Preview: Cardiff Blues v Saracens

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The Arms Park plays host to the second instalment of the Cardiff Blues v Saracens Heineken Champions Cup pool stage double header on Saturday, with John Mulvihill’s men looking to bounce back from a heavy defeat last Sunday.

It was a promising first 40 minutes at Allianz Park, despite an early Richard Wigglesworth try for the English side, as a score for Blaine Scully and a wonderful individual effort from Matthew Morgan put Cardiff Blues ahead at the break.

However, with players falling with injuries at a rate of knots and struggling to play into the wind, Saracens eased away, scoring give tries and securing a comfortable 51-25 win in the end.

This week is a new week though, and although Saracens have visited Cardiff for European finals in recent years, they have not visited the city for a game at the Arms Park since 2000 when they once again came to play in the second half of a Heineken Cup double header.

Neil Jenkins Saracens
Neil Jenkins was the man-of-the-match at CAP in 2000

That game followed a Blue and Black win at Vicarage Road the previous week, and once again it was a feisty affair as four yellow cards followed the five shown in the reverse fixture, producing a lot of penalties.

Kicking those penalties became the difference as Thomas Castaignede and Duncan McRae struggled off the tee for Saracens, while Neil Jenkins kicked all of Cardiff’s points for a 24-15 win that kept knockout stage qualification hopes alive.

However, 18 years on and Saracens have better records to cling to, as they are currently seven games unbeaten against Welsh opposition, have lost just once in their last 10 European games away from home and are still yet to suffer defeat in the Premiership or Heineken Cup this season.

Sarries head coach Mark McCall makes four changes to the starting XV that cruised to that victory last week, with one enforced as the injured Jackson Wray is replaced by Ben Earl, who scored two tries at Allianz Park six days ago.

Also in the forwards there is a return for England lock George Kruis, who recovers from injury to start, while in the backs Ben Spencer and Nick Tompkins start at scrum-half and outside centre, respectively, with English internationals Richard Wigglesworth and Alex Lozowski taking a seat on the bench.

Saracens: Alex Goode, Sean Maitland, Nick Tompkins, Brad Barritt (c), Alex Lewington, Owen Farrell, Ben Spencer; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Vincent Koch, Will Skelton, George Kruis, Mike Rhodes, Schalk Burger, Ben Earl

Replacements: Tom Woolstencroft, Richard Barrington, Juan Figallo, Dom Day, Nick Isiekwe, Calum Clark, Richard Wigglesworth, Alex Lozowski

Ben Earl Saracens
Ben Earl scoring one of his two tries last week

On the other side, Cardiff Blues see a huge nine changes made to the starting XV that ran out at Allianz Park last week as players suffer injuries, but return from injuries in equal measure.

Up front Scott Andrews is preferred to Dillon Lewis at tighthead, while Kris Dacey returns from injury to start at hooker.

The return of Nick Williams and Josh Navidi sees a back five reshuffle with George Earle and Olly Robinson dropping to the bench, Josh Turnbull stepping up to lock and Samu Manoa sliding across to blindside flanker.

Lloyd Williams is unavailable so Lewis Jones makes a first European start in either competition since January 2014, but there is better news in the centres as first choice duo Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo return to start.

Outside them Garyn Smith plays on the wing, while Dan Fish is preferred to Matthew Morgan at full-back.

Altogether the injury list reads; Dmitri Arhip, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Lloyd Williams, Jarrod Evans, Jack Roberts, Harri Millard, Aled Summerhill, Owen Lane, Rhun Williams, Jason Harries.

Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish; Blaine Scully, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Garyn Smith; Gareth Anscombe, Lewis Jones; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull (c), Samu Manoa, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Olly Robinson, Dane Blacker, Steven Shingler, Matthew Morgan

Josh Navidi Cardiff Blues
Josh Navidi is back after two months out

Plenty of changes but, despite fears surrounding the injury list earlier in the week, arguably a stronger overall 23 than John Mulvihill was able to name for the away game last weekend.

Many were bemused by the dropping of Matthew Morgan after THAT try last week, but perhaps when looking at the weather forecast the decision to bring Dan Fish back into the starting XV makes sense, with heavy rain suggesting a kicking game might be in store.

With that in mind there will need to be a physical shift from the pack as Saracens will go to the big carries off the scrum-half even more regularly in adverse field conditions, while the lineout will need a huge improvement as Owen Farrell tries to push us into corners.

Then we’ll need to rely on the game management on Gareth Anscombe to assist Lewis Jones in driving Cardiff Blues around the field, playing when it is the right time and kicking accurately, before a solid kick chase is required.

It’ll certainly be more of a tactical affair than the free-flowing nature of last week, giving this double header a ‘tale of two games’ flavour, rather than any sort of carbon copy.

If we can stay in the game early and then into the second half, a sold out Arms Park should hopefully drive the players forward, and with more quality rising off our bench there is a chance we can be more competitive into the second half. That is assuming we don’t get struck down with injuries again of course.

Therefore we’ll have a big part to play in the terraces to drive the players on. Nothing to lose, so why not win? Come on Cardiff!


Cardiff Blues form: LWLLL

Saracens form: WWWWW

Cardiff Blues top try scorer: Rey Lee-Lo (5)

Saracens top try scorer: Alex Lewington (8)

Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (94)

Saracens top points scorer: Owen Farrell (107)

Ref Watch

Jerome Garces (FRA) – What more needs to be said than he is the man who was in the middle in Bilbao? Jerome has our back, and just happens to be one of the top two best referees in the World, alongside Wayne Barnes.

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