Preview: Gloucester v Cardiff

The time has come. European quarter-final weekend. It’s the one we’ve all been waiting for, a trip to Kingsholm, a renewing of the cross-border rivalry with Gloucester and the last chance at silverware for Cardiff Blues this season. This is a big game.

There will be around 1,000 Cardiff fans heading to the West Country on Saturday, to join 10,000 Gloucester fans in what will be a proper rugby atmosphere at a proper rugby ground. Two teams packed with quality going hammer and tongs at each other for a chance to play in a European semi-final. A second tier competition, you say? Certainly doesn’t feel like it.

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Kingsholm plays host to Saturday’s encounter

We’ve got history to look back on favourably of course, in both this fixture and competition. 2008-09 was the year and Cardiff met Gloucester three times that year. Once in the victorious Anglo-Welsh Cup Final, and twice in the then Heineken Cup group games. Wins at Twickenham and the Millennium were excellent, but it’s the Kingsholm game that receives the focus.

Although the Cup Final win sticks out in my mind, all it takes is the phrase ‘Tom James red card’ and memories are conjured up of that game in the West Country. The score was 6-3 to the home side on the 27th minute when Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam pushed TJ. The players squared up, but the Frenchman threw himself to the floor as the Cardiff winger moved his head towards his opponent.

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Tom James walks off after being cheated

Cardiff went down to 14, but only conceded three more points until half-time. Nicky Robinson has revealed this week that Gareth Thomas gave a stirring team talk, and this inspired the team to go out and secure a famous 12-16 victory thanks to the boot of Leigh Halfpenny and a late try from Bradley Davies, who had accidentally taken two sleeping tablets before the game.

Things have changed a lot at Gloucester since then, with Dean Ryan, Bryan Redpath and Nigel Davies leaving the Director of Rugby role now occupied by David Humphreys, although he is currently multi-tasking as Head Coach after the recent departure of Laurie Fisher.

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Nicky Robinson celebrates that 08/09 win

Fisher’s resignation, published via Twitter, is an indicator of how disappointing Gloucester’s season has been. In fact, it’s been pretty similar to ours in that an encouraging start was followed by two league wins in nine from September to January. Recent results, including a home win over Saracens, have moved them up to eighth within distance of the top six though.

In terms of Europe though it’s been a different story as the West Country side topped Pool A, losing just once, away to Top14 leader La Rochelle, with Bayonne and Treviso swept aside comfortably. Like Cardiff, this is the last opportunity for some silverware now and they are going all out to give themselves the best chance.

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Injured top scorer Matt Scott in action against Harlequins

Unfortunately for them, starting centre duo David Halaifonua and Andrew Symons were both injured in last week’s win over Bristol, but in Billy Twelvetrees and Henry Trinder they have more than capable replacements. Joining them in the backs are exciting young fly-half Billy Burns, as well as England wingers Jonny May and Charlie Sharples.

Up front there is some serious size to a pack that includes Ben Morgan, Ross Moriarty, Jeremy Thrush and Ross Moriarty, although perhaps in the key positions of prop and openside flanker they are lacking top quality options. With their scrum struggling against Bristol last week there may be an opportunity to compete at the set piece for Cardiff.

Experienced internationals John Afoa and Mariano Galarza provide some options off the bench, but David Humphreys won’t have any big name backs to turn to as youngsters Callum Braley and Henry Purdy join Mark Atkinson, who makes his first appearance this calendar year after injury.

Gloucester: Tom Marshall, Charlie Sharples, Henry Trinder, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May, Billy Burns, Willi Heinz (c); Paddy McAllister, Richard Hibbard, Josh Hohneck, Tom Savage, Jeremy Thrush, Ross Moriarty, Jacob Rowan, Ben Morgan

Replacements: Motu Matu’u, Yann Thomas, John Afoa, Mariano Galarza, Lewis Ludlow, Callum Braley, Mark Atkinson, Henry Purdy

Ross Moriarty Gloucester
Ross Moriarty in his cherry and white day job

Cardiff also haven’t held back in sending out a first choice XV, as the competition enters the business stage, recalling Welsh international trio Gethin Jenkins, Sam Warburton and Lloyd Williams to the starting line-up in tactical moves, while Fa’ao Filise is selected in place of the injured Anton Peikrishvili.

