Rugby returns to the Arms Park for the first time since the first weekend in March on Friday night as Pro12 bottom side Zebre arrive for the penultimate game of the regular season, and the last at CAP.
After the bonus-point win over Ospreys last time, Danny Wilson has largely stuck with the same squad, and will be hoping to gather some more momentum with the Champions Cup play-offs fast approaching, as well as re-discovering that winning mentality.
Of course we all remember the embarrassing home defeat to Zebre back at the start of 2013/14, when the Italians secured their first ever Pro12 win in the game at CAP, but since then there’s been two convincing results with a 90-18 aggregate score in Cardiff’s favour.
This season has been predictably disappointing for Zebre, just three wins and six losing bonus points leaving them on 18 points in 12th place. However, such is the way Champions Cup places are qualified for, they still have plenty to play for as they are just a point behind compatriots Treviso who they play next week in the hunt for a place at that top table of European rugby.
Zebre will be wanting to take some momentum into that fixture with a performance on Friday, and they started the month looking a good bet to do that, with back-to-back home wins over Connacht and Newport, before a heavy defeat away in Glasgow. Playing on the road has long been an achilles heel, as one away win this season proves.
Director of Rugby Gianluca Guidi makes seven changes from the side that lost in Scotland last time out, with Edoardo Padovani, Carlo Canna and Marcello Violi coming in at full-back, fly-half and scrum-half, respectively, making South African winger Kayle Van Zyle the only non-Italian international in the back line.
It’s a similar story up front as props Andrea Lovotti and Pietro Ceccarelli come in alongside back rower Jacopo Sarto, to leave only incoming number eight Derick Minnie and incumbent lock Gideon Koegelenberg as the only men without Italian caps.
With only New Zealander Kurt Baker not having represented the Azzurri on the bench the squad is jam packed with international experience, despite that not coming at the highest level.
Zebre: Edoardo Padovani, Kayle Van Zyle, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Castello (c), Mattia Bellini, Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi; Derick Minnie, Jacopo Sarto, Maxime Mbandà, Federico Ruzza, Gideon Koegelenberg, Pietro Ceccarelli, Oliviero Fabiani, Andrea Lovotti
Subs: Tommaso D’Apice, Guillermo Roan, Dario Chistolini, Joshua Furno, Andries Van Schalkwyk, Guglielmo Palazzani, Kurt Baker, Matteo Pratichetti
Danny Wilson meanwhile has made three changes to the starting Xv that dispatched of the Ospreys at Judgement Day, with Gethin Jenkins (knee), Lloyd Williams (tactical) and Matthew Morgan (tactical) making way for Rhys Gill, making his first start since February, Tomos Williams and Aled Summerhill, as Rhun Williams switches to full-back.
Kirby Myhill, Corey Domachowski and Scott Andrews step up to the bench, as Wilson opts to give a few players a chance to prove themselves, while naming a squad more than capable of comfortably sweeping Zebre to the side.
Cardiff Blues: Rhun Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Taufa’ao Filise, Jarrad Hoeata, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins (c), Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Corey Domachowski, Scott Andrews, James Down, Sion Bennett, Lloyd Williams, Steve Shingler, Matthew Morgan
In some ways Friday may well feel like a bit of an anti-climax after the highs of Judgement Day, and while we count down to that end of season play-off the last two games are feeling somewhat of a formality that need to be ticked off the list before we can get down to business, however there’s a deeper meaning than that.
Cardiff Blues should be beating Zebre, and putting a number of points on them while we do it. No more ‘secure the win first and then go for the bonus point’, or ‘get a solid opening 20 minutes and go from there’. Let’s bully the opposition off the park and all the way back to Italy.
The top teams will expect a bonus point win against Zebre at home, they will expect to win all their home games, and they will expect to go France and compete in big games. This squad has the capability to be in that top team bracket, and there’s no time like the present to start acting like it.
Our forwards should have too much for their opposite numbers, especially if the back row play like they did against Ospreys, while there are tries in abundance from those backs. With plenty of quality to come off the bench there’s no reason that tomorrow should not be an 80 minute hammering. Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff record v Zebre: W 6 L 3
Cardiff form: LLLDW
Zebre form: LLWWL
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)
Zebre top try scorer: Federico Ruzza (6)
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (209)
Zebre top points scorer: Carlo Canna (109)
Frank Murphy (IRFU) – Only the Irishman’s fifth competition game, and his first involving Cardiff. Has refereed Zebre before as they beat Newport at the start of the month, showing the Italians his only yellow card to date.