This Friday sees Cardiff Blues play their first ever Guinness Pro14 game as Edinburgh are welcomed to the Arms Park on the opening day of the season for the second year running.
After a long old summer of British and Irish Lions, players leaving, players arriving and financial belts being tightened, it’s good to finally be back concentrating on on-field matters, especially after the positivity that has been created by a good pre-season campaign.
A convincing win over London Scottish with a youthful looking side and a competitive victory over English champions Exeter Chiefs at CAP last week have contributed to an optimistic feeling amongst fans, with the performances of the newly created ‘transition squad’ particularly pleasing.
Danny Wilson and a number of players have spoken again this season about the main aim being Champions Cup qualification, after two years of just missing out, and the visit of Edinburgh is the first step towards returning to the top table of European rugby.
It’s the second season in a row we’ve welcomed the Scottish capital side to the Arms Park on the opening day, with last season’s game resulting in a 34-16 bonus-point win for Cardiff, before the double was completed with a 17-18 victory at Myreside.
Edinburgh will be a different team since then though, not least due to the recruitment of a new head coach in Richard Cockerill. Having left Leicester after a 12-year coaching association with the Welford Road club, he temporarily headed down to Toulon before settling in Scotland for a fresh start in his coaching life.
In his first team selection as head coach, Cockerill has selected new signings Darryl Marfo, Jason Harries and Michele Rizzo, as well as Scottish internationals WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist, John Hardie, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Duncan Weir.
However, he has not been able to call on star summer acquisitions Mark Bennett and Robbie Fruean in midfield, or Scottish forwards Allan Dell and Hamish Watson.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Dougie Fife, Chris Dean, Junior Rasolea, Jason Harries, Duncan Weir, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Anton Bresler, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, John Hardie, Magnus Bradbury (c)
Replacements: Ross Ford, Michele Rizzo, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Cornell du Preez, Nathan Fowles, Jason Tovey, Glenn Bryce
Opposite number Danny Wilson has had similar issues with his new signings, as Damian Welch is named in the starting XV and is set to make his debut, while Jack Roberts is not involved at all, with some fitness issues possibly contributing after he withdrew from last week’s final pre-season friendly against Exeter.
Elsewhere he is able to call on Nick Williams, who has not appeared at all in pre-season, as well as Rey Lee-Lo who reported back to The Vale late following a long summer of international rugby with Samoa.
Aled Summerhill and Jarrod Evans are rewarded for encouraging pre-season performances, but Ellis Jenkins misses out after suffering a nasty hamstring injury last week.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees (c), Taufa’ao Filise, Seb Davies, Damian Welch, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Corey Domachowski, Kieron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, Sion Bennett, Tomos Williams, Steve Shingler, Tom James
A well-balanced looking squad, aiming to match Edinburgh up front and dominate with ball in hand.
Focusing on the backs and Cardiff Blues certainly have the upper hand in that department. Halaholo, Lee-Lo and Cuthbert all have the attacking ability to punch holes in the visitors defence, while Summerhill and Morgan are naturals with ball in hand.
The forwards and Lloyd Williams will have a big role to play in our success though, in terms of providing a platform and protecting young fly-half Jarrod Evans. In his first league start since March 2016 Evans will be looking to impress at first receiver, but the likes of Hardie and Bradbury in Edinburgh’s back row will certainly put pressure on him.
If Josh Navidi, Nick Williams and Josh Turnbull can do a job at the breakdown, and Matthew Rees can hold off WP Nel at scrum time then the ball is in our court in terms of winning the game.
At long last the season is ready to kick-off, and I cannot wait. Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff Blues record v Edinburgh : W 18 L 10
George Clancy (IRFU) – Generally followed by a groan upon his announcement as referee, Clancy officiated our home win over Glasgow and narrow away loss to Leinster last season.