It’s the King of Tonga’s first start since Treviso in February, and a further worry is that he has only played more than 40 minutes once since the start of December. With Keiron Assiratti set to make his debut off the bench it may be wise to avoid throwing a teenager in at the deep end with a half of rugby at Kingsholm, even with a successful Wales U20 campaign under his belt.

After his standout Six Nations display, Warburton comes into the blindside flanker berth to go directly up against Team Wales colleague Moriarty in what is sure to be a battle for the ages. If Sam can do what he did to CJ Stander last month, along with Nick Williams getting the better of Ben Morgan, then the back row bout should go Cardiff’s way.

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Sam Warburton in pool stage action against Pau

There will be questions asked of Lloyd Williams starting ahead of namesake Tomos after the latter’s two-try man of the match performance in Leinster last week, but I back Danny Wilson’s decision to opt for the experience. That is, along as he’s not afraid to utilise Tomos early if required. Lloyd has excellent game management, but his younger colleague has the X Factor to break a defence when necessary.

Other team selection areas to mention are the back three staying the same as last week, due to Tom James not being deemed fit enough to make the matchday squad, while Ellis Jenkins is also missing presumably due to his return from a head injury maybe not going as well as hoped last week.

As a result Aled Summerhill steps up onto the bench, where he is joined by Sion Bennett and Macauley Cook who will cover the loose five forwards between them.

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Steve Shingler, Blaine Scully, Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins (c), Kristian Dacey, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, Jarrad Hoeata, Sam Warburton, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams

Replacements: Matthew Rees, Corey Domachowski, Kieron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, Sion Bennett, Tomos Williams, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill

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Gethin Jenkins captains the side from loosehead

Now is not the team to be delving into or criticising any team selection though, it’s the time to back our boys. With around 1,000 Cardiff fans heading up to Gloucester it is bound to be a seriously good atmosphere at Kingsholm, and hopefully we can spur the team on to a famous victory.

The season has largely plodded along for now with more lows than highs, but now is the time for the players to step up. The talk has been talked this week about it being a special game, about intensity lifts and matches that everyone wants to be involved in. Saturday at 8pm is when to turn the words into action.

This group of players are good enough to win on Saturday, I don’t think anyone doubts that, but they need to believe it themselves to make it happen. They should take great confidence from a game that should have been won in Leinster, and the fact they are the underdogs means there is no huge pressure on them.

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We’ve seen what this group can do earlier in the season

They can go out and play how they want. With pace in attack and discipline in defence. Accuracy will be key, no question about that, so if we can make less errors and win the collisions then the game will be in our hands. Leaders will need to step up and youngsters will need to play up.

I have faith, all 1,000 of us going will have faith. It’s kind of the unwritten rule of being a Cardiff rugby fan, blind optimism. I just hope the players reward those of us withstanding The Shed for 80 minutes and give us a performance to be proud of. COME ON CARDIFF!!

Stats

Gloucester form: LWLLW

Cardiff form: LWWLL

Gloucester top points scorer: Greg Laidlaw (118)

Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (196)

Gloucester top try scorer: Matt Scott (13)

Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)

Ref Watch

Pascal Gauzere (FFR) – With a growing reputation in the game, Mr Gauzere officiated the Scotland v Italy game in the recent Six Nations. He has refereed Cardiff on five occasions resulting in four wins, most recently against Bristol in October, although he did sin bin both Matthew Morgan and Gethin Jenkins.

There is another familiar face amongst the officials as Alexandre Ruiz will run one line, the same Mr Ruiz who sin binned Kirby Myhill and sent off George Earle at Bath. Fingers crossed for some kinder decisions this time!

Preview: Cardiff v Bristol

The pool stages of this season’s Challenge Cup draw to a close on Saturday as Cardiff Blues welcome Severnside rivals Bristol to the Arms Park with hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals still very much in our own hands. With a bumper crowd expected for an un-televised Saturday afternoon kick-off, and a strong home XV, it’s got all the makings of a cracking day.

For Cardiff the equation is simple. Win and we’re through. Winning the group is unlikely, with Bath needing to lose at home to a second string Pau for that to happen, but a best runners-up squad is still in our grasp. There is a chance to qualify with a loss, if Newport fail to win in Brive, but a solid win would be much easier to watch.

