Heineken Champions Cup action returns this weekend as Cardiff Blues travel up to Scotland to face Glasgow Warriors in the fifth round of the pool stages.
Unfortunately John Mulvihill’s men are already without a chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds of the competition, but they will be looking to finish the return to the top table of European rugby with a bang.
We come up against a Glasgow side who have become our main bogey side this season, with two defeats at their hands already. Both were as a result of poor performances, a 12-29 scoreline at the Arms Park tough to take, a 40-15 loss in the league at Scotstoun a massive disappointment.
In fact, when it comes to beating Sunday’s hosts on their own patch, you have to go back to the last time we faced them in the Heineken Cup to find a Cardiff Blues win. That day, in some horrendous Scottish weather, it was the kicking of Leigh Halfpenny, and a particularly memorable monster Rhys Patchell penalty, that secured us a 7-9 victory.
However, this weekend we will come up against a wounded Glasgow who are currently on a three game losing streak. Back-to-back defeats at the hands of rivals Edinburgh were followed by a surprise 20-17 loss away at Benetton last weekend, seeing them drop to second in the Pro14’s Conference A.
They will be hoping that a change in focus comes at the right time, as Dave Rennie’s men are on the verge of qualifying for the Heineken Cup knockout stages for the first time ever.
With a trip to Gallagher Premiership champions, and pool leaders, Saracens to finish off the pool stage next week, Glasgow will be hoping for a win over Cardiff Blues to give them the best possible chance of making the quarter-finals through the best runner-up route.
After making a number of changes for last weekend’s trip to Italy, Rennie recalls familiar faces for Sunday’s match as only inside centre Sam Johnson survives in the backline, while Grant Stewart at hooker, Scott Cummings in the second row and co-captain Ryan Wilson on the flank continue to start in the pack.
Fellow co-captain Callum Gibbins is one of those recalled this week, while recognisable Scottish internationals Ali Price, Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg are included in the backs, alongside the prolific DTH van der Merwe.
Rob Harley makes his 200th Glasgow Warriors in the second row, the first player to achieve that feat at the club.
Glasgow Warriors: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Sam Johnson, DTH van der Merwe, Brandon Thomson, Ali Price; Oli Kebble, Grant Stewart, D’Arcy Rae, Rob Harley, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson, Callum Gibbins, Matt Fagerson
Replacements: Kevin Bryce, Alex Allan, Petrus du Plessis, Tim Swinson, Chris Fusaro, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Lee Jones
John Mulvihill has also made a number of changes to his team to fly up to Scotland this weekend, but has gone the other way to Dave Rennie and rested a number of regular players with important home games to come.
The likes of Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Gareth Anscombe and Rey Lee-Lo are not selected, while Kris Dacey and Blaine Scully picked up knocks against Ospreys.
Among those coming into the team include Matthew Rees, who makes a first start since March after recovering from a knee injury and Shane Lewis-Hughes, who makes his first ever competitive start for Cardiff Blues.
There is also the welcome return of Tom James, who starts on the wing after overcoming an inspiring battle against mental health, and it is great to see him back in first team action.
Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish, Owen Lane, Harri Millard, Willis Halaholo, Tom James, Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Matthew Rees, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Josh Navidi, Seb Davies
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Rhys Carre, Scott Andrews, Macauley Cook, Nick Williams, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Aled Summerhill
Without wishing to be too defeat-ist, it doesn’t automatically strike one as a game that Cardiff Blues have circled as a definite win.
Looking at the two teams selected and knowing how much Glasgow need to win there is no doubt that we are the overwhelming underdogs when heading to Scotstoun this Sunday.
However, there’s no reason why we can’t head there and have a good go, making a good account of ourselves in the Heineken Champions Cup we fought so hard to get back involved in.
Reigniting the attacking game and aiming for four tries should be the priority, while a few impressive individual performances would be welcomed as players look for form ahead of the Six Nations period. Come on Cardiff!
Glasgow Warriors form: WWLLL
Cardiff Blues form: LLWWL
Glasgow Warriors top try scorer: Niko Matawalu (7)
Cardiff Blues top try scorer: Rey Lee-Lo (8)
Glasgow Warriors top points scorer: Adam Hastings (71)
Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (132)
JP Doyle (ENG) – Refereed the Lyon away game earlier this season, although perhaps best remembered for being in charge when we defeated Toulon at the Arms Park.