Preview: Cardiff Blues v Ospreys

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The Guinness Pro14 comes to an end of Saturday as Cardiff Blues face Ospreys at the Principality Stadium with nothing but pride and momentum at stake for both sides.

This sixth annual edition of Welsh professional rugby’s showpiece event, where all four Welsh teams play each other in front of 60,000 supporters at the national stadium, unfortunately has nothing riding on it, except for potentially the Scarlets, with the Welsh Rugby Union potentially requiring a re-think about the scheduling of the day.

For the Ospreys, they can reach no higher than fifth in Conference A of the Pro14, while Cardiff Blues can mathematically make the play-offs, but the likelihood of it happening is particularly slim given that the Cheetahs need to lose to the Kings out in South Africa.

Willis Halaholo Kings
Kings weren’t the best team we’ve faced this season

However, both sides do have important one-off end-of-season games coming up in two weeks, so the season is not over yet. Ospreys will face either Ulster or Treviso in a play-off for Champions Cup rugby, while Cardiff Blues of course have the Challenge Cup Final against Gloucester in Bilbao.

Due to that there has no doubt been difficult decisions to make for both head coaches in terms of what sort of side to put out. Do you rest key players so as to avoid injuries and keep them fresh, or do you continue to select a strong XV to try and gather momentum to take in to the big games.

Then there is the bragging rights. Even with nothing on the game this is still a Welsh derby, and after Cardiff Blues won fairly convincingly at Judgement Day last year, Ospreys will no doubt be looking for revenge.

Gareth Anscombe scores against Ospreys at last year’s Judgement Day

On the flip side, that victory was still only one win for Cardiff Blues in 14 games against the Ospreys, stretching back to the 2009/10 season, and after an agonising 29-28 defeat at the Liberty Stadium back in January, there is a psychological boost to be had from securing a win on Saturday.

In the end though, it seems like the respective team selections offer a fair reflection on the seasons that each side have had.

For the Ospreys, it has been a tough year. One win in the opening nine league and European games got them off to a slow start, and although a double over Northampton and a draw against Saracens gave them hope in the Champions Cup, that was dashed away to Clermont and cost Steve Tandy his job.

Steve Tandy
Steve Tandy was removed from his job at the Ospreys

Allen Clarke took over on a temporary basis, and four home wins in a row during the Six Nations took the Swansea-based side up to automatic Champions Cup qualification contention, but in the end an 8-0 defeat away to Ulster scuppered their chances, and then last week an inexperienced side was well beaten away to Zebre.

After that up-and-down season, and off the back of two defeats, now permanent head coach Clarke has decided to go as full strength as he can for Judgement Day, recalling a number of familiar faces to his side.

12 internationals are named in the Ospreys starting XV, including key men Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Dan Evans, with players including Jeff Hassler and Dimitri Arhip playing their last games in Wales for the club before leaving for pastures new this summer.

Another five internationals sit on the bench, with the weight of Ma’afu Fia and Giorgi Nemsadze set to make an impact, while Ashley Beck will also be featuring on home soil for the last time.

Ospreys: Dan Evans, Jeff Hassler, Kieron Fonotia, Owen Watkin, Hanno Dirksen, Dan Biggar, Tom Habberfield; Nicky Smith, Scott Otten, Dmitri Arhip, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Sam Cross, Justin Tipuric, James King

Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Rhodri Jones, Ma’afu Fia, Adam Beard, Giorgi Nemsadze, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Sam Davies, Ashley Beck

Dan Biggar Ospreys
Dan Biggar will start at fly-half for the Ospreys

Cardiff Blues, on the other hand, have the second half of the season of dreams, losing just once in 11 games since that defeat to the Ospreys in early January, and securing Champions Cup rugby next season, as well as a third European final appearance for the club.

With that in mind, as well as a number of knocks after a physical encounter against Pau last week, Danny Wilson clearly feels that he can afford to rest the majority of that squad and not risk any momentum being lost heading out to Bilbao.

Despite making 21 changes to the 23 that made up the squad last week, however, it is still a strong Cardiff Blues line-up, showing off the strength in depth that we currently have within the squad.

Fa’ao Filise and Rhys Gill make for an experienced prop pairing, similar to James Down and Damian Welch in the second row, while the back row of Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson and Josh Turnbull will be a mobile aspect of the starting XV.

Lloyd Williams and Gareth Anscombe are a Welsh international half-back pairing, while Matthew Morgan and Blaine Scully add further international caps in the back three.

There is plenty of youth on the bench though, with none of the replacements aged over 25. Back rower Alun Lawrence and centre/wing Max Llewelyn are set to make their debuts if called upon.

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Aled Summerhill, Garyn Smith, Steven Shingler, Blaine Scully, Gareth Anscombe (c), Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill, Taufa’ao Filise, Damian Welch, James Down, Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Josh Turnbull

Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, Ben Murphy, Alun Lawrence, Lewis Jones, Harri Millard, Max Llewellyn

Filise 2
Fa’ao Filise scores against Ospreys last Judgement Day

Although this could well be seen as some sort of ‘second string’ team selection, Danny Wilson has been keen to point out that there are still places up for grabs in the squad that will play in Bilbao in two weeks, and a strong showing against the Ospreys would do a player no harm at all.

Aside from that it is a chance to catch the eye of the Team Wales coaches who will no doubt be in attendance, as well as crucial experience for some of the younger members of the matchday squad.

It will be a tough ask to come away with a result against a strong Ospreys side though, who will no doubt fancy their chances up front to lay on a platform for their backs to attack off.

Cardiff Blues will need to be at their tactical best, like last year at Judgement Day, where we nullified Ospreys power threat with some effective carrying and body positions.

In defence we are looking strong, with Cook, Robinson and Turnbull all used to posting high tackle numbers by now, as well as Garyn Smith earning a reputation as an excellent reader of the game at 13, while Blaine Scully and Gareth Anscombe will combine to ensure Matthew Morgan is not targeted under the high ball.

A potential issue is in attack where, without the hot stepping of Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo in midfield, Cardiff Blues will have to rely on Anscombe and Steve Shingler clicking in those 10/12 jerseys to bring in Morgan, Scully and Aled Summerhill in the wider positions.

All in all though, I’m just looking for a committed performance to finish the season on a high, the scoreboard will look after itself. Come on Cardiff!

Ospreys Cardiff Team 2
Let’s hope for more scenes like this on Saturday


Cardiff Blues form: WWLWW

Ospreys form: LLWWW

Cardiff Blues top try scorers: Owen Lane and Willis Halaholo (6)

Ospreys top try scorer: Dan Evans (11)

Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Jarrod Evans (170)

Ospreys top points scorer: Dan Biggar (123)

Ref Watch

Frank Murphy (IRE) – The former scrum-half will referee Cardiff Blues for the fourth time at Judgement Day, with his previous games yielding three wins and a narrow defeat.

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