Cardiff Blues look to bounce back from the disappointment of last weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup defeat against Cheetahs on Saturday, with the squad arriving in Cape Town early on Tuesday morning.
Unfortunately for John Mulvihill, his team selection this week will not include key players in the form of Dillon Lewis, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans or Gareth Anscombe, with all five included in the Wales squad ahead of the Autumn internationals starting in 10 days.
Add into the equation injuries for Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi and Owen Lane, while it appears that Kris Dacey has been rested for the trip, and nine of the squad who have played big roles in the season so far will be unavailable for the encounter in Bloemfontein.
As a result a number of players who have not been in and around the first team squad this season could well get the opportunity to impress John Mulvihill in a Guinness Pro14 setting, as well as some members of the squad who perhaps haven’t got off to a flyer so far in this campaign.
Up front there is an opportunity for Kirby Myhill or Ethan Lewis to stake a claim for the hooker spot in Dacey’s absence, with neither having really made a full impression on the matchday 23 so far this season.
In the eight games so far this season, Myhill has replaced Dacey five times, while Lewis has come on three times, most recently in the game against Glasgow on Sunday. Neither has shown enough in any appearance to fully nail down the number 16 jersey, yet one will get the chance to start for the first time under John Mulvihill on Saturday.
There was a fair bit of attention on the lineout throwing in the Heineken Cup game last weekend, especially when three kickable penalties were turned down but the kicks to the corner spoiled by a misfiring lineout, which should result in some serious set piece work this week.
Aside from that, either Myhill or Lewis will have to match Dacey’s work around the field, with the Wales international carrying 15 times and making 11 tackles at the Arms Park, while Liam Belcher has also gone on tour after returning from the Dragons over the summer and impressing for Cardiff Blues A.
Behind them Rory Thornton has yet to catch the imagination of the full supporter base after his summer loan move from the Ospreys.
It seems some supporters may not have been fully aware of what the second row’s skillset is, with his frame suited to strong lineout work rather than full on grunt, but there has been a bit of disappointment about workrate in terms of breakdowns hit, tackles made and carries made.
A strong showing off the bench in Lyon started to turn opinion, but he will now need to back that up over the international break, with Josh Turnbull likely to drop into the back row, while Macauley Cook is out injured and Seb Davies only just returning from a knee problem.
Moving into the backs, and there are some big gaps in the half-back ranks with Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans and Gareth Anscombe all now in the Wales squad ahead of the first Autumn International against Scotland a week on Saturday.
As a result the scrum-half spot is almost certain to go to Lloyd Williams, with Lewis Jones set to cover the position from the bench and hope to make his first Pro14 appearance since Judgement, and just his third league outing since the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign.
It’ll be the 25-year-old’s 94th Cardiff Blues appearance in all competitions though, and after playing in the majority of the Celtic Cup matches across the first two weeks of the season, Jones will be sharp and ready to hopefully make an impact late in the game against Cheetahs.
With Tomos set to be away with the Wales squad more and more in the coming years, but young Dane Blacker making an impression at scrum-half behind him, Jones will be hoping some strong first team showings over the next few weeks catch the eye of John Mulvihill.
Outside Lloyd and Jones, Steve Shingler is set to make a first team start at fly-half for the first time since during last season’s Autumn Internationals, having also featured regularly for Cardiff Blues A at the start of the season.
Again, like Jones, the 27-year-old will be aware of Ben Jones and Ben Thomas coming up through the ranks of the academy and will want to take the opportunity to impress Mulvihill in a Pro14 setting, especially in the tough environment of an away game in South Africa.
In the Bloemfontein heat and with a backline outside him that took a confidence hit against Glasgow last week, Shingler will need to produce all of his game management tricks, with his thunderous kicking likely proving critical in how the 80 minutes are going to go.
With Jarrod now not travelling the question has been raised about who covers fly-half should a nightmare strike and Shingler go down.
Matthew Morgan is the likely candidate to step up from full-back, but the man who will probably provide one of the backs options on the bench is a man who epitomises the phrase ‘cult hero’. Ladies and gentleman, Dan Fish is back.
The Fish hasn’t played in a Guinness Pro14 game since suffering a horror hamstring tear back in November 2016 away at Connacht, and at one point there was a fear he may not make a comeback at all when comebacks in the Anglo-Welsh Cup lasted just 43 and 15 minutes, respectively, last season.
However, after a run of Cardiff RFC games at the back end of last season, and then time spent with Cardiff Blues A, including starting at fly-half in one match, in the last few weeks, the 27-year-old has travelled to Bloemfontein and could find himself thrust back into first team action straight away.
With Jarrod and Anscombe away with Wales, while Owen Lane, Rhun Williams and Blaine Scully are still injured, his open field running and handy left boot could be just what is needed in the last 15 minutes against Cheetahs.
Wouldn’t it be written for Dan to score the winner in Bloemfontein…#FeedTheFish