Cardiff entertain Pau at the Arms Park on Friday night in the first European home game of the season. Following last week’s bonus point win away at Bristol we are sitting top of Pool Four and looking to extend that with a win against the Frenchman before a tough double header against Bath in December.
It was an impressive return to form at Ashton Gate last Friday following the hammering from Ospreys in the Pro12. Tries from Josh Turnbull, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James and Alex Cuthbert secured the win, alongside 13 Gareth Anscombe points, as the scoreline finished 20-33 despite Cardiff being on the receiving end of two yellow cards.
Discipline will have to improve as the attacking play has done to reach the levels that the forwards executing the set piece are setting, and on a general team level the defence will need to keep stepping up if we are to compete at the highest levels possible. With the lowest points conceded being still a quite high 16 so far this season, there is definite room for improvement.
Section Paloise, who are Pau for short in case any readers are confused, have had a pretty disappointing start to the season by all accounts. Two losses at the hands of Castres and Toulon kicked the season off, before three wins against Bayonne, Stade Francais and Grenoble steadied the ship. However, two further losses before European against Bordeaux and Lyon leave the Pyrenees based club down in 12th of the Top14.
In light of this league form it was highly likely Pau would follow last season’s suit by disregarding any attempt to compete in the Challenge Cup. Six losses from six in that group stage, with 166 points conceded, left them dead last in a pool won by Newport mainly down to the aim of their season being to stay in the Top14, which they only returned to last season after eight seasons in France’s second tier.
Last week was almost a first victory since returning to the Challenge Cup as they pushed all the way against Bath at home, however tries from Romain Buros, Sean Dougall and Watisoni Votu could not outscore Rhys Pristland’s boot as the Welsh fly-half kicked 20 points on the way to a 22-25 win for the away side.
An underlining of the fact that Pau don’t take the Challenge Cup seriously is that they boast former 94-cap All Black centre Conrad Smith in their ranks, but he is not registered in the European squad. Instead they field a side that has 20 changes from that which was named for their last Top14 match.
There are six changes to the XV alone to the one that lost to Bath last week as Sylvain Charlet, Masalosalo Tutaia, Pierre Dupuoy, Bastien Pourailly, Louis Dupichot and Charly Malie coming in to the side that does 15-times capped Australian Ben Mowen at number eight, 32-cap Argentinian Santiago Fernandez at outside centre and can leave out English flanker Steffon Armitage.
Section Paloise: Charly Malie, Louis Dupichot, Santiago Fernandez, Peirre Dupouy, Bastien Pourailly, Brendan Fajardo, Thibault Daubanga; Jeremy Hurou, Quentin Lespiaucq, Sylvain Charlet, Masalosalo Tutaia, Daniel Ramsay (c), Pierrick Gunther, Sean Dougall, Ben Mowen.
Replacements: Lucas Rey, Geoffrey Moise, Joel Sclavi, Fabrice Metz, Giovanni Habel Kuffner, Thierry Lacrampe, Romain Buros, Marvin Lestremau
The visitors aren’t the only side ringing the changes though as Danny Wilson has nine new players in his starting XV. The front row of Gethin Jenkins, Kirby Myhill and Fa’ao Filise is back for the first time since the season opener, James Down makes his first start of the season at lock with Macauley Cook switching to flanker and Josh Turnbull at number eight.
Lloyd Williams switches with Tomos at scrum-half to form a half-back partnership with Steve Shingler, while Garyn Smith and Cory Allen team up in the centres. Dan Fish and Blaine Scully join Alex Cuthbert to complete the back three. On the bench young Seb Davies could make his senior debut, while Jarrod Evans is ready to make his first appearance of the season.
The interesting news from the team selection is Kris Dacey having to provide back row cover from the bench with Sam Warburton and Josh Navidi injured, while Cam Dolan cannot play due to foreign national restrictions. Other familiar faces not included are Rey Lee-Lo and Tom James who are both rested, while one of Gareth Anscombe’s permitted NDC games is not used up.
Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish, Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Garyn Smith, Blaine Scully, Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins (c), Kirby Myhill, Fa’ao Filise, Jarrad Hoeata, James Down, Macauley Cook, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Turnbull
Replacements: Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Kris Dacey, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Matthew Morgan
It’s a calculated risk by Danny Wilson in the sense that, although the primary focus of the season is a minimum top six finish in the Pro12, momentum is gained from victories and there’s a certain expectation amongst fans to continue to be competitive across the board. There’s also a chance that the players providing the squad depth may get injured and then the side looks slightly threadbare going into the international break.
Despite all that there should still be enough in the Cardiff side to dispose of the travelling Pau and it’s a good chance to see Kirby Myhill properly for the first time, as well as Garyn Smith at 12 and Jarrod Evans returning to the senior squad. I hope to see a decent attendance and get a bit of atmosphere inside CAP on Friday, as well as a few tries in the first encounter between the sides. Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff form: WWLLW
Pau form: LWLLL
Cardiff top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (56)
Paul top points scorer: Colin Slade (11)
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (5)
Pau top try scorer: Watisoni Votu (2)
JP Doyle (RFU) – Only one previous game involving Cardiff for the Englishman who officiated our Challenge Cup quarter-final loss to Newport in 2014/15 season. Well respected in the Aviva Premiership and joined by Wayne Barnes as touch judge. No TMO though as game is not televised.