardiff are currently top of Pool 3, ahead of the visitors who themselves beat French side Montpellier 41-18 last week. As was pointed out when the group was drawn, it really wouldn’t look out of place in the Champions Cup, and as such, easy games are few and far between. With the greatest of respect to Calvisano, the other sides in the pool have to be aiming for a bonus point against them, but will battle it out between themselves to advance. Cardiff are admittedly the underdogs for this, but two home wins and anything on the road as a bonus is what’s required, and not entirely out of reach.
Calvisano 9-50 Cardiff: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/calvisano-9-50-cardiff/
Harlequins arrive on the back of a successful start to their World Cup delayed season, sitting 3rd in the Aviva Premiership after three wins and a loss in their opening games. Having said that, they haven’t been plain sailing wins, as none of them have been by more than 10 points, and even the loss was only be three, meaning the big win by over Montpellier last week was the first convincing Quins performance this year.
Looking back, Cardiff shouldn’t have anything to worry about if history repeates itself, having lost just one game against Harlequins in six attempts, with four wins on the way. The last game and the game before that, which was the Quins win, were played in the Anglo-Welsh Cup which doesn’t really count, but the four before that were in the Heineken Cup between 2007 and 2010. In the last of those, Cardiff won 45-20, with tries from Ben Blair, Gareth Thomas, Ceri Sweeney, Ian Rush and a Jamie Roberts brace.
Only Gethin Jenkins, Tau Filise, Sam Hobbs and Tom James survive from the Cardiff squad that day, and all four will be in exactly the same positions on Thursday night as they look for a repeat of that day. Gethin and TJ retain their places from the Calvisano games, while Hobbs returns to the bench after injury and Filise replaces Dillon Lewis for the more experienced look at tighthead. The only other change in the starting XV comes in the shape of Blaine Scully, after a try scoring European bow on Saturday, making his home debut at full-back. Dan Fish might, quite rightly be a bit miffed at being relegated to the bench, but Scully is a worthy replacement, and realisitically offers more in the defensive department that might be so crucial to us. The bench remains pretty much as you were, with Jarrod Evans retaining his role as replacement fly-half ahead of Gareth Davies.
So, a huge, huge game, the first really big European encounter of Danny Wilson’s reign. It’ll have to be a game where everyone will need to be playing at their best, particularly the forwards to counter Harlequins massive rolling mauls. Our internationals will have to match theirs, and our squad players will have to match that level. I’m not hopeful of a massive crowd on a miserable Thursday night, but those who are there really need to get behind the boys. Come on Cardiff!
Cardiff record v Harlequins: W 4 D 1 L 1
Cardiff form: WLLLLLW
Harlequins form: WWLWW
Cardiff top points scorer: Rhys Patchell (99)
Harlequins top points scorer: Nick Evans (88)
Cardiff top try scorers: Josh Turnbull and Tom James (4)
Harlequins top try scorers: Jack Clifford and Danny Care (2)
Alexandre Ruiz (FFR) – Top 14 referee behind Roman Poite and Jerome Garces in the pecking order, but still only young. Refereed our 24-14 win over London Irish at CAP, assisted by exactly the same touch judges, let’s hope for a similar scoreline.