Cardiff Blues make the trip up to Glasgow on Saturday night in what can only be described as the biggest game of our season so far. After last week’s loss away in Llanelli it really is all hands to the pump to ensure we stay in touch with the Pro12’s top six.
Attacking deficiencies were on show for all to see at Parc y Scarlets, as we could not capitalise on eight line breaks to any great effect, scoring just one try as Willis Halaholo finished off a counter-attacking move. The directness and general effectiveness of our midfield play has been called into question as a result.
Following the defeat we currently find ourselves on a run of just two league wins in the eight games since September, and haven’t won away in any competition for over two months. In seventh place, six points behind Ulster ahead of us who have a game in hand, the Scotstoun fixture is massive.
Glasgow themselves are in a rich vein of form, having used two majorly impressive Champions Cup wins over Racing 92 as a springboard to take two wins from away games at local rivals Edinburgh and Pro12 imaginary ‘rivals’ Treviso during the Christmas period. Indifferent early season results though mean they are still only in fifth pace in the Pro12, nine points ahead of Cardiff.
The visitors can take confidence from recent results against Glasgow, as they look to put some pressure on them in the standings, thanks to an excellent win against the Warriors back in September, as well as two closely fought losing bonus point performances against the eventual semi-finalists last season.
Fans may remember winning the second half in this fixture back in March, 20-7, as we recovered from 20-3 down to get within seven, while tries from Rey Lee-Lo and Alex Cuthert saw off Glasgow at the Arms Park a few months ago in front of over 8,000.
Having said that, the home side are going all guns blazing for the game at a sold-out Scotstoun on Saturday. There’s nine changes to the side that beat Treviso last week, as the lock pairing of Tim Swinson and captain Jonny Gray are joined by Josh Strauss in the forwards.
The three-quarter line of Ali Price, Finn Russell, Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett are recalled to had some serious attacking prowess to Glasgow’s midfield, while Lee Jones returns from injury onto the wing.
One saving grace though is the resting of the talismanic Stuart Hogg, who will watch from the stands as Peter Murchie keeps his jersey warm.
Glasgow: Peter Murchie, Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, Pat MacArthur, D’arcy Rae, Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray (c), Josh Strauss, Simone Favaro, Ryan Wilson
Replacements: James Malcolm, Alex Allan, Zander Fagerson, Rob Harley, Adam Ashe, Grayson Hart, Rory Clegg, Sean Lamont
Cardiff meanwhile are boosted by the return of another two players, from injury and suspension respectively. Blaine Scully has recovered from a heavy concussion picked up against Bath to take Rhun Williams’ place on the left wing, with the young man dropping down to the bench in place of Cory Allen.
Anton Peikrishvili is also free to play again, after the biting incident that clouded his first start, takig the dropped Fa’ao Filise’s place. There’s disappointment as Nick Williams is still amongst the injured players, while half-back pairing Lloyd Williams and Steve Shingler have a chance to prove their undoubted quality in this crunch fixture.
On the bench there is a first appearance for new loan signing BJ Edwards from Bristol, while Matthew Rees is recalled in place of Kirby Myhill following last week’s perceived scrum troubles towards the end of the game.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Blaine Scully; Steven Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Anton Peikrishvili, Macauley Cook, James Down, Ellis Jenkins, Sam Warburton (c), Josh Navidi
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Jarrad Hoeata, BJ Edwards, Tomos Williams, Nicky Robinson, Rhun Williams
I have little doubt in saying that the starting XV is certainly capable of competing with Glasgow, although I do have reservations over whether there is enough quality on the bench to sustain a serious challenge throughout the 80 minutes.
Having said that, the only positive to take from last week was a big one, the defence. The line cohesion and speed was excellent, as was the quality of the first up tackling. It was maintained from the entire game in Llanelli, if it can be again up in Scotland then there is always a chance that we could pull a result out of the bag.
It will rely on the attack, and although there is no doubt of the individual quality of players, a week to rectify last week’s misguided attacking patterns is not long at all. Te half-back pairing need to stand up and be counted. If the defence lay the platform, they need to be driving us around the field to victory.
It may only be early January, but as we leave the Pro12 behind to return to Europe, it is a must-win encounter on a number of levels. I’d be lying if I said I was confident, but I know the ability these players have on their day, I just hope Saturday is that day. Come on Cardiff!!!
Cardiff record v Glasgow: W 13 L 16
Glasgow form: LWWWW
Cardiff form: LWLWL
Glasgow top try scorer: Tommy Seymour (8)
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)
Glasgow top points scorer: Finn Russell (77)
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (107)
Andy Brace (IRFU) – The Limerick and Tipperary Community Rugby Officer has refereed five Cardiff games in his career, three wins and two defeats. Took charge of our home defeat to Ulster at the start of December, showing three yellow cards, with a season tally of 17 yellows across 10 games.
Has never refereed Cardiff away from home, and is only his second visit to Glasgow, the first being a comfortable home win over Zebre.