After a two week break due to the Munster Pro12 game being postponed, Cardiff are straight back into European action this weekend with a trip to Harlequins. Following the two Welsh derby wins over Christmas and boosted by the return of Gareth Anscombe and Ellis Jenkins to the squad, Danny Wilson’s men are looking strong ahead of an extremely tough game.
Newport 20-21 Cardiff: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/newport-20-21-cardiff/
Cardiff 29-27 Llanelli: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/cardiff-29-27-llanelli/
Following the 20-32 loss at Cardiff Arms Park, we travel to London in a much better position, playing with confidence and really challenging to qualify for the Challenge Cup knockout stages following two good results against Montpellier in December. That Harlequins side we played last time is a very much B team compared to this weekend’s XV though, only four of which remain from that Thursday night in November. Jamie Roberts faces us from 12, joined by England internationals Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw, Danny Care Marland Yarde and Mike Brown.
Cardiff 20-32 Harlequins: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/cardiff-20-32-harlequins/
Since that last encounter the Quins have only last once, in the very next game when they went down by a point away at Exeter. Batterings of London Irish and Calvisano twice preceded a 39-39 draw at Twickenham against Gloucester, while wins over Saracens and most recently Worcester have come in the New Year. Whatever form we might be in doesn’t quick match that of our opponents, just to outline the enormity of Sunday’s task.
In terms of what we need to qualify, a win is required to keep our fate in our own hands. With Montpellier visiting Calvisano on Saturday in the other pool three game you’d have to imagine the French side will get a bonus-point win to get to 15 points overall. We sit on 11 points currently, with a minimally superior points difference, meaning a loss, even with a bonus point or two, would leave us hoping Harlequins do a job at Montpellier next week and hope we get a bonus-point win over Calvisano. Even if we did manage to finish runner-up after all that, then it’d be a case of finishing one of the best three runners-up, and I’m not even getting into the maths of that!
That last loss to Harlequins was actually the first time they’d beaten us outside of the Anglo-Welsh Cup in five attempts, however when we beat them four times in the Heineken Cup between 2007 and 2010 the teamsheets were somewhat different in terms of strength. Nowadays Harlequins take their place in third of the Aviva Premiership, while we languish in the lower half of the Pro12.
Back in 2007 we’d have been able to field plenty of internationals. It’s not quite the same story now, although we are boosted by one in Gareth Anscombe as he makes his return to the bench following World Cup injury. He is joined by future international Ellis Jenkins as well following the young flanker’s muscle injury in the last Harlequins encounter. To the starting XV and there’s a few interesting selections. Macauley Cook is preferred to Jarrad Hoeata at lock, while the experienced Tau Filise keeps his place at tighthead in front of young Dillon Lewis. In the other change, injury sees Sam Hobbs start at loosehead with Gethin Jenkins suffering neck/shoulder problems, the back line is unchanged from the Llanelli victory on New Year’s Day.
Cardiff team v Harlequins: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Tom James, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams (c); 1 Sam Hobbs, 2 Kristian Dacey, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 4 Macauley Cook, 5 James Down, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Josh Navidi, 8 Manoa Vosawai
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Gavin Evans
No hiding the face that it will be a tough game, probably the toughest of the season. However, as with every week, we can only ask for 100% effort from the team for the full 80 minutes. If we get a cheeky bonus point somehow then great, but I can’t say I’m holding out a massive amount of hope. If the players embrace the underdog tag and play with freedom then anything can happen. Good trip to any fans travelling up and paying the extortionate ticket price, myself and my wallet shall enjoy the game from the sofa. Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff record v Harlequins: W 4 D 1 L 2
Cardiff form: WLLLLLLWLLWWLWW
Harlequins form: LWWWWLWWWDWW
Cardiff top points scorer: Rhys Patchell (163)
Harlequins top points scorer: Nick Evans (132)
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (6)
Harlequins top try scorers: Charlie Walker, Jack Clifford and Tim Visser (6)
Andy Brace (IRFU) – The Canton-born ex-Cardiff employee took charge of our win over Connacht before Christmas that kick started this impressive run. The IRFU Community Rugby Officer has refereed three games in the Challenge Cup this season, handing out six yellow cards, to add to his 10 sin-binnings in seven Pro12 games. So prepare for yellow card confetti!