When Cardiff Blues travel up to face Edinburgh on Saturday in the European Challenge Cup it will not just be a knockout game, it will be the two in-form Guinness Pro14 sides going head-to-head.
Team tactics, defensive organisation, attacking systems and set piece cohesion will all play big parts in determining the outcome of the match.
Within that though are a number of key individual battles that need to be won, high quality players on each side going up against each other. It’s what European knockout rugby is all about.
Here we go through the battles to keep an eye on during the game on Saturday.
Gethin Jenkins v Simon Berghan/WP Nel
Cardiff Blues face a big effort to establish domination up front, and they will be led in doing so by inspirational captain Gethin Jenkins.
When the two sets of forwards pack down at the set piece, Jenkins will be likely to go up against one of two Scottish internationals, Simon Berghan or WP Nel.
Berghan got the nod to start against Connacht last week, but Nel was on the bench as he continued his comeback from a broken arm and his experience could win out over his team-mate though.
Neither can rival Jenkins in the experience stakes, however, and if Gethin can use some of the tricks of the trade to get one over on them at the scrum, then we know he will be better than them in open play. Jenkins has been superb over the last few weeks as an extra back-rower, adding to our breakdown threat from the flankers.
George Earle v Grant Gilchrist
The natural assumption would be to look at the battle of the new-age second rows of Ben Toolis and Seb Davies, however, their performances may well depend on their more experienced team-mates of Earle and Gilchrist.
Particularly in the case of Cardiff Blues, the physicality of Earle at the maul and in his ball carrying can allow Davies the platform to show of his running and handling skillset.
That physicality will have to be at it’s peak to go up against an Edinburgh pack, led by Gilchrist, that prides itself on making the hard yards and dominating at the set piece. If Cardiff Blues are going to lose the game anywhere it’s going to be up front.
Ellis Jenkins v John Hardie
If Cardiff Blues are going to stem the Edinburgh power game, then dominating on the floor is going to be the order of the day. Fortunately we’re very well equipped to do just that.
Ellis Jenkins is in some of his best form after coming back from a bad hamstring injury in the first half of the season, Josh Navidi returns after a more than impressive Six Nations with Wales, and Nick Williams is second in the Pro14 for turnovers won.
Edinburgh have the firepower to seriously test our back row though, with Hamish Watson, Cornell Du Preez, Viliame Mata and Magnus Bradbury in their ranks, but the battle between Hardie and Jenkins is likely to be the face of the back row. However wins that will send their team on the road to victory.
Chris Dean and Mark Bennett v Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo
Although much of Edinburgh’s play comes through their powerful forwards, inside centre Chris Dean is an equally key weapon, running hard from 12.
With the skilful Scottish international outside him waiting to take advantage of space made by the dummy runs of Dean, Halaholo and Lee-Lo will have to be in tandem at their defensive best, covering both Jarrod Evans in the 10 channel, without leaving their outside shoulders over-exposed.
Although there was impressive hits from each of them last week there was also missed tackles which we can’t afford to see on Saturday. Edinburgh will put us to the sword where Ulster didn’t.
If they nail the defensive side of their game, and carry on their attacking threat from last week, there is no reason Halaholo and Lee-Lo can’t get one over on their opposite numbers.
Gareth Anscombe v Blair Kinghorn
Both sides will probably class their main attacking threats as playing at full-back. Cardiff Blues fans all know about the class of Gareth Anscombe, who returns after making his mark on the Six Nations properly for the first time.
On the other side though, Kinghorn also appeared in the Six Nations for the first time this season, on the back of leading the Pro14 in metres gained, sitting third in defenders beaten, and fifth in clean breaks made.
To counter that threat the kicking game will have to be spot on, and the kick chase effective, to keep the dangerous Kinghorn at bay.
If Anscombe can produce the form at full-back that saw him moved to 10 in the Six Nations, as well as that which supported Jarrod Evans so superbly in the final rounds of the Challenge Cup pool stages, then there’s a man-of-the-match report waiting for him at the end of the game.
Looking at the head-to-heads around the field, this Saturday will be comfortably the toughest fixture for Cardiff Blues of the current unbeaten rub. However, each of our players named have the ability to beat their opponent, there is no question about that.
Whereas in previous years you might not have backed us to produce when it mattered, we have already done it in important situations this season. There’s no reason we can’t do it again in Scotland. Come on Cardiff!