The tough selection decisions facing John Mulvihill

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This weekend sees Cardiff Blues facing Ospreys in a winner takes all clash in the Principality Stadium at Judgement Day, with a spot in the Heineken Champions Cup play-off on the line.

There has been a lot for John Mulvihill to deal with over the last few weeks, with a disappointing defeat away to Munster, some controversial refereeing at Connacht and the announcement that Gareth Anscombe will head to Ospreys next season all taking up plenty of headline space.

However now the attention is all on the 80 minutes of on-field action this Saturday, and finishing the season on a high with a big game at the Arms Park to earn a place at the top table of European rugby.

With that in mind, I’ve had a look at where Mulvihill has some big decisions to make when selecting the matchday 23 ahead of Judgement Day.

Front row

In terms of the big boys up front the only real questions are of fitness in the number one and two jerseys, with Kris Dacey having missed the game away at Connacht due to picking up a knock against Munster, and Rhys Gill seemingly struggling throughout his time on the field in Galway.

If both are fit, then both should start, with Dacey captaining the side and Gill offering that experience on the loosehead before one of Brad Thyer, Corey Domachowski or Rhys Carre come on.

However, if Gill doesn’t make it then one will have to step up to start, with Carre having come off the bench against Connacht, but Thyer possibly the favourite to start in his place due to his greater experience and after getting some minutes under his belt in the Principality Premiership last week.

At hooker if Kris Dacey doesn’t make it then it’s a pretty straightforward option of starting with Ethan Lewis and either Kirby Myhill or Liam Belcher taking a seat on the bench.

It’s on the tighthead where there is a decision to be made, with Dmitri Arhip and Dillon Lewis undoubtedly both in the matchday squad, but who starts and who replaces is the question.

For me it worked well at Connacht where Dillon Lewis held up his end of the scrum in the first hour and was busy around the park, before Dmitri Arhip offered the extra bit of set piece power in the last 20 minutes alongside some big carries.

Back five

I’ve grouped the second and back rows together here for the simple reason that there has been so much change between them over the last two weeks. However, I understand that is about to be lessened with Nick Williams due to be fit for the game after not quite recovering in time to play in Galway.

With Big Nick back available he slots straight into the number eight jersey, with Olly Robinson unquestionably staying at openside flanker, before the main question is asked that will determine who features at blindside and at lock; where does Josh Turnbull play?

As our Mr Consistent it is inconceivable to me that Turnbull doesn’t start against the Ospreys, but to do that it means two of Shane Lewis-Hughes, Seb Davies, Rory Thornton and George Earle don’t start.

Looking at them individually there are pros and cons for all, with Shane Lewis-Hughes in excellent form but lacking big game experience, Seb Davies a high quality player but not nailing down a starting spot currently, Rory Thornton improving but not packing a physical punch, and George Earle packing that punch but only for 50 minutes.

Weighing them all up I would opt to select Josh Turnbull in his natural position of blindside, and then pair Rory Thornton and George Earle at lock, with Seb Davies and Shane Lewis-Hughes coming on for the last 20/30 minutes.

That provides a balance between physicality and set piece options, while bringing fresh legs on who can impact a game positively in the later stages.

Half-back

One of the two positions here is arguably the biggest no-brainer in the starting XV, with Tomos Williams undoubtedly starting at scrum-half.

The second part of the duo is slightly trickier though.

Obviously the big debate going into this week was whether Gareth Anscombe should play any part at all given that it has now been announced that he will sign for the Ospreys next season, but this game could prevent his future employers playing at the highest level of European rugby.

Now we know he is going to be involved the question is whether that is at 10 or 15. In my opinion Cardiff Blues always look a better balanced side with Jarrod Evans at fly-half and Gareth Anscombe at full-back, and that’s what I’ll go with here.

Centre

This is where I’m going to stick my neck on the line a bit and say that I wouldn’t select Willis Halaholo in my starting XV to face the Ospreys on Saturday.

It’s a big call to make as, although Willis will probably admit he hasn’t been at his attacking best the last two games, and was pulled fairly early against Connacht, he has been solid defensively and when he rises to the occasion is unplayable.

However, a midfield duo of Rey Lee-Lo and Harri Millard suits us better at the moment, with Lee-Lo capable of providing that hard running at 12 and mixing it up with the ability to beat the first defender, while Millard’s searing pace is an asset at outside centre, and he has proved his defensive capabilities on the spot blitz.

Back three

A fairly simple one to finish, with Owen Lane a nailed on starter on one wing, while it is believed Aled Summerhill has got over the thigh problem that kept him out against Connacht, therefore he likely replaces Jason Harries on the opposite wing.

Then, as previously mentioned, I’d select Gareth Anscombe at full-back now we know he’s going to be involved.

Cardiff Rugby Life XV v Ospreys: Gareth Anscombe, Owen Lane, Harri Millard, Rey Lee-Lo, Aled Summerhill, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill/Brad Thyer, Kris Dacey/Ethan Lewis, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams

Replacements: Ethan Lewis/Liam Belcher/Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carre, Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Lloyd Williams, Willis Halaholo, Matthew Morgan

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