This weekend sees Cardiff Blues return to Guinness Pro14 action with a trip to Italy where John Mulvihill’s men will face Benetton in a Conference B clash.
Unfortunately it is not like a normal league game, as while Benetton will have their full squad to pick from, minus any injuries they have, Cardiff Blues have been shorn of eight players by the Wales squad, on top of any injuries, as Wayne Pivac’s side take on the Barbarians at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
The whys and wherefores of this fixture have been discussed over and over, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Welsh Rugby Union aren’t going to call off that uncapped fixture now and us regional teams have to make we do with what we’ve got.
So let’s see where we are with Cardiff Blues, starting with a best case scenario.
Let’s say, for arguments sake, that Dmitri Arhip, Corey Domachowski, Olly Robinson and Nick Williams are all fit and available for selection, while Shane Lewis-Hughes and Hallam Amos are released from the Team Wales squad in time to fly to Italy. That would mean a potential matchday 23 of;
Matthew Morgan, Aled Summerhill, Rey Lee-Lo, Garyn Smith, Hallam Amos, Jason Tovey, Lloyd Williams; Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Will Boyde, Nick Williams
Kirby Myhill, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, James Ratti, Olly Robinson, Lewis Jones, Dan Fish, Harri Millard
This is just for arguments sake, putting as many experienced first team players in the team as possible, and finishing up with a squad that could, on it’s day, at least compete away at a Benetton side that may look to rest one or two players ahead of a winnable Heineken Champions Cup double header against Lyon over the following two weeks.
It probably wouldn’t be the ideal second row or 10/12 combinations, but there is enough talent in the front row, back row and back three to ensure that Cardiff Blues could at least be in the game going into the final stages of the match.
However, that is as best case as the scenario can be this weekend, with the worst case scenario seeing the following all ruled out;
Rhun Williams, Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Willis Halaholo, Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Corey Domachowski, Kristian Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi
With Olly Robinson and Nick Williams as travelling reserves to the medical room for that Unavailable XV, the squad that could travel out to Treviso this weekend looks very thin indeed.
However, this is where the question of ‘suicide mission or opportunity?’ comes from. If the squad is indeed closer to worst case scenario than best case scenario, as I fear it might be, then the mindset the coaches get the squad in will be crucial.
They could go out there putting pressure on a squad that will likely contain a number of young or fringe players to perform and push for a result, something which would be highly unlikely even if Benetton did choose to rest a few players.
If they did that then they risk lowering morale around the squad even further, and worse they can end up destroying the confidence of a young player, something we have seen done a number of times in Cardiff Blues history.
Or they could name a team with a number of exciting young players involved, tell them to forget the scoreline and go out and express themselves. Four tries would be the aim, if that came with a losing bonus point as well then all the better. A possible 23 could be;
Matthew Morgan, Ioan Davies, Harri Millard, Max Llewellyn, Aled Summerhill, Ben Thomas, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Liam Belcher, Keiron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull, Will Boyde, James Botham, Alun Lawrence
Kirby Myhill, Rhys Gill, Will Davies-King, Teddy Williams, James Ratti, Jamie Hill, Dan Fish, Mason Grady
Again just a guide, but the general idea is there with one or two senior players dotted amongst a number of young players with serious potential, allowed to express themselves and enjoy the occasion without having their confidence shattered.
It’s not a situation that anyone can envy John Mulvihill being in, knowing that he is travelling to a game away at Benetton with a depleted squad, but rather than make it a suicide mission it can at least become an opportunity to give young players exposure.