Cardiff Blues are looking to make it a clean sweep of three from three in the festive Welsh derbies this weekend as John Mulvihill’s men travel West once again on Saturday.
It comes after last weekend’s journey beyond junction 33 produced a superb 5-34 win away at Scarlets, with tries from Lloyd Williams, Gareth Anscombe and a brace from Rey Lee-Lo securing a try bonus point at Parc y Scarlets.
That was the first win by any team in the Guinness Pro14 in Llanelli for two years, but Cardiff Blues will have to keep the record breaking up this weekend if we are to win our first game of 2019.
You have to go way back to December 2005 for the last Cardiff Blues win over the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium, when tries from Chris Czekaj, Craig Morgan and Deiniol Jones, as well as Nicky Robinson’s boot, secured a comfortable 9-28 victory for Dai Young’s side.
There have been a draw and an Anglo-Welsh Cup win in the intervening period, but it’s still a record that we would very much like changed, and there’s no better time to start than this Saturday.
After last week’s Scarlets win Cardiff Blues returned to just a point behind the Ospreys, and four behind Connacht in third place, as the race for the play-offs in Conference A begins to heat up with the season making the turn for home.
Ospreys themselves will be reeling after a surprise defeat at the hands of Dragons at Rodney Parade last weekend, the Dragons’ first Welsh derby win in four years and a tough day at the office for Allen Clarke’s men with Sam Davies missing a kick in the dying moments to win it.
Much like Cardiff Blues, that capped off an inconsistent first half of the season that saw them start well before falling away during the Autumn International period. A win in Newport would have been cause for great optimism heading into 2019, but it was not to be.
As a result Clarke has made three changes to his starting XV that will line-up at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, as Rhodri Jones replaces Gareth Thomas at loosehead, James King is dropped for Sam Cross at number eight, while former Cardiff Blues player Cory Allen replaces Owen Watkin at centre.
All three replaced players drop down to the replacements bench, where they are joined by young fly-half Luke Price.
Ospreys: Dan Evans, George North, Cory Allen, Scott Williams, Luke Morgan, Sam Davies, Aled Davies; Rhodri Jones, Scott Baldwin, Tom Botha, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Olly Cracknell, Justin Tipuric (c), Sam Cross
Replacements: Scott Otten, Gareth Thomas, Alex Jeffries, Lloyd Ashley, James King, Tom Habberfield, Luke Price, Owen Watkin
On the opposite side, John Mulvihill opts to make five changes to his Cardiff Blues starting XV from that which started against Scarlets last week.
Up front there are two new props as Rhys Gill returns from injury at loosehead while Dmitri Arhip starts against his former clip on the tighthead. Behind them Olly Robinson replaces George Earle with Josh Turnbull moving up to lock and Josh Navidi switching across to blindside flanker.
In the backs Tomos Williams is preferred to Lloyd at scrum-half, while Matthew Morgan is also returning to a former stomping ground as he starts at full-back.
On the bench Rory Thornton could appear against the team from which he is on loan, Kirby Myhill is set for his 50th appearance while Owen Lane returns to action after close to three months out with injury.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Blaine Scully, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Garyn Smith, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey (c), Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Lloyd Williams, Steven Shingler, Owen Lane
As the season winds it’s way ever closer towards May the games will no doubt be getting tougher and more important, but this is a massive one for Cardiff Blues and John Mulvihill in his first season in charge.
There’s the monkey off the back aspect that would come from beating Ospreys, as well as the momentum from winning all three festive Welsh derbies and the bragging rights from sitting top of the mini-Welsh derby table.
As well as that, important points and table position would be gained in the Pro14 play-off race, as we play the first of four important games, two against Ospreys and two against Connacht.
Another huge defensive performance is on the menu if we are to deal with what the Ospreys will throw at us both physically and with more width, while our attacking game will once again need to be in chance conversion mode.
Try scoring opportunities are generally few and far between at the Liberty Stadium, but the good news for Cardiff Blues is that the effort required to be competitive in the big games is starting to come naturally, a trait that can be fallen back upon in times of hardship.
A good travelling contingent can hopefully cheer the boys on to victory. Come on Cardiff!
Ospreys form: WWLWL
Cardiff Blues form: LLLWW
Ospreys top try scorers: Cory Allen, Luke Morgan, George North (4)
Cardiff Blues top try scorer: Rey Lee-Lo (8)
Ospreys top points scorer: Sam Davies (76)
Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (125)
Ben Whitehouse (WAL) – Refereeing his 50th Pro14 game aged just 28, the Welshman has been in the middle for four Cardiff Blues games, with two wins and two losses. Each game has ended in a home win.