Cardiff welcome Ulster to the Arms Park on Saturday looking to put an end to a little winless streak that has seen us fall to Treviso and Leinster in games that we really should have won. Those losses have really seen us lose ground on teams above us in the league, and effectively ended hopes of a top six finish, barring a quite incredible unbeaten run to the end of the season. If it’s going to happen it’ll have to start against the Ulstermen.
Cardiff 13-14 Leinster: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/cardiff-13-14-leinster/
We don’t have the greatest of records against the Northern Irish province, with only 10 wins and 15 losses, most recently a loss in Ireland at the start of the season where we went down 24-17. Josh Turnbull and Aled Summerhill were sin binned that day, with Summerhill subsequently banned for three weeks. However, there is a slight trend that hopefully will work in our favour. We have manged to beat Ulster at home every other year for the past eight years, and the good news is we lost in 2015, so I would say a win is almost certain!
In all seriousness though, if we play like we have in the last two weeks then we have very little hope, as our attacking has been well below par and Ulster’s defence is the second best in the league. I’ve written about the need to trust ourselves and play some actual rugby, and on our plastic pitch in calm looking weather conditions we must at least try to do this. I can bear it if we go down at least trying to play rugby, it’s just so frustrating when we lose winnable games by not even attempting to get the ball wide and score tries.
How Not To Score Tries: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/how-not-to-score-tries/
The Ulstermen’s defence has seen them rise to 4th in the Pro12 table, and a good distance clear of Glasgow in 5th. They did suffer disappointment in Europe as they weren’t successful in being one of the best runners-up from their Champions Cup group, but bounced back well with three straight wins over Glasgow, Newport and Treviso. That was stopped last week in a cracking game at Ravenhill with Llanelli just winning 20-21, although Ulster do tend to struggle without their Irish internationals.
For the visit of Cardiff they will welcome back a certain Nick Williams, the big number 8 moving to the Arms Park in the summer of course, so it will be good to watch him go up against Manoa Vosawai. They also have the returning Irish contingent of Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy in the backs, meaning the defence will have to be on top form.
We welcome back some internationals of our own though, as Josh Turnbull and the clearly unfit Tom James both start, while Kristian Dacey is rather oddly selected on the bench with Matthew Rees starting. The main news from the team is Tomos Williams and Bradley Thyer both making their first Pro12 starts, as Danny Wilson continues his faith in youth. Williams thoroughly deserves his chance after a number of impressive performances in recent weeks, while Thyer will be the one to watch the closest, especially at scrum time.
Elsewhere Aled Summerhill replaces the injured Cory Allen at outside centre in a very attacking and positive move, while Rhys Patchell returns to 10 with Dan Fish back in at full-back. On the bench, Lewis Jones is involved with the first team squad for the first time since October with Tavis Knoyle presumably injured, joined by Jarrod Evans and Garyn Smith as the replacement backs.
Cardiff team vs Ulster: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Aled Summerhill, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Tom James, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Brad Thyer, 2 Matthew Rees, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 James Down, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 8 Manoa Vosawai
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Taufa’ao Filise, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Garyn Smith
An exciting attacking line-up that really needs to take the game to Ulster early on. The front row, particularly Thyer and Ma’afu, have a point to prove about fronting up physically, while Ellis Jenkins will need to continue his impressive form at the breakdown. Summerhill at outside centre will be interesting to see and I hope that his natural ability to run will rub off on his fellow backs and we’ll be able to break through the Ulster defence. Let’s get a win that we as fans certainly deserve! Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff record v Ulster: W 10 L 15
Cardiff form: WWLWWLWWLL
Ulster form: WWLWLWWWWL
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (9)
Ulster top try scorer: Craig Gilroy (7)
Cardiff top points scorer: Rhys Patchell (183)
Ulster top points scorer: Paddy Jackson (110)
John Lacey (IRFU) – God help us all.