Cardiff Blues’ first game of 2021 sees us welcome the Ospreys to Cardiff City Stadium on New Year’s Day, our first game back at Leckwith since April 2012.
Although a largely unhappy time for supporters who opposed the move away from the Arms Park on the whole, the three year spell between 2009 and 2012 saw us win our first European Challenge Cup playing an exciting brand of rugby with a squad packed full of high quality players and some real club legends.
It was also a relatively successful period derby-wise, as Cardiff Blues won six of the nine derbies played at the Cardiff City Stadium, including two of three against Friday’s opponents in the shape of the Ospreys. Tom James and Gareth Cooper scored in a 20-12 win in October 2009, while TJ and Richard Mustoe were on the scoresheet during a 27-25 win on New Year’s Eve 2010.
There is further good news for John Mulvihill’s men who are currently on what is technically a three-game winning streak thanks to wins over Newcastle, Stade Francais and Dragons last time out on Boxing Day, keeping us just about in touch for Heineken Champions Cup qualification in the Guinness Pro14’s Conference B.
Cardiff Blues are also on a two-game winning streak over Ospreys thanks to the narrow 16-19 win at the Liberty Stadium a year ago, before the 29-20 win at Rodney Parade when rugby returned in August with tries from Jason Harries, Josh Adams and the boot of Jason Tovey.
New Year’s Day’s visitors come into the game on the back of a defeat to Scarlets on Boxing Day, an encounter they led for most of the way until the West Wales side’s bench was the difference when it mattered.
It was another step on a season of inconsistency for the Ospreys who have ground out big wins against Edinburgh and Benetton, but struggled against the likes of Zebre as international call-ups and injuries bit hard during the first fixture block.
In order to return to winning ways, head coach Toby Booth has made some changes up front from the side that lost to Scarlets, with an all-new front row of Rhodri Jones, Ifan Phillips and Ma’afu Fia packing down, while there is a change at number eight as Sam Cross comes in for Morgan Morris.
There is also a switch at scrum-half, where Rhys Webb starts as Reuben Morgan-Williams drops to the bench, while Kieran Williams gets the nod in midfield over Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler. Changes on the bench see Scott Otten covering hooker, Wales international Nicky Smith as the loosehead option, Will Griffiths covering the back row and Mat Protheroe the outside backs.
Ospreys: Dan Evans, George North, Scott Williams, Kieran Williams, Luke Morgan, Stephen Myler, Rhys Webb; Rhodri Jones, Ifan Phillips, Ma’afu Fia, Rhys Davies, Adam Beard, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric (c), Sam Cross
Replacements: Scott Otten, Nicky Smith, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, Will Griffiths, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Mat Protheroe
Cardiff Blues meanwhile make seven changes to the starting XV that beat the Dragons last week, with tactical changes, injuries and coronavirus all resulting in some alterations.
Rhys Carre and Dmitri Arhip form a new propping pair either side of Kris Dacey, Rory Thornton returns to the second row alongside Seb Davies, and Shane Lewis-Hughes is back on the blindside as Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, Ben Murphy and Cory Hill all miss out entirely.
In the backs there is a switch at scrum-half as Tomos Williams starts with Lloyd Williams on the bench, while Jason Tovey joins him at half-back with Jarrod Evans nowhere to be seen. Rey Lee-Lo returns to the XV with Max Llewellyn missing out. On the bench there are spots for Liam Belcher, Corey Domachowski, Kieron Assiratti and James Ratti, while Willis Halaholo is fit again and Luke Scully could make his debut.
Cardiff Blues: Hallam Amos, Aled Summerhill, Rey Lee-Lo, Garyn Smith, Josh Adams, Jason Tovey, Tomos Williams; Rhys Carre, Kris Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Josh Turnbull (c)
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, James Ratti, Alun Lawrence, Lloyd Williams, Jason Tovey, Willis Halaholo
On paper the teams are very similar, especially with the Cardiff Blues switch at fly-half. Two strong front rows, a mix of athletic and technically proficient locks, and busy back rows, while both sides have controlling 10s and exciting players outside them.
With the weather set fair and a good track at the Cardiff City Stadium, there is a chance for both teams to show what they’re really about. It will be the 1% of skill level that will make the difference on the day, rather than the 1% of battle it took in tough conditions on Boxing Day.
John Mulvihill’s men have it within them to come out on top, but it’s about turning up when it matters, which his side have not always done over the last two-and-a-half years. Time to make a statement. Come on Cardiff!