From there our opponents depend on La Rochelle and Harlequins, if either lose, against Treviso and Stade Francais respectively, then we will face Gloucester, if both lose we will play Bath, and if both win then it will be Ospreys. As a runner-up the game will definitely be on the road, but a win would bring us back to CAP for a big home semi-final, what an occasion that could be.

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Not another loss at the Liberty?!

 

Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there’s still the small matter of Bristol to get out of the way, and they will be a bigger test than when we visited Ashton Gate in October. On that night it was a bonus point victory as Alex Cuthbert, Tom James, Rey Lee-Lo and Josh Turnbull all crossed during a 20-33 win during a particularly tough period, results-wise, for our opponents.

However, since then there has been a resurgence of sorts, which means that although they are still bottom of the Premiership, they are at least in touch with their relegation rivals. Losing bonus points in the league against Bath and Leicester were followed by two wins over Pau in the pre-Christmas double header and subsequently wins over Worcester and Sale.

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Rey Lee-Lo scores his try at Ashton Gate

 

A losing bonus point away at Northampton rounded off a successful festive period, but they were brought back down to Earth with a bump last week as their European hopes were ended with an eight try loss at home to Bath.

Interim Head Coach Mark Tainton has named a side with eleven changes from last week’s heavy defeat, as he looks to give some fringe players a chance to prove their worth. With twelve changes from the last XV that turned out in the Premiership it’s an indication of a second string squad, but also of the depth available to the West Country side, something Danny Wilson can only dream of in his injury crisis!

Having said that, there’s still a fair bit of international experience in David Lemi, Tusi Pisi, Gaston Cortes, Giorgi Nemsadze and Jack Lam, while Thretton Palamo is joined by Welsh caps Ian Evans and Martin Roberts on the bench.

Bristol team: Luke Arscott, Jordan Williams, Jack Tovey, Tusi Pisi, David Lemi, Adrian Jarvis, Andy Uren; Jack O’Connell, Rob Hawkins, Gaston Cortes, Joe Joyce, Giorgi Nemsadze, Nick Koster, Jack Lam (c), James Phillips

Replacements: Max Crumpton, Kyle Traynor, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Ian Evans, Nick Fenton-Wells, Martin Roberts, Thretton Palamo, Jack Wallace

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Bristol captain and Samoa international Jack Lam

 

Cardiff meanwhile actually have had quite a positive week on and off the pitch. A win over Pau, albeit a tight one, stopped a rot of two straight defeats, and the last-gasp aspect of the victory is one that gives you the feeling of confidence, unlike the disappointment that the performance in the win over Newport gave off.

Mix that confidence with some good news from the medical room and suddenly it makes Saturday’s game a very exciting prospect. Danny Wilson is able to welcome back six players from last week’s unavailable list for a real timely boost.

Those six players come into the squad as part of nine changes that sees an all-new front row of Rhys Gill, Kris Dacey and Anton Peikrishvili pack down ahead of Macauley Cook joining Jarrad Hoeata at lock. In the back row Nick Williams makes a second return from injury at number eight.

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Rhys Gill and Kris Dacey return up front

 

The returning half-back pairing of Lloyd Williams and Gareth Anscombe will hope to re-ignite their partnership, with Rey Lee-Lo giving Willis Halaholo a rest this week at 13. Alex Cuthbert returns from the bench and Blaine Scully from family matters to take their places on the wings.

I would go as far to say that it’s the strongest starting XV named since the glory days of September, and although the bench is stocked largely with youngsters, the squad should have more than enough to get the job done.

Cardiff team: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Steven Shingler, Blaine Scully, Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Anton Peikrishvili, Jarrad Hoeata, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Sam Warburton (c), Nick Williams

Replacement: Kirby Myhill, Corey Domachowski, Scott Andrews, James Down, Seb Davies, Tomos Williams, Garyn Smith, Rhun Williams

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Gareth Anscombe’s return is the big story

 

This will not be an easy task as Cardiff look to secure the in required for qualification, as Bristol will be hurting from last week’s heavy loss and looking for revenge, while the fringe players will be wanting to make their mark and press for more minutes.

