After just a five day turnaround we travel to Bath on Thursday night for the second of our European double header against the West Country side where a win would see us almost confirmed of a place in the knockout stages of the tournament.
Last Saturday’s win signalled a real return to form for Cardiff, with a first victory at home since the last set of European matches and only the second in seven games. Hopefully the team can take confidence from that, especially with the manner of the win being so impressive.
With the weather being so poor Cardiff played the conditions brilliantly. Some excellent kicking from Steve Shingler and Willis Halaholo put Bath under pressure, while Matthew Morgan and Blaine Scully were dangerous on the counter attack. Alex Cuthbert was lively with ball in hand and Sam Warburton dominant at the breakdown, leaving Bath second best in a lot of aspects.
I was extremely disappointed with Bath though who did an excellent impression of the Cardiff Blues in recent weeks thanks to a quite shockingly high number of simple errors. They just couldn’t cope with our kicking game, or hold onto the ball in midfield, making it easy for Shingler to manage the game and put them on the back foot more often than not.
That win put us five points clear at the top of pool four at the halfway mark, and puts all the pressure on Bath to get a result on Thursday as a Cardiff win would need us leaving just one further competition point to secure the group. However, a losing bonus point would be good enough for us as it would keep us out in front even if Bath score four tries.
It would also mean Cardiff finish above Bath should the teams tie as the first decider is points gained from the head-to-head matches, which would be 5 v 5, and then aggregate points from those matches, which we would win by a minimum of 18 points courtesy of last Saturday’s result.
As such Bath have gone for a much improved side than that which turned up at the Arms Park on Saturday. Eight changes to the starting XV have been made, with a combined 186 international caps coming into the squad. Loosehead Nick Auterac and flanker Tom Ellis start, along with their six capped colleagues.
England internationals Dave Attwood, George Ford and Jonathan Joseph are all recalled to the side alongside some familiar faces. Former Ospreys scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i, Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau and winger Aled Brew, who has one Cardiff appearance to his name, all join in them in the starting line-up.
Bath team: Tom Homer, Jack Wilson, Jonathan Joseph, Ben Tapuai, Aled Brew, George Ford (c), Kahn Fotuali’i; Nick Auterac, Ross Batty, Max Lahiff, Charlie Ewels (c), Dave Attwood, Tom Ellis, Francois Louw, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Michael van Vuuren, Beno Obano, Shaun Knight, Elliott Stooke, Zach Mercer, Darren Allinson, Adam Hastings, Max Clark
Cardiff meanwhile are looking at roughly the same team that was victorious, with just three changes to the starting XV. Cory Allen and Kirby Myhill both start in place of the injured duo Alex Cuthbert and Kris Dacey, taking the number on the injury list up to somewhere around the 15 mark.
The other change comes in the back row where the experience of the returning Macauley Cook is preferred to youngster Seb Davies. He drops the bench where he is joined by Ellis Jenkins, as Danny Wilson goes with a six-two balance towards forwards leaving little option if there were outside back issues.
That’s one of my concerns with the team, I’d have liked to have seen Garyn Smith on the bench, as well as possibly starting with Matthew Rees ahead of Myhill, for his superior scrummaging capability.
Cardiff team: Matthew Morgan, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Blaine Scully, Steven Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, James Down, Macauley Cook, Sam Warburton (c), Josh Navidi
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Jarrad Hoeata, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Nicky Robinson
It’s a game to shape the rest of the pool and a possible springboard for Cardiff to push on into the Pro12 festive period, making this Thursday fairly important considering Europe isn’t our primary focus. It won’t be easy with an embarrassed Bath bringing back such strength into their starting XV, but with the underdog status and confidence from Saturday hopefully we can compete with the hosts.
There is also the added motivation of #REVENGE lingering from last week, and it becomes more prominent this Thursday as we return to the scene of the 1997 debacle. Hopefully we won’t see any perfectly good tries ruled out, and no Cardiff fans will be threatening referees, and we can all watch an enjoyable game of rugby, with some nice cold #REVENGE served.
Cardiff record v Bath: W 1 L 0
Cardiff form: LWLLW (excluding Anglo-Welsh Cup)
Bath form: WWLWL (excluding Anglo-Welsh Cup)
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)
Bath top try scorer: Semesa Rokoduguni (6)
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (82)
Bath top points scorer: George Ford (85)
Alexandre Ruiz (FFR) – The Frenchman has refereed Cardiff twice, in a home win over London Irish in 2014 and the home loss to Harlequins last season. However the issue is he’s French, and in the 1997 game the referee, Didier Mene, was also French. I’m not too superstitious, but fingers crossed there’s no repeat!