After last weekend’s heavy defeat away at Exeter, Richard Hodges’ Cardiff Anglo-Welsh Cup side welcome West Wales rivals Ospreys to the Arms Park in the hope of bouncing back with a win.
To assist in that task a number of experienced faces have been recalled to the squad in the hope of providing some much needed ballast to the core of youngsters that remain from the trip to Sandy Park.
Matthew Rees leads the side from hooker and is joined in the front row by Georgian tighthead Anton Peikrishvili making his first start for Cardiff. Jarrad Hoeata joins James Down in the second row, while Macauley Cook comes in at flanker. In the backs Cory Allen is selected at centre while Dan Fish starts to full-back.
There is still an undercurrent of academy running through the team though with Ben Jones starting at fly-half in place of the injured Jarrod Evans, and Owen Lane replacing Aled Summerhill who misses out after failing return to play protocols. Rhodri Davies also starts for the first time after joining short-term from Llandovery.
The average age of the squad goes from 20 to almost 23, pretty high for an Anglo-Welsh Cup game. The good news is that most of that age increase comes up front, where we struggled so much last week. With Hoeata joining down in the engine room, it should help to sure up the maul defence and hopefully Cook will be able to assist Shane Lewis-Hughes in doing a bit more work at defensive breakdowns.
The only real concern within the squad is that Ben Jones has no obvious cover at fly-half. The Coleg y Cymoedd student was chucked in at the deep end last week when Evans broke his jaw after 10 minutes and grew into the game despite the pack doing little to provide any front foot ball, but if he should get injured then Dan Fish is the only ‘obvious’ candidate to replace him.
The replacements may be an issue elsewhere as only Hemi Barnes has played a significant quantity of senior rugby, and all of that has come at semi-professional Pontypridd. When you compare that to Ospreys, who can count on names such as Sam Parry, Paul James, Joe Bearman and Dan Evans to come off the bench, we are somewhat lacking in experience.
In terms of starting XVs though we are roughly equal. They have their fair share senior players in Rob McCusker, Brendon Leonard and Jonathan Spratt, while youngsters Adam Beard, Joe Thomas and Phil Jones add some youthfulness in a team that sees five changes from last week.
That match saw Ospreys go down to Harlequins at St. Helens 12-15, leaving both sides looking to secure their first wins in this season’s competition and hopefully repeat winning the competition as Cardiff did in 2009 and our visitors did in 2008 (who knew?).
Cardiff team: Dan Fish, Owen Lane, Cory Allen, Garyn Smith, Rhun Williams, Ben Jones, Rhodri Davies; Brad Thyer, Matthew Rees (c), Anton Peikrishvili, Jarrad Hoeata, James Down, Macauley Cook, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Sheekey
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, James Botham, Hemi Barnes, Dane Blacker, Harri Millard
Ospreys team: Dafydd Howells, Tom Grabham, Joe Thomas, Jonathan Spratt, Eli Walker, Phil Jones, Brendon Leonard; Gareth Thomas, Scott Otten, Rhodri Jones, Adam Beard, Rory Thornton, Olly Cracknell, Sam Underhill, Rob McCusker (c)
Replacements: Sam Parry, Paul James, Ma’afu Fia, James Ratti, Joe Bearman, Matthew Aubrey, Dan Evans, Tom O’Flaherty
Of course we all know the current losing streak that Cardiff are on when it comes to playing our Swansea-based rivals, but that is contained to the Pro12 as actually you only have to go back three years to find a team including Dan Fish and a try scoring Macauley Cook beating Ospreys losing 13-21 at the Liberty Stadium.
Actually in terms of result though this game isn’t particularly important, as I said last week. However, it’s not the case that the final score absolutely doesn’t matter as I’m sure a hammering like last week can’t have been good for morale. It is also an indicator that actually the young players haven’t had a chance to do what is important, to perform.
Hopefully the added experience will provide a closer game and allow the exciting backs of Owen Lane, Rhun Williams and Ben Jones a chance to show what they can do, while also giving the likes of James Sheekey a chance to show off his carrying game.
A good game to be expected on Friday night at Cardiff Arms Park then, with the sides almost on an even footing, although I think Ospreys will come into the match as favourites with slightly more players in and and around the first team included in their squad. Let’s just hope the young players have more chance to shine. Come on Cardiff!!!