After a one-week break the European Challenge Cup pool stages are back this weekend as Cardiff Blues welcome the familiar faces of Pau to the Arms Park, 7.45pm kick-off.
It’s a crucial double header for both teams as the competition really hots up during the December back-to-back fixtures, with qualification chances for the quarter-finals either seriously increasing or being killed off ahead of the final two rounds in January.
Currently just a point separates them after Cardiff Blues gained the full five points out in Calvisano before claiming a losing bonus point against Leicester, while Pau took nothing from Leicester in round one but secured the full five points against Calvisano the following week.
One side will need to win both games over the next week in order to be in with a shout of securing a best runner-up place, let alone pushing Leicester for top spot, with only the three best pool runners-up progressing to the quarter-finals.
Cardiff Blues will be confident that it can be us doing the double, with a 100% record in three games against Pau, as well as having not lost at home against French oppsotion since October 2012, with Toulon, Grenoble, Montpellier, Toulouse and Lyon dispatched home with a loss since then.
Of course one of those wins over Pau was in April 2018 when a Gareth Anscombe try and the boot of Jarrod Evans secured our passage to the Challenge Cup Final in Bilbao.
Currently the French side are ninth in the Top14, but such is the competitiveness of the league at the moment they are only three points off third, having bounced back from a poor start to the season with three straight wins going into the first two rounds of European action.
Last week saw Pau lose at home to Toulon with a 9-19 scoreline though, as they went down at the Stade de Hameau for the second time this season.
Once again on Saturday they will ring the changes for the Challenge Cup, with only four players retaining their places in the starting XV; Charly Malie, Florient Nicot, Lourens Adriaanse and Baptiste Pesenti.
There are no signs of new signings Luke Whitelock or Ben Smith, but a former All Black in Tom Taylor lines up at fly-half, while replacement props Boghanmi and Fisi-ihoi are French and Tongan internationals, respectively.
Pau: Charly Malie, Bastien Purailly, Pierre Nueno, Florient Nicot, Atile Septar, Tom Taylor, Clovis Le Bail; Geoffrey Moise, Lucas Rey (c), Lourens Adriaanse, Julien Delannoy, Denis Marchois, Baptiste Pesenti, Giovanni Habel-Kuffner, Antoine Erbani
Replacements: Rayne Barka, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Mohamed Boghanmi, Jean-Marc Souverbie, Daniel Ramsay, Samuel Marques, Thibault Debaes, Vincent Pinto
Cardiff Blues, meanwhile, make eight changes to the starting XV that beat Benetton last week, but they only go to improve the quality of the side rather than resting big name players.
Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Owen Lane and debutant Josh Adams all start in the back line, while Rhys Gill, Olly Robinson and Ben Thomas are introductions due to injury. Only Shane Lewis-Hughes is a tactical introduction in place of Macauley Cook.
The changes in the forwards do result in a slight reshuffle as Josh Turnbull moves up to second row, while Will Boyde will captain the team for the first time from number eight.
Cook, Lloyd Williams, Jason Tovey and Hallam Amos all drop down to the bench where they join Ethan Lewis, Keiron Assiratti and Alun Lawrence, while Corey Domachowski returns to the matchday squad after injury.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Ben Thomas, Josh Adams, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill, Scott Andrews, James Ratti, Josh Turnbull, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Olly Robinson, Will Boyde (c)
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, Alun Lawrence, Lloyd Williams, Jason Tovey, Hallam Amos
As ever against French sides there is a requirement for us to front up defensively in a similar way to how we did against Benetton last week, with Pau likely to bring a physical carrying game intertwined with some smart offloading.
However, if we can prevent them scoring too many our back line has tries and talent in abundance, with Rey Lee-Lo on his 100th appearance looking as dangerous as ever, Owen Lane looking to keep up his Cardiff Blues try scoring record and Josh Adams the top scorer at the Rugby World Cup.
That’s not even including Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Ben Thomas and Matthew Morgan!
An entertaining evening awaits at the Arms Park so get down and support the boys. Come on Cardiff!