However, I think the way we start the game will be crucial. We have a few players coming back into the team after injuries of various lengths, but if they can kick on early and get a nerve settling try or two then we can go on to put Bristol to the sword.

From there it’s anyone’s guess who we would play in the quarter-finals, but we can look no further than getting our end of the bargain sorting before dreaming of European quarter-finals. It’s about time we turned out a serious performance and put a team away convincingly.

The support from the fans has been excellent this season, as the radio dominating vocals showed in Pau last week, and with a bumper crowd expected, let’s put on a show. There’s no first team games until the 12th February after Saturday, time to set the tone for 2017.

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Danny Wilson acknowledges some of the support in Pau

 

Stats

Cardiff record v Bristol: W 3  L 0

Cardiff form: LWLLW

Bristol form: WWWLL

Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)

Bristol top try scorer: Tom Varndell (10)

Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (129)

Bristol top points scorer: Jason Woodward (55)

Ref Watch

Mike Adamson (SRU) – Former one-cap Glasgow Warrior and Scottish 7s international has only recently made the step to full-time XVs rugby refereeing. Just the two Pro12 outings to his name and will make his European debut on Saturday after calling Stade Francais’ game against the Romanian side off in suspicious circumstances last week.

Preview: Pau v Cardiff

A welcome distraction from Guinness Pro12 woes comes for Cardiff Blues this weekend as the team head south to the foot of the Pyrenees to take on Pau in the Challenge Cup. With just two games to go in the pool stage, Danny Wilson’s men still have it all to play for.

At this point the equation is pretty simple, two wins and we’re through to the knockout stages. After last night’s emphatic bonus point win for Bath against Bristol I’d suggest that winning the pool is now out of the question, but we are more than in the driving seat for a best runners-up spot if we win our games.

Obviously we are all aware that the last few weeks of action in the Pro12 particularly have been disappointing.  Two wins in nine games have put hopes of finishing within the top six on the back burner with Ulster six points ahead of us and having the benefit of a game in hand against Italian opposition.

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Defeat in Glasgow was a kick in the teeth for top six hopes

 

 

As such the Challenge Cup is probably the best chance of salvaging a sense of success from this season for two reasons. Obviously the achievement of a good cup run, as well as some silverware, is never to be sniffed at, but the big attraction of competing in Europe’s second tier tournament is the automatic qualification for next season’s Champions Cup.

With the likelihood being that we’d enter the lottery of some inter-league play-offs at the end of the season by finishing seventh or eighth, qualifying direct through the Challenge Cup would be a welcome surprise, and as such Danny Wilson may want to consider changing his priority this season from the Pro12 towards Europe.

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Danny Wilson has some prioritising to do

 

 

The start of that focus comes in the South of France this weekend, although in the cold mountainous part rather than the sunny Mediterranean part, with a visit to Section Paloise, the whipping boys of pool four. They currently sit stone dead last with a solitary point, that coming in an opening loss at home to Bath.

Twelve tries conceded over a week to Bristol mean they have shipped 121 points in their four games and have the fourth worst points difference in the competition. This is largely as a result of being a team consigned to the lower half of the Pro12, and as such massively prioritising league survival over European success.

Don’t be fooled by those stats though, this won’t be a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. Since Pau’s back-to-back defeats to Bristol they’ve turned a big corner in the domestic form, with three straight wins over the Christmas period, albeit close ones, taking them away from the relegation zone. The standout result being a 40-35 win over Clermont at home.

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Tom Varndell scored a hat-trick against Bristol

 

 

Despite last weekend’s game against Lyon being called off though, they have still made 10 changes to the side which was supposed to turn out. Internationals Jamie Mackintosh, Steffon Armitage, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor are amongst those that are rested, but 15-cap Australian Ben Mowen retains his place, as does Fijian back Watisoni Votu.

Pau team: Charly Malie, Louis Dupichot, Pierre Dupouy, Watisoni Votu, Mosese Ratuvou, Brandon Fajardo, Julien Tomas; Julien Jacquot, Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes, Malik Hamadache , Masalosalo Tutaia, Daniel Ramsay, Ben Mowen, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler (c)

Replacements: Lucas Rey, Jérémy Hurou, Sylvain Charlet, Baptiste Pesenti, Giovanni Habel Kuffner, Taniela Moa Teutau, Marvin Lestremeau, Romain Buros

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Ben Mowen stays in the Pau starting XV

 

Cardiff meanwhile will be looking to get some revenge for the reverse fixture back in November when things didn’t quite go to plan despite a comfortable win. An early try from Blaine Scully was pegged back by Pau, but a second half brace from Cory Allen put the game to bed. The disappointment came when the bonus point didn’t arrive following a 20-minute period at the end of the game when we should have been pushing for it, but chose to defend our own line from a fierce Pau onslaught.

