Cardiff Blues travel up to Scotland on Friday night as they get set to face unbeaten Pro14 Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun.
After two must-win games against teams around us in the league, it’s now a big test against the in-form side in the Pro14, with the Scottish side currently on nine wins from as many games. Seven try bonus points, the best attack and the best defence across both conferences, it’s been a dream start to the season for Glasgow.
It almost wasn’t to be though, at the hands of Cardiff Blues, no less. A 19-20 scoreline at the Arms Park in round three being the closest the Glaswegians have come to defeat this season. Only a Steve Shingler slip preventing us from snatching victory at the death.
For Glasgow it saw them kick on, but it was more important for Cardiff to do the same after a slow start to the season, and that result gave the players the confidence to head over to Connacht and secure a first victory of the campaign at the Sportsground.
Since then it’s four wins in six games for Danny Wilson’s men, catapulting us from the foot of the conference into the Champions Cup qualifying spots. However, Glasgow is not a happy stomping ground.
It’s now been straight six defeats to the Warriors on the road, with the run stretching back to February 2011 when a Tom James try and 21 points off the boot of Ceri Sweeney saw the Blues to a 15-26 victory.
The task of ending that streak is made all the harder by the fact head coach Dave Rennie is able to welcome back some of his Scottish international contingent after the national team finished their Autumn Series within the approved World Rugby window, and on the back of a 6-47 thrashing of Ospreys last weekend.
George Turner, Ryan Wilson, Henry Pyrgos, Peter Horne and Alex Dunbar all slot straight back in to the Glasgow XV, while Jamie Bhatti is named amongst the replacements.
There is also a strong foreign contingent, with Tongan international Siua Halanukonuka at tighthead, an All Black/Italian combination of Lelia Masaga and Leonardo Sarto on the wings, and former Hurricanes back rower Callum Gibbins captaining the side from the blindside.
One positive for Cardiff at least is that star man Stuart Hogg is still sidelined with a hip injury picked up on Scotland duty.
Glasgow Warriors: Ruaridh Jackson, Lelia Masaga, Alex Dunbar, Sam Johnson, Leonardo Sarto, Peter Horne, Henry Pyrgos; Alex Allan, George Turner, Siua Halanukonuka, Kiran McDonald, Scott Cummings, Callum Gibbins (c), Matt Smith, Ryan Wilson
Replacements: James Malcolm, Jamie Bhatti, D’Arcy Rae, Brian Alainu’uese, Samu Vunisa, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Niko Matawalu
Danny Wilson meanwhile must contend with a minor injury crisis that keeps Rhys Gill, Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Dillon Lewis, Ellis Jenkins and Sam Warburton out of action amongst the forwards, while Kris Dacey, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies and Josh Navidi are still with the Wales squad.
The result is Kirby Myhill making his first Pro14 start since October last year, with Brad Thyer joining Fa’ao Filise at prop. Macauley Cook shifts up to lock as Damian Welch drops to the bench, as Josh Turnbull comes in on the blindside.
In the backs there are injury absences for Lloyd Williams, Lewis Jones, Steve Shingler, Jack Roberts, Aled Summerhill, Alex Cuthbert, Rhun Williams, Dan Fish and Matthew Morgan, presenting a particular issue at full-back.
Due to that Gareth Anscombe will wear the 15 shirt in his first Pro14 start of the season, and captains the side for the first time, with the only other change in the back line seeing Blaine Scully return from international duty on the left wing.
Try scorer from last week Owen Lane retains his position on the opposite wing, as Tom James drops to the bench where he is joined by Rey Lee-Lo, also back from a stint with his national team, and Dane Blacker, who could make his Pro14 debut for Cardiff Blues.
Cardiff Blues: Gareth Anscombe (c), Owen Lane, Garyn Smith, Willis Halaholo, Blaine Scully, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Corey Domachowski, Anton Peikrishvili, James Down, Damian Welch, Dane Blacker, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James
Now the tone of these match previews have been that of positivity throughout the season so far, but with a raft of injuries to important players, Welsh call-ups still impacting on the team and an opposition in peak form, it will take a performance that emulates the Toulouse trip to get a win at Scotstoun.
That’s not to say we aren’t capable of defeating Glasgow for the first time this season, but that perhaps some more realistic aims are more appropriate on this occasion.
Firstly, the performance levels need to be acceptable. There’s no shame in getting beaten by Glasgow currently, but being hammered in a similar way to that in which the Ospreys were last week is not in order. Playing well, no matter what the scoreline, is crucial to maintaining momentum.
Secondly, playing with freedom is important. If we get bogged down in stopping Glasgow it could well become a long evening. It’s likely our best chance of taking points home is to score four tries. Play our way and don’t worry about the scoreboard until the second half.
Finally, effort. These last few weeks have seen a run of form based on players giving 100% every game. Last weekend’s win over Connacht wasn’t pretty but was ground out, and even in defeat to Scarlets there was solace in commitment. It’s all we ask for every week of the season.
All in all it’s a pressure off evening for Cardiff Blues. With some big fish to fry over the next few weeks an injury free night with a few tries to boot would be an undoubted success. Come on Cardiff!!
Glasgow Warriors form: LLWWW
Cardiff Blues form: LWLLW
Glasgow Warriors top try scorer: George Horne (5)
Cardiff Blues top try scorers: Willis Halaholo, Matthew Morgan (4)
Glasgow Warriors top points scorer: Finn Russell (51)
Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Jarrod Evans (63)
Nigel Owens (WAL) – Showtime Nige. Need more be said?