Cardiff Blues return to Guinness Pro14 action this weekend with a visit to Connacht on Saturday night, 7.35pm kick-off, after four weeks off following the Welsh derbies.
Four wins from five games over that December and January run of fixtures has suddenly transformed the season for Dai Young’s men, as we have gone from staring the very real possibility of the campaign being over in the face, to suddenly having the chance to finish third in Conference B sitting squarely in our own hands.
To take that chance will need to see some huge performances over the next five weeks though, which all come during the international window, a potential problem for Cardiff Blues.
Our season so far has taken in 13 games across the league and Europe, seven outside the international window and six inside it, the crucial difference of course being the availability of top talent like Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Cory Hill, Tomos Williams and Josh Adams.
In the seven games outside the international window we have six wins from the seven games, whereas during the international window we have just one win from the six games, exposing our lack of quality depth when comparing Cardiff to the likes of Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
This is why it will take some huge performances against Connacht (A), Munster (H), Benetton (A) and Edinburgh (H) in order to secure a top three or four berth. Top three will definitely be enough to qualify for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup, and if the competition stays at 24 teams then fourth will also be good enough.
Of course all four games are against Conference rivals, and it is for that reason that I think three wins is the aim for Dai Young and his squad going into this final fixture block of the season, with our opponents all playing each other once and taking points off each other.
Going over to Benetton and winning against a side who have yet to earn a victory in the league this campaign will be key, as will beating Edinburgh at home in the final round as our closest rivals for fourth spot, then it comes down to winning away at Connacht and/or at home to Munster.
For me the game this weekend against Connacht is the most important. They are a team who, as I have written about previously, we have developed a bit of a random rivalry with recently, and trips to Galway that saw us cheated out of a win by an Irish TMO and then embarrassingly nil’d by the hosts should provide plenty of motivation for the Cardiff squad.
Yes they have had a few players released from the Ireland squad to help them, but we still have plenty of quality available to make up our 23 this weekend and with a chip on our shoulder can go over to the Sportsground and nab a win.
That gets the fixture block off to a flying start and hopefully provides the momentum to take us into the Heineken Champions Cup where supporters should be back next season and we can draw Racing 92 or Clermont rather than being stuck going to Pau or Grenoble again (no offence but your grounds aren’t exactly the Marcel Michelin or that posh indoor arena Racing have got).
Come on Cardiff!