Right, last week was as bad as it gets, we are all aware of that, fans, players, coaches. However, it’s time to move on from that and ensure it’s a one-off as Treviso arrive at the Arms Park this weekend for the second game in this mini block of Pro12 fixtures during the Six Nations.
There’s a definite feeling that only a bonus point win will do this weekend, with a performance definitely owed to the fans and the fact being that this is now absolutely last chance saloon for any attempt on sixth place. Following last week’s loss, only three wins from the next three games will suffice really.
This week’s visitors being one of the two league whipping boys means that the pressure is on to secure the four try win, with 10 points at home to the Italian sides is a must-have for any side serious about mounting a challenge on the top half of the Pro12.
Our trip to Treviso earlier in the season also came in an international period, but did yield a victory as tries from Rhun Williams, Willis Halaholo and Macauley Cook secured a 34-28 scoreline. Although the bonus point wasn’t quite gained on that occasion, after a few years of indifferent performances in Italy the win should actually serve as a confidence booster.
Treviso themselves are weakened by eight Italian internationals being retained by the national side, although Francesco Minto, Tommaso Allan and Angelo Esposito are starting having been released.
Aside from the eight missing due to the Six Nations there are 10 further unavailable players, a real boost for Cardiff seeing names like Tommaso Benvenuti, Abraham Steyn, Luke McLean and Jayden Hayward having to sit out the fixture.
Despite that there is still the regular Treviso half-back pairing of Tito Tebaldi and Ian McKinley, as well as captain Dean Budd being joined in the second row by the familiar face of Filo Paulo, making his return to the Arms Park after leaving in 2015.
Treviso: Luca Sperandio, Michael Tagicakibau, Tommaso Iannone, Thomas Allan, Angelo Esposito, Ian McKinley, Tito Tebaldi, Robert Barbieri, Francesco Minto, Marco Lazzaroni, Dean Budd (c), Teofilo Paulo ,Titian Pasquali, Luke Bigi, Federico Zani.
Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Matthew Zanusso, Jody Lipstick, Jean Francois Montauriol, Guglilemo Zanini, Giorgio Bronzini, Andrea Pratichetti, David Odiete
Danny Wilson meanwhile is not struck down with unavailability lists such as Treviso’s, a first for Cardiff’s management team not to have the most players missing, but we are still without a number of key players.
Gethin Jenkins, Dillon Lewis, Josh Turnbull, Lewis Jones and Dan Fish are still long-terms absentees, while they continue to be joined by Brad Thyer and Ellis Jenkins as the pair recover from head injuries. The medical room has been further filled by Rey Lee-Lo and Josh Navidi this week as they both miss out on Treviso’s visit.
The addition of Navidi to the injury list means that the back row is totally without a specialist openside flanker, resulting in Northampton loanee Sion Bennett being awarded the number seven shirt for Saturday, which is a worry considering even with an openside last week, Cardiff were well and truly dominated by Connacht at the breakdown.
In the way of good news there are two positives this week though. Firstly, George Earle is free to play again after his unfairly long suspension for an alleged eye gouge against Bath before Christmas, and he will link up with Jarrad Hoeata in the second row. Also, Steve Shingler is fit to start this week after pulling out late against Connacht and will replace Rey Lee-Lo to form a centre partnership with Willis Halaholo.
Elsewhere in the side there is a change up front with Fa’ao Filise replacing the somewhat harshly dropped Anton Peikrishvili, while in the backs Alex Cuthbert is released from Team Wales duty and will start ahead of Rhun Williams.
I could write paragraph after paragraph on the week the winger has had, but to be honest it’s as you were for Cuthbert from a Cardiff point of view. Four tries in 12 games this season, nine appearances away from a century of caps and nine tries away from the 50 mark, Cuthy is a cult hero at the Arms Park, and quite frankly there’s no need to re-confirm the obvious quality that he possesses.
On the bench we see Corey Domachowksi return in place of Marc Thomas, James Down drops to the replacements to make way for Earle, while Garyn Smith will provide centre cover. The concern is that once again Kirby Myhill is providing back row cover, although questions have been asked over the whereabouts of Seb Davies this week.
Cardiff: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Willis Halaholo, Steve Shingler, Blaine Scully, Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams (c); Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, Jarrad Hoeata, Macauley Cook, Sion Bennett, Nick Williams
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Corey Domachowski, Scott Andrews, James Down, Kirby Myhill, Tomos Williams, Garyn Smith, Tom James
So, a big game that could mean some unwelcome pressure to secure a comfortable win over one of the league’s whipping boys and infamous poor travellers. However, the big lesson that seems to have been completely forgotten by Cardiff is to do the basics well.
Thinking back to the heady days of September’s unbeaten run and there was nothing flashy about the performances. Forwards carried and rucked well, backs attacked with pace and directness. Kicking was carried out only when necessary, and with a clear tactical purpose that it could actually be chased. The defence was actually not even as organised as it is now, meaning if the rest of the game functions even slightly, a result should follow.
Talking baby steps from the Connacht debacle though, the attacking breakdown work and an improvement in the kicking have to be priorities. Get them right and you have a platform. I’m not usually a fan of the phrase, but ‘earning the right to go wide’ seems an apt game plan this week, and can be put to good use with the outside backs we possess.
Despite the disappointing nature of last week’s loss, the never ending optimism which seems to improbably live inside me means I’m weirdly excited for Saturday’s game still. It can only be a love of Cardiff Rugby that keeps that going, I just hope the current custodians of the jersey can do it justice against Treviso.
Cardiff record v Treviso: W 9 D 1 L 3
Cardiff form: LLWWL (excluding Anglo-Welsh)
Treviso form: LLLLL
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)
Treviso top try scorer: Dean Budd (4)
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (129)
Treviso top points scorer: Tommaso Allan (87)
John Lacey (IRFU) – Some say that Lacey refereeing is a terrifying prospect, but Lacey without a TMO?! Hold on to your hats, ladies and gents. That said, he did referee our opening day victory over Edinburgh, fingers crossed this Saturday can kick-off the second half of our season.