The festive derbies continue this weekend as Cardiff Blues make the annual pilgrimage to the wild west to face Scarlets on Saturday, with another win required to keep pace in the play-off race.
After last week’s victory over Dragons, John Mulvihill’s men just about kept in touch with Ospreys and Connacht in the spots above us in Conference A, however the performance level was some way below what is expected. With the opposition getting tougher by the week, we will have to improve quickly and starting this Saturday.
On the other side, Scarlets themselves are going through a rough patch of form at the moment having lost their last four games. This has put them out of Heineken Champions Cup knockout stage contention, and could see them drop as low as fifth in Conference B if results go against them this weekend.
The impending loss of head coach Wayne Pivac, backs coach Stephen Jones and possibly defence coach Byron Hayward to the Team Wales national team may well have played their part, with all set to depart at the end of the season and take over after the World Cup.
However, more likely to be an issue is the loss of John Barclay and Tadhg Beirne last summer, as well as injuries to Samson Lee, Jake Ball, James Davies and Aaron Shingler for some or all of this season.
That lack of stability and quality in the pack’s back five has left Scarlets unable to get go-forward ball or turnover ball, both of which they thrive from.
As a result they have gone down to Glasgow, Ulster twice and arch-rivals the Ospreys this month, averaging less than 20 points per game and running an uncharacteristically leaky defence.
Just like last week Pivac has once again opted for Hadleigh Parkes, naturally an inside centre, to start at fly-half with Rhys Patchell out for around six weeks and Dan Jones left to sit on the bench in a decision that has baffled some Scarlets fans.
There is better news in the form of Leigh Halfpenny returning though, with the former Cardiff Blues man lining up at full-back having not played since being knocked out by Samu Kerevi in the Autumn International against Australia.
Up front Jake Ball has also been ruled out for around six weeks after picking up a knock, with Josh Helps replacing him in the second row.
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Prydie, Jonathan Davies, Kieron Fonotia, Johnny McNicholl, Hadleigh Parkes, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens (c), Samson Lee, Josh Helps, David Bulbring, Ed Kennedy, James Davies, Will Boyde
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Werner Kruger, Tom Price, Dan Davis, Kieran Hardy, Dan Jones, Paul Asquith
John Mulvihill is also forced into one change due to injury, as Rhys Gill is ruled out after picking up a knock in last week’s win over Dragons, with Brad Thyer coming in to replace him in the starting line-up.
Elsewhere there are two tactical switches as George Earle replaces Olly Robinson in the XV, resulting in a re-shuffle that sees Josh Turnbull drop to blindside and Josh Navidi move over to the openside, while Lloyd Williams and Tomos Williams are a straight swap at scrum-half.
On the bench there is a welcome return for Dmitri Arhip, while Corey Domachowski is named in a matchday squad for the first time this season.
Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish, Blaine Scully, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Garyn Smith, Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Kristian Dacey (c), Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Corey Domachowski, Dmitri Arhip, James Down, Olly Robinson, Tomos Williams, Steven Shingler, Matthew Morgan
When comparing the two teams there are noticeable areas where, on paper at least, Cardiff Blues are stronger in the back five and in the midfield, courtesy of Scarlets going for Parkes at 10, however the hosts will fancy themselves in both the front and back three.
The bench is where Cardiff Blues might find the most advantage though, with the likes of Arhip, Robinson and Williams ready to come on and make an impact when called on.
If we can keep the game away from a set piece battle and get our kicking game spot on to prevent the Scarlets having the chance to run the ball, then we stand a chance, however, our own worst enemy may well be our own form.
In recent weeks our attack has been spectacularly misfiring, a big change from the potency of last season, so that even when we do find ourselves with lengthy spells of possession or good field position we are unable to take advantage of it.
At Parc y Scarlets, no matter what the form of the home team, chances will be few and far between. If we are to gain this important win, getting over the try line at least three times will likely be required. Come on Cardiff!
Scarlets form: WLLLL
Cardiff Blues form: LLLLW
Scarlets top try scorer: Gareth Davies (5)
Cardiff Blues top try scorer: Rey Lee-Lo (6)
Scarlets top points scorer: Leigh Halfpenny (36)
Cardiff Blues top point scorer: Gareth Anscombe (106)
Nigel Owens (WAL) – IT’S SHOWTIME!