After two weeks off while the Autumn Internationals get into full swing, the Guinness Pro14 returns this weekend as Cardiff Blues travel to Scotland to face Glasgow Warriors.
It marks the start of the second major block of fixtures that will see John Mulvihill’s men journey through the back end of the November international period, onto the December double header of European games and then to the festive derbies before finishing with the final Heineken Cup pool stage games in mid-January.
As with every season this is a hugely crucial stage of the campaign which goes a long way to shaping how the league will look ahead of the March and April run-in to end of season play-off and knockout games.
Those teams that started the season so well can quickly fade away, while others that were perhaps slow out of the blocks can claw themselves back into contention with a run of good form.
For Cardiff Blues the aim has to be to develop some sort of consistency in this block of fixtures after a fairly stop-start first block under John Mulvihill.
The three straight defeats to start the season were followed by three solid wins, before two losses and a victory to bring the block to a close. A frustrating time in many ways, with those three games to start the season being thrown away in such careless fashion, before two really disappointing performances against Glasgow and Cheetahs.
However, the upshot is that we currently have seven more league points than we did at the same stage last season and are in a great position in the table. Two points off second and right in the middle of the play-off scrap with Ospreys, Connacht and Munster.
So now we head into the second block of fixtures and there are some really tough games to overcome as we look to push on in both the league and Europe.
Saracens are the opponents for a December double header, trips to Scarlets and Ospreys follow Dragons at home before we travel to Glasgow in Europe and welcome Lyon at the Arms Park. No easy games, no let up from the big encounters.
First though we have to navigate away games at Glasgow and Ulster, and to get the block off to a good start John Mulvihill’s squad are going to have to break some long standing losing records.
You’d have to go back to February 2011 for the last time Cardiff Blues won away at Glasgow Warriors in the league, when 21 points from the boot of Ceri Sweeney and a Tom James try secured a 15-26 win, followed by seven straight losses.
It’s even further back to April 2010 for the last Cardiff Blues win at Ravenhill, with Ulster being dispatched 24-33 thanks to tries from Xavier Rush, Casey Laulala and Daf Hewitt. Seven straight losses in Northern Ireland as well, courtesy of not playing them away last season.
The good news for Mulvihill is that playing Glasgow, who provide a large number of players to the Scotland team, and Ulster, who have their fair share of Irish internationals, are likely to be without a number of key squad members.
With Cardiff Blues only sending five players to the Wales squad, and hopefully getting at least Jarrod Evans and possibly Seb Davies back for Friday’s trip to Scotland, there is a real chance of snatching some all important league points to kick off the block of fixtures.
If we can secure at least six points to keep us in the play-off hunt through to the festive derbies we have a great opportunity to get into the quarter-finals when May comes around. Come on Cardiff!