At the time Danny Wilson said the team would have learned more from the defensive set than they would have benefitted from going for the bonus point, but I think we were all a bit sceptical of that, and even more so now we’re neck-and-neck with Bath.

Unfortunately the now extra important need to push on in Europe has been somewhat hampered by an unavailbable list that seems to stay the same incredibly long length every week but with different names on it. This week’s new additions come in the form of Brad Thyer (head), Rhys Gill (head), Kris Dacey (u/k), Ellis Jenkins (head), Rey Lee-Lo (u/k) and Blaine Scully (personal reasons), meaning there’s some big changes in the starting line-up.

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Rhys Gill and Kris Dacey will stay at home this weekend

 

 

An all-new front row sees Corey Domachowski start at loosehead in his first full appearance for the club, where he is joined by the experience of Matthew Rees and Fa’ao Filise. Jarrad Hoeata slots in behind them at second row as Macauley Cook drops back to flanker, completing the changes in the forwards.

There’s an all-new half-back pairing with Tomos Williams finally starting ahead of Lloyd, while Nicky Robinson makes his first start since returning. Steve Shingler and Willis Halaholo both move a position wider to form a new centre partnership, while Cory Allen and Rhun Williams start on the wings.

On the bench it is down to Anton Peikrishvili to provide loosehead cover, with Kirby Myhill recalled to the squad alongside Seb Davies and Cam Dolan. Lloyd Williams and Alex Cuthbert both drop to the substitutes after recent poor form where they are joined by Garyn Smith to complete the backs cover.

Cardiff team: Matthew Morgan, Cory Allen, Willis Halaholo, Steve Shingler, Rhun Williams, Nicky Robinson, Tomos Williams; Corey Domachowski, Matthew Rees, Taufa’ao Filise, Jarrad Hoeata, James Down, Macauley Cook, Sam Warburton (c), Josh Navidi

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Anton Peikrishvili, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Cam Dolan, Lloyd Williams, Garyn Smith, Alex Cuthbert

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King Nicky makes his first start since re-signing

 

 

There’s no doubt that it will be a tough game on Saturday, in freezing conditions away against a French side with a hostile crowd, and with a somewhat makeshift team it won’t be easy after just a week of training, most of which I’m sure was spent recovering from a brutal few weeks.

However, although it appears makeshift, it may just be the freshening up we require as for a few weeks now our attack has looked somewhat stale. Tomos Williams will be keen to impress, giving his impetus at scrum-half, while Nicky Robinson’s flat first receiver position should be a good base to play off. With Shingler outside him it also gives an extra first receiver and a footballing option at 12.

Macauley Cook’s reappearance in the back row should bring extra dynamism to our ball carrying, although Jarrad Hoeata and James Down will need to step up in this area. One place we should be strong is our scrum though, as the pack named is probably the heaviest we’ve produced this season.

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James Down will need a big carrying shift

 

 

Overall it’s a difficult one to call with Pau sending out a second string side into a competition they openly don’t care about, despite having home advantage, while Cardiff are desperate for the win but due to circumstance are missing a number of players and have a number of new partnerships in the line-up, coughing up a fair few unknowns.

The key will be dominating possession. Using the weight up front and setting up a platform for the backs to play off as there is sure to be a few questions asked of a slightly lightweight midfield and a back three that aren’t especially renowned for their prowess under the high ball. Kick well and counter attack with meaning, and let the forwards go to work.

All we can do is look after ourselves and get the points on the board to put us in the best possible position come the end of the pool stage, this is a chance for a fresh start, with a fresh XV in a competition we have overall done pretty well in this season. Time to bring back some positivity, come on Cardiff!

