Cardiff Blues play our final Guinness Pro14 game of the season this weekend as we prepare to face the Ospreys at Judgement Day with a 17:35 kick-off.
As much as the Welsh Rugby Union are desperately trying to hype up the occasion as crucial games for all four sides involved at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, there’s really very little left to play for.
Dragons cannot improve on their sixth place, and Ospreys can’t improve on their fifth place and are guaranteed a Champions Cup play-off, while Scarlets are pretty much guaranteed a Pro14 play-off spot barring an absolute disaster, although could do with a win to secure a home quarter-final. You’ve got to imagine they will get past Bernard Jackman’s men fairly comfortably though.
Cardiff Blues can mathematically still make the Pro14 play-offs, however for the purpose of this blog I’m going to write us off, purely on the basis that it requires the Southern Kings to beat Cheetahs. On the evidence of the two games I’ve seen the Kings play this season, it’s not very likely at all.
Therefore the fact of the matter is that, in a Pro14 setting, Saturday’s derby is a dead rubber for Cardiff Blues, so would you blame Danny Wilson for putting out a completely changed side?
These last few weeks have been some physically tough ones for Cardiff Blues. Most players have played at least four of five games against Ulster, Edinburgh, Cheetahs, Kings and Pau, with intense European knockout games and energy sapping South African encounters in there.
Add in it’s the final block of fixtures of the season, and there’s no doubt some players will be starting to feel their bodies going. With the European Challenge Cup Final around the corner, and possibly a Wales tour for some players on the horizon, a rest could be well timed.
If they were to be rested, Danny Wilson could name a squad that looks like this;
Matthew Morgan, Aled Summerhill, Harri Millard, Garyn Smith, Dan Fish, Steve Shingler, Dane Blacker; Brad Thyer, Ethan Lewis, Dillon Lewis, Ben Murphy, James Down, Macauley Cook, Jim Botham, Alun Lawrence
Iestyn Harris, Domachowski, Kieron Assiratti, Callum Bradbury, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Lewis Jones, Ben Jones, Cameron Lewis
A great opportunity for a number of fringe senior players to stake their claim for a spot in the Challenge Cup Final squad, while for the young players named there is a chance to gain exposure of first team rugby, a Welsh derby and a big occasion playing in front of a large crowd at the Millennium. Of course, John Mulvihill will more than likely be watching as well.
However, there is a flip side to all of this, and that is whether Danny Wilson will actually want to rest his players considering the gap between the semi-final and final of the Challenge Cup. It is a careful balancing act that Wilson will have to strike, between risking injury to key players and leaving players without a competitive game for three weeks.
A large part of the impressive Cardiff Blues form in this second half of the season has been based on the momentum built from a largely settled matchday 23, and the subsequent strong performances and good results.
Therefore, keeping players in good match practice, and ensuring that this run of form we are on continues into the Challenge Cup Final, will no doubt be at the forefront of Danny Wilson’s mind.
There are other reasons for naming a slightly stronger side as well, although these are unlikely to come into Wilson’s thinking at any point, but they are worth considering here from a wider perspective.
Firstly, Judgement Day is a good chance for Welsh players to stake their claim for the summer tour. Especially with some senior players and those who toured with the British and Irish Lions last year being rested, there is good opportunity for some fringe international players to secure decent game time against South Africa and Argentina.
Secondly, from a commercial point of view, there is potential for Judgement Day to lead to supporters wishing to watch Cardiff Blues on a regular basis. Ticket sales look like topping 50,000, and if we perform well there is a possibility that an ‘eventer’ could be inspired to buy tickets to an Arms Park game next season.
Obviously there are flaws with the Judgement Day setup, not least it’s timing as the last game of the season, but it doesn’t mean supporters can’t be impressed with our style of play which, coupled with the Challenge Cup Final and Champions Cup qualification, should hopefully lead to an increase in attendance.
Finally, there are bragging rights to be won. It’s always nice to win a Welsh derby, and this Saturday will be no exception, even if it is a dead rubber with bigger fish to fry around the corner.
All in all, I imagine we’ll see changes from last week, but I’d still like to see us name a competitive side to carry that momentum into the Challenge Cup Final and secure a win. I’m actually turning up for a Judgement Day this weekend, at least offer me a victory for my pain! Come on Cardiff!