The Guinness Pro14 fixtures for the 2019/20 season will be released on Wednesday as we can start to properly look forward to the new campaign getting underway.
Of course this season will be slightly different to others though, as the Rugby World Cup interferes with potentially the first two months of proceedings, when you factor in players being rested once they are back from Japan.
In some cases, should one of the countries that is represented in the Pro14 make it all the way to the final on November 2nd, an international player may not appear in the league until the Christmas derby games at the earliest.
This leaves the league wide open as a contest, with some teams decimated by international call-ups having to rely on squad players, while others not so impacted by the World Cup able to play their best teams consistently and gain momentum.
The case in point is obviously Connacht during the 2015/16 season, who got off to a flyer while the World Cup was on, and managed to maintain that all the way to winning the Final the following May.
Cardiff Blues will be aiming for something similar for this coming campaign, as we’re set to avoid being hit too badly by international call-ups, giving us the chance to put a strong side out against some weakened teams.
Looking at a worst case scenario, we could see Dillon Lewis, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, Tomos Williams, Rey Lee-Lo, Josh Adams and one of Hallam Amos or Owen Lane heading to Japan, with the other of Amos and Lane, as well as Jarrod Evans, returning to us for the start of the season.
In comparison to some teams that is not bad at all, meaning we can still put out a strong matchday 23, with particular depth in the back row, in midfield, and in the back three.
To get the best possible start to the season the fixtures falling kindly would be a huge boost, so I’ve had a look at what an ideal first six rounds to the season would look like for John Mulvihill’s men.
The first three rounds of the Pro14 are set to take place during the pool stages of the World Cup, therefore playing teams from countries which might struggle to make the knockout stages would be the best possible outcome here.
Italy are up against New Zealand and South Africa in pool B, meaning they will likely be flying home in mid-October. With Benetton in Cardiff Blues’ conference this season, getting a game against them out of the way while they are without their Italian internationals would be great.
Scotland, meanwhile, face potentially tricky opponents in Japan and Samoa, as well as favourites to win the pool Ireland, but even if they make it to the quarter-final then they will meet one of New Zealand or South Africa, likely sending them home before the end of October.
As a result, playing conference opponents Edinburgh, or perhaps even better, getting our only game against Glasgow fixtured in the first three weeks, would be a good outcome.
Rounds four-to-six then, are where you’d want to face an Irish team or two, as they harbour ambition of making it to the semi-finals, or will at least give their internationals on central contracts a lengthy rest period after returning from Japan.
Getting one of our games against Conference rivals Munster out of the way, as well as hopefully playing our only game against Leinster, would be ideal, especially if we can carry momentum from the first three matches.
Beyond that, playing games against Leinster, Munster, Benetton, Zebre, Glasgow or Edinburgh during the Six Nations period is always preferable, while hopefully our two weeks in South Africa fall outside of international windows, as playing Cheetahs and Kings away will be key games.
Of course having written all this, we’ll end up playing Connacht, Dragons, Cheetahs and Kings first up, followed by Benetton and Glasgow with all their internationals back, but it’s worth speculating about.
If we can get the season up and running in good form then who knows what might happen? Drop points early though, and it could be a long old campaign once other teams return to full strength.