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Bit more of this European cheer required

 

 

Stats

Cardiff record v Pau: W 1  L 0

Cardiff form: WLWLL

Pau form: LLWWW

Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)

Pau top try scorer: Watisoni Votu (4)

Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (112)

Pau top points scorer: Tom Taylor (29)

Ref Watch

Gary Conway (IRFU) – The Irishman has only ever refereed Cardiff on three previous occasions, all against Italian teams. With the home game being a win and the two away games being losses it doesn’t bode well. He has refereed in Pau once before though, a home loss to Sale, maybe some hope!

Preview: Bath v Cardiff

After just a five day turnaround we travel to Bath on Thursday night for the second of our European double header against the West Country side where a win would see us almost confirmed of a place in the knockout stages of the tournament.

Last Saturday’s win signalled a real return to form for Cardiff, with a first victory at home since the last set of European matches and only the second in seven games. Hopefully the team can take confidence from that, especially with the manner of the win being so impressive.

With the weather being so poor Cardiff played the conditions brilliantly. Some excellent kicking from Steve Shingler and Willis Halaholo put Bath under pressure, while Matthew Morgan and Blaine Scully were dangerous on the counter attack. Alex Cuthbert was lively with ball in hand and Sam Warburton dominant at the breakdown, leaving Bath second best in a lot of aspects.

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Alex Cuthbert put in a man-of-the-match performance

 

 

I was extremely disappointed with Bath though who did an excellent impression of the Cardiff Blues in recent weeks thanks to a quite shockingly high number of simple errors. They just couldn’t cope with our kicking game, or hold onto the ball in midfield, making it easy for Shingler to manage the game and put them on the back foot more often than not.

That win put us five points clear at the top of pool four at the halfway mark, and puts all the pressure on Bath to get a result on Thursday as a Cardiff win would need us leaving just one further competition point to secure the group. However, a losing bonus point would be good enough for us as it would keep us out in front even if Bath score four tries.

It would also mean Cardiff finish above Bath should the teams tie as the first decider is points gained from the head-to-head matches, which would be 5 v 5, and then aggregate points from those matches, which we would win by a minimum of 18 points courtesy of last Saturday’s result.

As such Bath have gone for a much improved side than that which turned up at the Arms Park on Saturday. Eight changes to the starting XV have been made, with a combined 186 international caps coming into the squad. Loosehead Nick Auterac and flanker Tom Ellis start, along with their six capped colleagues.

England internationals Dave Attwood, George Ford and Jonathan Joseph are all recalled to the side alongside some familiar faces. Former Ospreys scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i, Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau and winger Aled Brew, who has one Cardiff appearance to his name, all join in them in the starting line-up.

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Taulupe Faletau returns to the Bath side

 

 

Bath team: Tom Homer, Jack Wilson, Jonathan Joseph, Ben Tapuai, Aled Brew, George Ford (c), Kahn Fotuali’i; Nick Auterac, Ross Batty, Max Lahiff, Charlie Ewels (c), Dave Attwood, Tom Ellis, Francois Louw, Taulupe Faletau

Replacements: Michael van Vuuren, Beno Obano, Shaun Knight, Elliott Stooke, Zach Mercer, Darren Allinson, Adam Hastings, Max Clark 

Cardiff meanwhile are looking at roughly the same team that was victorious, with just three changes to the starting XV. Cory Allen and Kirby Myhill both start in place of the injured duo Alex Cuthbert and Kris Dacey, taking the number on the injury list up to somewhere around the 15 mark.

The other change comes in the back row where the experience of the returning Macauley Cook is preferred to youngster Seb Davies. He drops the bench where he is joined by Ellis Jenkins, as Danny Wilson goes with a six-two balance towards forwards leaving little option if there were outside back issues.

That’s one of my concerns with the team, I’d have liked to have seen Garyn Smith on the bench, as well as possibly starting with Matthew Rees ahead of Myhill, for his superior scrummaging capability.

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Kris Dacey misses out through injury

 

 

Cardiff team: Matthew Morgan, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Blaine Scully, Steven Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, James Down, Macauley Cook, Sam Warburton (c), Josh Navidi

Replacements: Matthew Rees, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Jarrad Hoeata, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Nicky Robinson

It’s a game to shape the rest of the pool and a possible springboard for Cardiff to push on into the Pro12 festive period, making this Thursday fairly important considering Europe isn’t our primary focus. It won’t be easy with an embarrassed Bath bringing back such strength into their starting XV, but with the underdog status and confidence from Saturday hopefully we can compete with the hosts.

