Cardiff RFC welcome defending Indigo Group Premiership champions Merthyr to the Arms Park on Saturday as the tough run of December fixtures continue, kick-off 2.30pm.
On the back of last week’s win over Newport at Rodney Parade the Blue and Blacks have now won nine games from nine at the start of this season, and lead the league by 12 points as we dominate the early part of the campaign.
Merthyr, on the other hand, have noticeably struggled with just four wins from their nine games so far and are languishing down in the bottom half of the table, a far cry from the side who have won the league for the last three years.
Perhaps caused by the disruption of head coach Dale McIntosh going to the Rugby World Cup with Namibia, they started the season slowly with just one win from their opening four games, while they’ve lost their last two games with defeats away at Pontypridd and surprisingly at home to Llanelli last week.
In terms of head-to-head Cardiff also have an advantage, with the Blue and Blacks winning the last two games between the sides including the Specsavers Cup Final at the Principality Stadium back in April, although Merthyr haven’t lost at the Arms Park since September 2017.
In a bid to get their season back on track, McIntosh has made six changes to his starting XV, with five coming up front in what will likely be a big battle between two of the best packs in the league.
An all-new Merthyr front row sees Chris Phillips, Sam Evans and Jack Gilding pack down, while former Cardiff Blues player Damian Welch will start on the blindside and Jack Perkins comes in at openside. Another familiar face continues in the second row with James Down featuring regularly for the Ironmen this season.
The only change in the back sees another former Cardiff Blues player introduced as Chris Czekaj starts at outside centre.
Familiar faces continue on the bench with Ben Murphy returning from injury as second row cover, while Gareth Davies is the fly-half cover, famous for that winning try over Toulon in 2013.
Merthyr: Matthew Jarvis, Ashley Norton, Chris Czekaj, Aaron Pinches, Sam Jones, Rhys Jones, James Soanes; Chris Phillips, Sam Evans, Jack Gilding, Craig Locke (c), James Down, Damian Welch, Jack Perkins, Phil Rees
Replacements: Ieuan Morris, Ryan B Thomas, Rhys Lewis, Tom Daley/Hemi Barnes, Ben Murphy, Justin James, Gareth Davies, Liam Lloyd
Steve Law meanwhile is in a position to name his most settled side of the season so far, with just five changes to the starting XV that lined up against Newport last week.
Thomas Davies is preferred to Brynley Toms at loosehead, while Tom Habberfield and Gareth Thompson team up once again at half-back and Leon Andrews gets the nod to replace the departed Sam Beard at centre.
There is a new face on the wing as Teri Gee makes his Cardiff RFC debut against his former club, while Ollie Drake and Macauley Cook come back onto the bench.
Cardiff RFC: Edd Howley, Teri Gee, Leon Andrews, Max Llewellyn, James Beal, Gareth Thompson, Tom Habberfield; Thomas Davies, Evan Yardley, Peter Lloyd, Sam Pailor, Callum Bradbury, James Thomas, Alex Everett, Morgan Allen (c)
Replacements: Iestyn Harris, Brynley Toms, Ollie Drake, Macauley Cook, Zach O’Driscoll, Lewis Jones, Joe Scrivens, Joe Gatt
It will certainly be a tough encounter on Saturday as a wounded Merthyr will not be lacking in motivation against a Cardiff side that is seemingly on the way to taking their league champions crown.
However, the Blue and Blacks should have no fear, with the winning streak behind them and the game being played on our patch. It’s a chance to lay down another marker for the season.