For the first time since the first weekend in January, Cardiff Blues find themselves on the road in the Pro12, and heading up to Scotland for a capital city showdown with Edinburgh. After last week’s second half renaissance against Treviso the target has to be continuing to re-build form, and a consistent squad selection will no doubt help with that.
It’s easy to remember the forty point haul in that period after half-time last Saturday, in what was a feast of attacking rugby spearheaded by impressive performances from Matthew Morgan and Alex Cuthbert. However, it’s important not to forget the lacklustre slog that was the first half of the match.
There’s no doubt that overall the Treviso win was a step in the right direction, but there will need to be another improvement in performance and consistency against an Edinburgh side settling in to their new Myreside home and mount a late charge for the Champions Cup play-off spots.
They are currently sat outside of the required positions in 9th, nine points behind Connacht above them, however have not shown the form required to challenge either the Irish province or Cardiff, with three losses in three weeks so far over the Six Nations period.
A narrow defeat in the re-arranged game against Munster was followed by a losing bonus point away in Ulster, not to be shirked at, but last week’s heavy 39-10 loss in Leinster is sure to knock confidence. Two wins in nine Pro12 games sounds familiar, as does a Challenge Cup quarter-final, to underline how similar the two teams are despite the 13 point difference between the sides.
Perhaps a big factor in Friday’s game will, once again, be the players who aren’t there. For Edinburgh the list is lengthy, with Ross Ford, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, John Hardie, Hamish Watson and Duncan Weir involved in Saturday’s Scotland v Wales encounter, while a 12-strong injury list adds to their woes.
Duncan Hodge has named the same forward pack that were defeated so badly by Leinster last week, choosing to make three changes in his backline as Blair Kinghorn, Rory Scholes and former Cardiff man Jason Tovey all start.
Despite last week’s score, the back row including Magnus Bradbury and Cornell Du Preez will be a physical presence, while young props Jack Cosgrove and Murray McCallum have high hopes placed on their shoulders.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Damien Hoyland, Glenn Bryce, Chris Dean, Rory Scholes, Jason Tovey, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Jack Cosgrove, Neil Cochrane (c), Murray McCallum, Fraser McKenzie, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Cornell Du Preez
Replacements: George Turner, Derrick Appiah, Kevin Bryce, Grant Gilchrist, Lewis Carmichael, Nathan Fowles, Junior Rasolea, Michael Allen
On the flip side, Cardiff are experiencing less of a player shortage thanks to just Sam Warburton being deemed worthy of a call-up to the Wales squad, with Kris Dacey, Scott Andrews and Alex Cuthbert all being released back to the club for Friday’s game., while only 10 players are currently on the injury list.
This allows Danny Wilson to make less than four changes to a starting XV for just the second time this season, with Anton Peikrishvili returning to tighthead in place of Fa’ao Filise, and Tom James makes his first start since the Ulster home game at the start of December, replacing the injured Blaine Scully.
On the bench the only change is Aled Summerhill takes the place of James, with Kirby Myhill continuing to offer back row cover, as Cardiff look to benefit from naming a settled squad at long last.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Willis Halaholo, Steve Shingler, Tom James, Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams (c); Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Anton Peikrishvili, 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, Aled Summerhill
There’s no doubt it’s a strong side, with the Welsh international half-back pairing of Lloyd and Anscombe hopefully being able to supply a back three combination that have scored 17 tries between them in all competitions despite James and Cuthbert missing a combined 15 games.
Up front the pack will hope to follow Leinster’s example of dominating around the park, with the Irish province making 150 metres more than Edinburgh despite carrying on 18 fewer occasions.
Casting our minds back to the opening day of the season at the Arms Park, and on Edinburgh’s visit we recall Nick Williams carrying for 50 metres on his own. If we can get another big ball carrying performance from him, assisted by others including the counter attacking prowess of Matthew Morgan, then we’ll be on the front foot.
In defence a committed and consistently quick line speed will be key, as we look to force Edinburgh into the mistakes Treviso made last week with the absence of a natural breakdown operator again a potential issue. Utilising turnover ball, or counter-attacking opportunities, will then be key which should play to the strengths of the team selected.
Much of the pre-match media this week has been focused on whether the top six is still achievable for Cardiff, but let’s not get carried away on the back of one decent half at home to one of the Italian sides.
It was impressive, no doubt, however there’s still a long way to go in terms of being able to compete with those at the top end of the league. So for now let’s just focus on beating the teams that are put in front of us, starting with Edinburgh on Friday and a 100% committed performance for the full 80 minutes.
Cardiff record v Edinburgh: W 17 L 10
Edinburgh form: WWLLL
Cardiff form: LWWLW
Edinburgh top try scorer: Damien Hoyland (7)
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)
Edinburgh top points scorer: Duncan Weir (115)
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (174)
David Wilkinson (IRFU) – One of the longer serving referees on the league he refereed this fixture back in 2011, as well as the reverse just last year, both games seeing Cardiff wins. Has only officiated one of our games this season, the away win at Zebre in September, where he showed two yellow cards to each side.