The pool stage draw for the 2017/18 Anglo-Welsh Cup was made this week, with Cardiff Blues confirmed in pool one alongside Bath, Gloucester and Wasps.
However, due to the way the tournament is structured, our opponents will take the shape of Ospreys, Leicester, Newcastle and London Irish.
This is because, in the pool stage, teams play one game against each side from a different pool, in this case pool four, with two home fixtures and two away fixtures, as only four weekends are made available in the northern hemisphere schedule for the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Cardiff Blues will travel to the north-east to take on Newcastle to begin with, before welcoming Ospreys the week after. Then, after Christmas, a trip to Leicester will be followed by the hosting of London Irish.
Saturday 11th November – Newcastle v Cardiff Blues – 14:30
17/18/19 November – Cardiff Blues v Ospreys
26/27/28 January – Leicester v Cardiff Blues
2/3/4 February – Cardiff Blues v London Irish
2008/09 champions Cardiff have struggled in this competition since that victory over Gloucester eight years ago, only making it out of the pool stages once, the season after in 2009/10, losing to the side from Kingsholm in the semi-finals on that occasion.
This poor form culminated in the embarrassment of last season, where we finished bottom of pool three with just two points from our four games and an overall points difference of -114.
For this coming season the fixtures don’t get any easier. Newcastle finished last season’s Aviva Premiership strongly to rise to eighth in the table, although the Cardiff Blues players can cling to the hope of the last Anglo-Welsh Cup game between the sides when Ellis Jenkins was amongst the try scorers on the way to a 21-22 victory.
Leicester Tigers are traditionally very strong, and this season will be no difference as we make the daunting trip to Welford Road, with a 9-43 defeat at home still fresh in the mind from 2014.
Aviva Premiership new boys London Irish were opponents as Cardiff made it to the semi-finals in 09/10, and the most recent Anglo-Welsh encounter between the two saw a 10-6 victory for the Blues in 2013. However, Irish have strengthened in numbers over the summer, and will likely provide a stern test.
Of course, the final opposition are very well known and, despite breaking the curse of the Ospreys losing streak at last Judgement Day, the memory of a 7-31 in last year’s competition will still be vivid for many. None less so than Anton Peikrishvili who received a red card for biting in that fixture.
Lessons have to be learned from last season’s campaign, where some painfully young sides were sent out as almost lambs to the slaughter in the name of giving them experience and resting a senior squad stretched to the limits by injuries.
With squad rotation and injury avoidance the order of the day, that will be fed down to the Anglo-Welsh Cup and British and Irish Cup sides, who will require a backbone of experienced players alongside the young players that these development competitions are all about.
If the crowd in the treatment room is kept to a minimum then this will be viable, and it could be an outside chance of some trophy success this season. However, if fitness issues return then the Anglo-Welsh Cup will likely fall by the wayside once again.