Cardiff Blues travel to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday evening for the first of three Welsh derbies over the Christmas and New Year period, facing the Ospreys with a 7.35pm kick-off.
It is a return to Guinness Pro14 action for John Mulvihill’s men after a fairly successful European Challenge Cup double header against French side Pau, with a comfortable home win being followed up by getting two bonus points in defeat away from home.
Although spread over a long period, Cardiff Blues are actually on a winning streak of two in the league, having beaten Cheetahs at home and Benetton away, putting us back into play-off contention but requiring a strong showing over the next two weeks to still involved in that battle.
To get off to a good start in that respect it will take the ending of a record that has dogged Wales’ Capital Region for nearly 14 years, as we have lost 12 of the last 13 league games in the Liberty Stadium, drawing just once in 2011.
22nd December 2005 was the date of our last win, in what was then the Celtic League, as tries from Chris Czekaj, Craig Morgan and Deiniol Jones, as well as the boot of Nicky Robinson, helped Cardiff Blues to a 9-28 victory.
Since then it’s been pretty much Ospreys all the way, but this season has seen the West Wales side struggling for form, with just a solitary win from their 11 games in all competitions so far, and that being a 24-20 victory over international call-up hit Benetton at the Liberty Stadium way back on 12th October.
Eight defeats in a row have seen them fall well out of play-off contention in the Pro14’s Conference A and be sitting bottom of their Heineken Champions Cup pool, although they did show more fight in back-to-back games against Racing 92 in the last two weeks.
In a bid to rectify that and kick-start their season, interim coaches Matt Sherratt and Carl Hogg have made six changes to their starting XV, including the return of a number of Wales internationals.
Bradley Davies returns in the second row, while Justin Tipuric captains the team from openside flanker. Aled Davies starts at scrum-half and Scott Williams gets the nod at inside centre, with 197 caps between them.
There are also recalls for Olly Cracknell at number eight, and Canadian international Jeff Hassler on the wing. On the bench Marvin Orie and Morgan Morris return to cover second and back row, respectively.
Ospreys: Cai Evans, Jeff Hassler, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Scott Williams, Luke Morgan, Marty McKenzie, Aled Davies; Nicky Smith, Scott Otten, Ma’afu Fia, Adam Beard, Bradley Davies, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric (c), Olly Cracknell
Replacements: Dewi Lake, Rhys Fawcett, Simon Gardiner, Marvin Orie, Morgan Morris, Shaun Venter, Luke Price, Kieran Williams
John Mulvihill’s men, meanwhile, maintain a level of consistency to the starting XV selection with just two changes from last week’s game against Pau.
Brad Thyer gets the number one jersey as Rhys Gill drops down to the bench, while James Ratti returns to the side as Josh Turnbull slides back to number eight and Will Boyde shifts to the openside with Olly Robinson on the bench, where he is joined by Macauley Cook.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Ben Thomas, Josh Adams, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill, Scott Andrews, James Ratti, Filo Paulo, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Will Boyde (c), Josh Turnbull
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Gill, Keiron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Lloyd Williams, Jason Tovey, Hallam Amos
It’s going to be a tough game as the Welsh derbies get underway, with Cardiff Blues in better form but Ospreys having the advantage of an imperious record over us at the Liberty Stadium.
If we are to break the losing run in Swansea then playing fast and wide will be key, moving the home forwards around and avoiding getting dragged into a forwards and kicking battle.
Put the weather aside, create our own noise and work hard for 80 minutes to get the Welsh derbies off to a successful start. Come on Cardiff!