There is also the added motivation of #REVENGE lingering from last week, and it becomes more prominent this Thursday as we return to the scene of the 1997 debacle. Hopefully we won’t see any perfectly good tries ruled out, and no Cardiff fans will be threatening referees, and we can all watch an enjoyable game of rugby, with some nice cold #REVENGE served.

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#REVENGE

 

 

Stats

Cardiff record v Bath: W 1  L 0

Cardiff form: LWLLW (excluding Anglo-Welsh Cup)

Bath form: WWLWL (excluding Anglo-Welsh Cup)

Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)

Bath top try scorer: Semesa Rokoduguni (6)

Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (82)

Bath top points scorer: George Ford (85)

Ref Watch

Alexandre Ruiz (FFR) – The Frenchman has refereed Cardiff twice, in a home win over London Irish in 2014 and the home loss to Harlequins last season. However the issue is he’s French, and in the 1997 game the referee, Didier Mene, was also French. I’m not too superstitious, but fingers crossed there’s no repeat!

Preview: Cardiff v Bath

European action returns this weekend as Aviva Premiership side Bath make the short trip across the Severn Bridge to the Arms Park. With both sides unbeaten so far this double header will go some way to deciding the pool outcome.

Cardiff find themselves slightly ahead of the West country side at the moment courtesy of a bonus point win over Bristol at Ashton Gate, with Bath gaining regular wins against their close rivals and French side Pau. However with only the group winner going through automatically these next two Anglo-Welsh ties are crucial.

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Cardiff players celebrate a win away at Bristol

 

 

Away from Europe, Bath are challenging for silverware in domestic terms as well, with a run of five wins in six matches taking them to third place and just three points off the top spot. After a disappointing season which saw them finish 9th last year it is a marked turnaround under the guidance of former New Zealand international Todd Blackadder.

That run culminated in an impressive win over reigning Champions Saracens at The Rec last weekend, thanks to a Max Clark try and the boot of Tom Homer. A confidence boosting win for sure, although the effect of that will hopefully be diluted with Blackadder making seven changes to the starting XV this week.

Wales internationals Taulupe Faletau and Luke Charteris both miss out, as five of the changes come in the forwards, although new England cap Charlie Ewels is included. In the backs Darren Allinson starts at scrum-half, the first time he’s faced Cardiff since leaving for London Irish in 2010.

With Anthony Watson, Robbie Fruean, George Ford, Rhys Priestland, Kahn Fotu’ali, Matt Banahan, David Denton and Dave Attwood all also unavailable or not picked for selection, it is certainly an under-strength side coming to Cardiff, but not one to be under-estimated.

Bath team: Tom Homer, Semesa Rokoduguni, Max Clark, Ben Tapuai, Jack Wilson, Dan Bowden, Darren Allinson; Beno Obano, Ross Batty, Max Lahiff, Charlie Ewels, Elliott Stooke, Matt Garvey (c), Tom Ellis, Paul Grant

Replacements: Jack Walker, Nick Auterac, Kane Palma-Newport, Guy Mercer, Michael van Vuuren, Will Homer, Adam Hastings, Jeff Williams

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Bath’s Welsh contingent are all missing from their line-up

 

 

If that unavailable list seems long then it’s nothing compared to Cardiff’s! Fourteen players are currently injured or otherwise not able to play, with a particularly worrying stat being that six of those are back-rowers. Newly injured players include Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins and Tom James, with the extent of their injuries unknown, while Gethin Jenkins will be out for weeks rather than months after an arm operation.

The only piece of good news from the team announcement is the return of Sam Warburton to lead the side from 7. He is joined in the back row by Seb Davies who will make his first start outside of the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Rhys Gill comes into the front row to complete the changes up front, while Brad Thyer and Jarrad Hoeata return to the bench, and Kirby Myhill is forced to provide back row cover.

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Gethin Jenkins is in danger of missing the Six Nations

 

 

In the backs the only change comes as a result of top try scorer Tom James’ injury, with Matthew Morgan starting to allow Blaine Scully to move to the wing. Lloyd Williams may count himself lucky to retain his starting scrum-half spot as Tomos Williams really begins to push him but stays on the bench, joined by Cory Allen, as the centre looks to re-start a confidence lacking season.

