It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and this year it’s even better as Boxing Day derbies return to the Guinness Pro14, with Commercial Managers at the Arms Park and Parc y Scarlets rejoicing.
While many people in and around Welsh rugby will be looking forward to some relaxing family time over Christmas and then a few drinks watching the rugby, for the Cardiff Blues players and coaches it is a critical time of the season as we look to cling on to the chance of finishing in a play-off place.
After losing four straight games between rounds two and five, John Mulvihill’s men fell off the pace quickly in Conference B, before wins over Cheetahs and Benetton dragged us back to a place where we sit fifth in the league, six points off Scarlets in fourth and eight points off Edinburgh in third.
In order to close those gaps Cardiff Blues will need a very successful festive period, as we prepare to travel to Ospreys on Saturday, welcome Dragons on Boxing Day and then host the Scarlets on Friday 3rd January.
At this moment in time I do not see any reason why we cannot go and win all three of those games. Ospreys have not had the greatest start to the season by any means, with a long injury and unavailability list, as well as off-field coaching turmoil.
Meanwhile I always fancy Cardiff Blues to beat anyone at home, especially as Dragons have a poor record away from Rodney Parade in recent years and we can take confidence from beating the Scarlets comfortably on two occasions last season.
However, as we well know, Welsh derbies are not played on paper and do not always go with form. It’s about guts and temperament as much as it’s about skill, and John Mulvihill’s men have not risen to all occasions so far this campaign.
The home game against Edinburgh, the first at the Arms Park this season, saw a damp squib of a performance, while there was a similarly poor showing as we hosted Leicester in a big Anglo-Welsh Cup clash. Add in a disappointing first half against Pau last week as we looked to build on a crushing victory over the French side and there’s little example of playing consistently at a high level.
It’s that psychological battle that Cardiff Blues will have to overcome over the next three weeks, as the players ensure they are in the right place mentally to compete, have the confidence in their own ability to play our brand of attacking rugby, and especially this weekend are not weighed down by the record at the Liberty Stadium.
If we can get that right then the performances will no doubt follow, as we’ve shown particularly against Benetton, Pau at home and in the second half away at Pau what a clinical and dominant rugby team we can be when we get going.
Two wins may well constitute a successful festive period, especially if Glasgow, Ulster and Leinster do us favours against Edinburgh, Munster and Connacht. If we took 9 or 10 points from two wins and a defeat we could be within five points of third.
However, three wins would really put us in a good position to push on through what on paper is a favourable Six Nations period and stake a claim in the race for the top three.
The outcome of the season is still in our hands, we just need to take a firm hold of it.