A welcome break from the Pro12 season after last week’s humiliation away to Ospreys sees Cardiff Blues kick off the European Challenge Cup season against Bristol this Friday night.
The trip to Ashton Gate is the perfect chance to right the wrongs of that 46-24 loss in Swansea and prove that it was just a blip rather than any sign of our early season form being a fluke.
Bristol themselves are having a really tough start to life back in the English Premiership. Six straight losses, including hammering of 70-22 away at Wasps, and 0-39 at home to Saracens, see them stone dead bottom of the table.
Last week’s 19-14 defeat away to fellow relegation battlers Newcastle Falcons did little to aid their already ominous battle to avoid dropping back to the Championship where they fought for so many years to escape from.
Having said that, head coach Andy Robinson was positive following that latest loss, claiming the side are heading in the right direction and getting better each week as they hunt for the first win of the season.
There was some debate over how seriously both sides would take the competition this year with bigger things to worry about away from Europe’s second tier Cup. Cardiff looking up the Pro12 towards at least Champions Cup qualification, while the home side will just be happy to stay in the Premiership.
In the end both sides have decided to ring the changes with a combined 19 changes to the starting sides from those which played last week.
Bristol see the most of them with 11 new faces from the team which narrowly lost out in Newcastle. Amongst those is winger Tom Varndell who Cardiff fans will remember sprinting away for two tries in the pre-season friendly we played against Bristol at CAP back in August.
Bristol team vs Cardiff: Jack Wallace, Tom Varndell, Jack Tovey, Thretton Palamo, David Lemi (c), Adrian Jarvis, Rhodri Williams; Soane Tonga’uhia, Max Crumpton, Gaston Cortes, Ian Evans, Ben Glynn, Nick Koster, Olly Robinson, Mitch Eadie
Replacements: Chris Brooker, Jack O’Connell, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Joe Joyce, Nick Fenton-Wells, Andy Uren, Billy Searle, Luke Arscott
The man that Varndell bypassed on that day was Alex Cuthbert who returns to Cardiff’s starting line-up having recovered from the injury that he picked up against Glasgow.
Joining him in returning to the squad is Kirby Myhill who takes a seat on the bench for the first time after the shin injury suffered on the opening day of the season.
The other changes come in the form of tactical ones made by Danny Wilson. The front row is changed, with Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees and Scott Andrews all getting a chance to start. Behind them Josh Navidi is rested so Jarrad Hoeata gets a chance to make his first appearance of the season thanks to Josh Turnbull reverting to flanker.
In the backs there is a change of Williams at scrum-half with Lloyd rested to allow Tomos a start, while Steve Shingler comes in at 12 with Rey Lee-Lo moving out to 13 as Garyn Smith drops to the bench. Matthew Morgan and Dan Fish also trade the 15 and 23 jerseys again.
The final returning player is Dillon Lewis who is set to make his first appearance from the bench as Wilson gives a chance to more fringe players to stake a claim for Pro12 rugby.
Cardiff team vs Bristol: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Steve Shingler, Tom James, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees, Scott Andrews, Jarrad Hoeata, Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Gethin Jenkins, Dillon Lewis, James Down, Cam Dolan, Lloyd Williams, Garyn Smith, Dan Fish
A first Severnside rugby derby for a few years and an interesting one in terms of seeing the squad depth on both sides, but particularly from a Cardiff point of view as we see what the team has about them to bounce back from last week.
A European run will always be something to aim for, but right now I’ll happily take 80 minutes of dedication from the players, a return to the simplified early season running rugby and a good confidence boosting performance. Any result would just be a bonus, come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff record v Bristol: W 2 L 0
Cardiff form: WWWLL
Bristol form: LLLLL
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (28)
Bristol top points scorer: Tusi Pisi (15)
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (4)
Bristol top try scorers: Mitch Eadie, Ross MacMillan (2)
Pascal Gauzere (FFR) – Last refereed Cardiff to an away win over Glasgow in the Heineken Cup back in December 2013. I’ve never heard of him! No TMO though, poor for European competition but unsurprising seeing as we’re not on TV in the Mickey Mouse competition.