The Pro12 returns after two weeks off as the Six Nations come to a close and the eyes of the club rugby World turn towards the rest of the season. After a disappointing loss last time out in Glasgow, it’s a return to the Arms Park for Cardiff on Friday night as we welcome play-off chasing Munster, looking to close the gap on the Ospreys above us.
A win is really required to keep the pressure on our West Wales neighbours but it won’t be easy as we haven’t beaten Munster at all since a 6-17 win in Ireland back in January 2013, when Owen Williams and Robin Copeland, now in the red of the Cork side, scored tries alongside Rhys Patchell’s boot. You have to go even further to find a last win over Munster on Welsh soil, as a Tom James try helped us to a 20-12 victory. Not the best of recent records to say the least.
Munster come into this game on a little run of form, having beaten Treviso away and Newport at home in the last two games. A convincing over the Dragons to say the least, 5-26 means they should have a little confidence, despite a somehwta frustrating season as the balance in Irish rugby shifts further to the North of the Emerald Isle. After exiting the Champions Cup at the pool stages, success in the Pro12 is the Munstermen’s sole priority.
Obviously we’re only ever focusing on the Pro12 realistically these days, and failing quite miserably. That loss to Glasgow the weeekend before last ended hopes of a top six finish, except a miracle occurs, and leaves us floundering in the bottom half of the league yet again. It also added to a worrying trend of only playing rugby in the last 10/15 minutes of the game, much like Team Wales v England. After the worst 40 minutes of the season in the first half at Scotstoun, things picked up for a mediocre 25 minutes and then a brilliant finish, but it was too little, too late.
In terms of team selection Danny Wilson may be conceding that the season is basically over for us and trying out a few experiments, judging by Friday’s starting XV. Jarrad Hoeata, who only this week told us how ‘fired up’ he is for a big home double, and James Down (concussion) both miss out, with Cam Dolan and Josh Turnbull named at second row. Macauley Cook comes in at flanker, while Josh Navidi replaces Manoa Vosawai at number eight. In the backs, Lloyd Williams returns from Six Nations duty at scrum-half, while Jarrod Evans drops to the bench with Rhys Patchell moving to fly-half and Dan Fish returning to full-back. Garyn Smith starts at outside centre so Aled Summerhill is on the wing.
There’s no sign of Tom James or Ethan Lewis, while Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Anscombe, Dillon Lewis, Corey Domachowski and Harri Millard are with their Wales teams. Alex Cuthbert, Sam Warburton and Cory Allen miss out through injury. There are some interesting team selections, mainly Matthew Rees being selected again ahead of Kristian Dacey and Lewis Jones on the bench rather than Tavis Knoyle or Tomos Williams. Whether Danny Wilson has made his mind up already over who’s staying and going at the end of the season, or if he’s just giving everyone a chance remains to be seen.
Cardiff team v Munster: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams; 1 Brad Thyer, 2 Matthew Rees (c), 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Cam Dolan, 5 Josh Turnbull, 6 Macauley Cook, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 8 Josh Navidi
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Taufa’ao Filise, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Gavin Evans
So the most important aspect of this game from a Cardiff point of view is playing for the full 80 minutes. We can’t afford to start as slowly as we have in recent weeks otherwise we will be put away by Munster. Accuracy and speed for the majority of the game is a must if we are going to start seriously challenging again in the Pro12. The skill level will improve over time with better coaching and better players, but the basic principle of how we want to play rugby must start to be implemented now.
Cardiff record v Munster: W 9 L 16
Cardiff form: LWWLWWLLWL
Munster form: LWLWWWLLWW
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (9)
Munster top try scorers: Dave Kilcoyne, CJ Stander, Mike Sherry (5)
Cardiff top points scorer: Rhys Patchell (206)
Munster top points scorer: Ian Keatley (157)
David Wilkinson (IRFU) – The Irish Rugby Union employee will take charge of Friday’s game as we return to non-neutral referees. He did referee our 10-3 win in that dreadful game against Edinburgh a few weeks ago, but also the loss to Zebre in Italy. Ten yellow cards in as many games suggests the sin bin may need to be kept warm.