The tough games keep on coming for Cardiff RFC as they make the short trip up the A470 for a Good Friday clash with Pontypridd at Sardis Road.
Steve Law’s men will be looking to bounce back from a tough defeat on the road at Swansea last weekend, which brought an end to a 14-game unbeaten run and saw them suffer a first defeat in the calendar year of 2019.
They also need to keep up the pressure on Merthyr at the top of the league, after the Ironmen left the door slightly ajar to be challenged during a loss away at Llandovery on Wednesday night.
A try bonus point in defeat stretched their advantage at the top to seven points, but with a game in hand the Blue and Blacks can cut that as long as we return to winning ways in the league between now and the end of the season.
That starts on Sardis on Friday with Cardiff looking to do the double over old rivals Pontypridd for the first time since the 2007/08 season, having beaten them for the first time in 20 games earlier in the season.
Tries from Gareth Thompson and Joe Gatt, as well as replacements Rhys Carre and Lewis Jones, saw the Blue and Blacks secure an impressive 34-15 win at the Arms Park.
Since then it’s been an up-and-down time for Ponty, both on and off the field with financial problems threatening their ability to finish the season until a share sell-off and donation offering scheme allowed them to make it to the summer.
Two wins and two losses in their last four games, including a tough 12-32 defeat at home to Carmarthen last week, have seen them slide to fifth in the table behind Llandovery and Ebbw Vale.
They do have three games in hand on both of those sides though, and will be looking for a win on Friday night to take some momentum into what will be a busy few weeks to end the season.
Head coach Justin Burnell, a former Cardiff RFC player and coach, and Cardiff Blues coach, of course, makes four changes to his side for Friday night’s game, including the lack of captain Daf Lockyer at 12.
His replacement is Gabriel Davies, brother of Cardiff Blues and Wales lock Seb, while all the other changes come in the pack.
Gareth Smith starts instead of Luke Leddington at tighthead, Morgan Sieniawski is in for Rhod Jones on the blindside, while Cardiff Blues academy’s Alun Lawrence gets the nod at number eight ahead of Steff Jenkins.
Two other Cardiff Blues academy members continue in the starting XV, with Dane Blacker at scrum-half, while Ben Jones is in at full-back.
The bench sees a number of changes, with only props Ian George and Morgan Bosanko keeping their places on the touchline.
Pontypridd: Ben Jones, Alex Webber, Gary Williams, Gab Davies, Dale Stuckey, Ceri Sweeney, Dane Blacker; Huw Owen, Rob Jones, Gareth Smith, Lloyd Evans, Chris Dicomidis (c), Morgan Sieniawski, Rhys Shellard, Alun Lawrence
Replacements: Huw Dowden, Ian George, Morgan Bosanko, Shay Smallman, Rhod Jones, Joel Raikes, Corey Sheppard, Lewis Allword
Steve Law makes even more changes to his Cardiff team that lost to Swansea last week, with a number due to injury including the Blue and Blacks captain Joey Tomlinson.
Thomas Davies, Zach O’Driscoll, Sam Pailor and Joe Gatt are all missing too, but there is strength on hand to provide more than suitable replacements.
Cardiff Blues senior players Brad Thyer and Kirby Myhill are in up front, while Macauley Cook joins James Down in the engine room, and academy member James Botham is named on the blindside.
Elsewhere there are welcome returns for big number eight Morgan Allen and exciting full-back Edd Howley, while winger James Beal is in line for a first appearance since last March, ending a lengthy injury lay-off.
On the bench there is room for more Cardiff Blues players, with academy tighthead Will Davies-King and first teamer Dan Fish named, while Kieran Martin drops down from last week’s starting XV.
Cardiff: Edd Howley, James Beal, Ben Thomas, Will Rees-Hole, Max Llewellyn, Gareth Thompson (c), Martin Roberts; Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill, Peter Lloyd, James Down, Macauley Cook, Tom Daley, Jim Botham, Morgan Allen
Replacements: Kieron Brown, Ian Jenkins, Will Davies-King, Kieran Martin, Aled Cockwell, Scott Gibson, Steffan Jones, Dan Fish
It’s going to be a close game at Sardis Road on Friday night, and much will depend on how the changes to the Blue and Blacks line-up impact on the team cohesion that has been so important this season.
There has been relatively little chopping and changing of the 23, with Steve Law fortunate to not have picked up as many injuries as last season, but now all of a sudden he is forced into making seven changes to a starting XV, with Thyer, Myhill and Cook having hardly featured for Cardiff this season.
If they slot in seamlessly and the pack flexes the power that it undoubtedly possesses, then there is a settled nature to the backline that should be able to take advantage.
However, if they fail to click and a revved up Pontypridd in front of the Sardis Road faithful get up for the game as they should, then it’ll be difficult to see past a home win.
Gaining momentum early will be key, and then backing that up with 80 minutes of effort. A win is crucial to keep the season on track. Come on Cardiff!