Cardiff Blues head off on the second and final Italian job of the season with a trip to Benetton Treviso on Friday night. After three successive Pro12 losses the early season form seems a distant memory but, with the Pro12 taking an Autumn break for the Anglo-Welsh Cup, a win could well be pivotal in revitalising our season before the Christmas period.
That’s easier said than done down in Southern Europe for Cardiff though as, especially in Treviso, there is precedent for losing. It’s now over four and a half years, and four straight losses, since the last win against Benetton in March 2012 making them our official bogey side.
The record in Italy generally isn’t fantastic, two defeats last season in the away games essentially cost us a top six finish, however that trend was bucked away at Zebre last month thanks to the 21-23 win. A scrappy victory, but a potentially very important one in terms of psychologically lifting the mental block that was winning in Italy.
Treviso this season have struggled once again in both the Pro12 and Europe, sitting bottom of the table in both competitions. They are currently on just one win and six losses in the league, with none of those losses yielding a losing bonus point and the win coming at home to Newport. Meanwhile in the Challenge Cup two heavy defeats at the hands of Edinburgh and La Rochelle leave them with -60 points difference and no points.
None of this makes it easier for Cardiff though, who handed Treviso their first win of 2015/16 in February, that’s five months of losses before this exact fixture last season. At the same time we’ve now had a month of pretty under-par performances. Heavy derby defeats against Ospreys and Scarlets have painted the picture of where we’re at as a side, Europeans wins against Bristol and Pau only masking the truth for a few weeks.
What’s been going wrong? Well quite simply we seem to have forgotten how to play. Early season we had go-forward ball, moved it quickly and simply out-wide, and consistently made good ground. There was also a willingness to run support lines and offload which, when you consider we made 10 less line breaks at home to Llanelli than we did away in Munster, has very much gone missing.
In defence there has also been a lowering of standards as we conceded 116 more metres last week than in Ireland, a quite shocking stat to underline where we’re going wrong. It feels, from my view on the terraces, that we have become too interested in trying to counter the tactics of the opposition rather than trying to play our own game.
As such there has been a lot of talk this week about picking a side to beat Treviso up front and generally turn the table on the home side by bullying them. However we’ve tried that over the last few years and the results have been a string of penalties where we’re trying too hard to compete, especially at the breakdown, allowing full-back Jayden Hayward the chance to score 26 points off the tee in the last four games, and he only played in three!
Danny Wilson has largely resisted the urge to pack the side with heavies and been boosted by the return of seven players from the Team Wales setup after last week’s player release debacle. Scott Andrews, Sam Warburton and Ellis Jenkins are all drafted in to the forwards to join Rhys Gill, while Jarrad Hoeata is preferred to James Down, Matthew Rees to Kirby Myhill and Macauley Cook switched to number eight.
In the backs we see Lloyd Williams and Rhun Williams, making his debut, included from the national side alongside Willis Halaholo, also set to appear for the first time. Matthew Morgan keeps his place after a disappointing performance last week to complete an attacking backline, with particular eyes being kept on the two former Hurricanes in the centres.
The bench has a youthful feel to it, with Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, Tomos Williams and Jarrod Evans not long graduated from the academy set up that Seb Davies is still a part of, only Kris Dacey, James Down and Dan Fish being seen as senior members of the squad but all are capable of adding to our attacking prowess should they get the chance.
Treviso team vs Cardiff: Jayden Hayward, Michael Tagicakibau, Tommaso Benvenuti, Alberto Sgarbi (c), Angelo Esposito, Ian McKinley, Tito Tebaldi; Marco Barbini, Abraham Steyn, Marco Lazzaroni, Dean Budd, Filippo Gerosa, Simone Ferrari, Luca Bigi, Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: Ornel Gega, Alberto De Marchi, Cherif Traore, Marco Fuser, Francesco Minto, Edoardo Gori, Tommaso Allan, Luke McLean
Cardiff teams vs Treviso: Matthew Morgan, Blaine Scully, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Rhun Williams, Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees (c), Scott Andrews, George Earle, Jarrad Hoeata, Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, Macauley Cook
Replacements: Kris Dacey, Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, James Down, Seb Davies, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Dan Fish
I’ve not mentioned the Treviso side because this week isn’t about them, it’s about Cardiff playing the Cardiff way. Forget what the opposition are doing, it matters not, let’s play rugby how we want. Win the one-on-one battles, make ground when carrying and do the basics well, you won’t go far wrong.
There will be peaks and troughs throughout the season of course, the measure of the team is how they react to when times are tough and I think we saw in periods of the early season that there is a character to this team and an ability to step it up when required. I retain the faith in these players and fancy a big win tomorrow, come on Cardiff!!!
Cardiff form: LLWWL
Treviso form: LLLLL
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (6)
Treviso top try scorers: Marco Fuser, Tommaso Benevuti (2)
Cardiff top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (56)
Treviso top points scorer: Tommaso Allan (28)
Ian Davies (WRU) – So he’s not impartial in terms of country but at least he’s refereed more than 15 games! Refereed our win out in Munster back in September, so at least some hope to cling on to!