We welcome the Newport Gwent Dragons to the Arms Park on Sunday as the first of three crucial end of season games begin for the Cardiff Blues. Wins in all three, alongside a result or two going in our favour elsewhere, mean we will finish the season in sixth place and qualify for the big time of the Champions Cup next season. It all starts with the East Wales derby, and a high in confidence Newport.
That confidence comes entirely from a terrific win over Gloucester in the Challenge Cup at Kingsholm last week. Dorian Jones’ boot and scrum-half Charlie Davies’ late try lead to a 21-23 win and a trip to Montpellier in the semi-finals. Despite that on-field success it has been a slightly turbulent week in the world of rugby politics for Newport as they’ve announced the club is officially up for sale and there are some serious questions and rumours surrounding the future of Director of Rugby, Lyn Jones. His assistant Kingsley Jones will again take charge on Sunday.
You may have thought that with such an important game in Europe being played just six days aftert Sunday’s match that Newport would choose to rest a few players, but remarkably it’s an unchanged side that will visit CAP this Sunday. Whether that’s due to trying to maintain consistency, or just wanting to avoid losing pride in a local derby, it’s a brave move, especially with any hopes of a half decent Pro12 season long gone.
While those league hopes are dead for Newport though, for Cardiff they are very much still alive with plenty to play for before the end of the season. Currently we are 8th, with Edinburgh four points ahead of us and Munster a further point again. However, they have really tough fixtures with the Scots heading to Leinster and the Munstermen visiting high flying Connacht. If neither were to win and Munster lost without bonus points, alongside a Cardiff try bonus point win, then we’d be sixth on points difference and in the driving seat all of a sudden.
While we cannot control what goes on elsewhere we must keep our end of the bargain up and beat Newport convincingly. If the form of recent weeks is anything to go by then I don’t think there should be any problems! An excellent bonus point win over Munster was followed up with a convincing walk over of Treviso, leading up to a quite frankly superb win away at Llanelli the week before last. The running rugby and strong forward play on show has been a joy to watch, and the fact I’m running out of superlatives underlines just how far we are from those early season losses in Ireland where I couldn’t think of enough abusive adjectives.
Llanelli 22-28 Cardiff: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/llanelli-22-28-cardiff/
All the stats are looking good in our favour as we beat Newport last time out, 20-21 at Dave Parade after Christmas, we’ve suffered only two losses at CAP to them since 2003 and lost just once at home since mid-November, meanwhile Port haven’t won away in the Pro12 since March 2015 and lost their last seven league games. With Newport’s defence being the worst apart from the Italians and our attack being the best of anyone in the league, things are looking good.
That free flowing attacking play has resulted in a very consistent picking of the back line as it would be impossible to drop any of them at the moment, and as such they are unchanged for the fourth week in a row. In the forwards Danny Wilson has had a little tinker with some players and a position. The mobility of Kris Dacey is preferred to Matthew Rees, meanwhile Jarrad Hoeata comes into the second row to add some weight alongside James Down. To allow this Josh Turnbull has switched back to number eight, showing off his versatility, with Josh Navidi dropping to the bench.
Joining Navidi on the bench are Matthew Rees and Manoa Vosawai from the senior ranks, as well as a host of senior academy players. Bradley Thyer and Dillon Lewis are involved once again, as is Aled Summerhill. Tomos Williams returns to the fold having sat out the last couple of games while Harri Millard is picked for just the second time after making his debut away at Glasgow.
Cardiff team v Newport: 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Dan Fish, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams; 1 Gethin Jenkins (c), 2 Kristian Dacey, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 James Down, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 7 Sam Warburton, 8 Josh Turnbull
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Manoa Vosawai, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Harri Millard, 23 Aled Summerhill
It’s an interesting team selection, in the sense of the forwards. The front row is fine although the continuing absence of Salesi Ma’afu is becoming a slight concern. The second row is given bulk with Hoeata returning to partner Down, but that added physical presence is somewhat voided by Turnbull’s selection at number eight. Not that he’s not physical, just that he’s less so than a Vosawai for example. With Dacey being slightly lighter than Rees up front it gives a confused message about whether we’re going to try and play the physical game or try and shift the ball quickly.
Perhaps Wilson is looking for a balance of the two, whatever the team though it’s difficult to argue with his judgement over the past few weeks and I think the team is more than strong enough to win comfortably despite any concerns over the forwards. Using the plastic pitch to our advantage will be a key factor in the game and playing with the confidence the last few weeks should generate I don’t see why a bonus point win is out of reach. As long as we do all we can do for sixth place, then we can’t ask much more of the team. Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff form: LWWLLWLWWW
Newport form: LWLLLLLLLW
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (11)
Newport top try scorer: Ashton Hewitt (7)
Cardiff top points scorer: Rhys Patchell (230)
Newport top points scorer: Jason Tovey (117)
Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU) – Well he’s not the best referee, unless you ask Donald Lenihan and the Irish referees are the best in the World. In terms of Cardiff refereeing though, Fitzgibbon is actually quite decent. Overall he’s refereed eight wins and four losses, seven of the wins coming at CAP. This year he’s taken charge of our home games against Montpellier and Leinster, a fantasic win and a close loss, as well as 10 other games where he’s handed out a total of 14 yellow cards and a solitary red.