Cardiff team: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Blaine Scully, Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Kris Dacey, Fa’ao Filise, George Earle, James Down, Seb Davies, Sam Warburton (c), Josh Navidi

Replacements: Matthew Rees, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Jarrad Hoeata, Kirby Myhill, Tomos Williams, Nicky Robinson, Cory Allen

So a somewhat makeshift aspect to the side, with a big test for Davies at flanker and a challenge for some players to step their form up after a mediocre few weeks, but it’s certainly a side that can still be competitive despite the injury list.

And competitive they need to be because there’s more than an aspect of revenge to this game. Rewind to the 1997/98 Heineken Cup quarter-final at The Rec. French referee Didier Mene rules out a perfectly good Craig Morgan try, allowed Victor Ubogu’s clearly offside try and also awarded Bath a whole host of penalties on the way to a 32-21 win.

The two sides haven’t played for the 19 years between but the thirst for revenge never leaves! Come on Cardiff!!!!

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Dai Young takes on Bath in 1997

 

 

Stats:

No games since 2003

Cardiff form: WLWLL (excluding Anglo-Welsh Cup)

Bath form: WWWLW (excluding Anglo-Welsh Cup)

Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (7)

Bath top try scorer: Semesa Rokoduguni (6)

Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (69)

Bath top points scorer: George Ford (85)

Ref Watch

George Clancy (IRFU) – He did referee our win over Glasgow at CAP in September, but there’s a general collective moan when Clancy appears. All I’ll say is good luck keeping everyone’s voices!

 

Preview: Cardiff v Section Paloise

Cardiff entertain Pau at the Arms Park on Friday night in the first European home game of the season. Following last week’s bonus point win away at Bristol we are sitting top of Pool Four and looking to extend that with a win against the Frenchman before a tough double header against Bath in December.

It was an impressive return to form at Ashton Gate last Friday following the hammering from Ospreys in the Pro12. Tries from Josh Turnbull, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James and Alex Cuthbert secured the win, alongside 13 Gareth Anscombe points, as the scoreline finished 20-33 despite Cardiff being on the receiving end of two yellow cards.

Discipline will have to improve as the attacking play has done to reach the levels that the forwards executing the set piece are setting, and on a general team level the defence will need to keep stepping up if we are to compete at the highest levels possible. With the lowest points conceded being still a quite high 16 so far this season, there is definite room for improvement.

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Rey Lee-Lo scores against Bristol last week

 

 

Section Paloise, who are Pau for short in case any readers are confused, have had a pretty disappointing start to the season by all accounts. Two losses at the hands of Castres and Toulon kicked the season off, before three wins against Bayonne, Stade Francais and Grenoble steadied the ship. However, two further losses before European against Bordeaux and Lyon leave the Pyrenees based club down in 12th of the Top14.

In light of this league form it was highly likely Pau would follow last season’s suit by disregarding any attempt to compete in the Challenge Cup. Six losses from six in that group stage, with 166 points conceded, left them dead last in a pool won by Newport mainly down to the aim of their season being to stay in the Top14, which they only returned to last season after eight seasons in France’s second tier.

Last week was almost a first victory since returning to the Challenge Cup as they pushed all the way against Bath at home, however tries from Romain Buros, Sean Dougall and Watisoni Votu could not outscore Rhys Pristland’s boot as the Welsh fly-half kicked 20 points on the way to a 22-25 win for the away side.

An underlining of the fact that Pau don’t take the Challenge Cup seriously is that they boast former 94-cap All Black centre Conrad Smith in their ranks, but he is not registered in the European squad. Instead they field a side that has 20 changes from that which was named for their last Top14 match.

There are six changes to the XV alone to the one that lost to Bath last week as Sylvain Charlet, Masalosalo Tutaia, Pierre Dupuoy, Bastien Pourailly, Louis Dupichot and Charly Malie coming in to the side that does 15-times capped Australian Ben Mowen at number eight, 32-cap Argentinian Santiago Fernandez at outside centre and can leave out English flanker Steffon Armitage.

Section Paloise: Charly Malie, Louis Dupichot, Santiago Fernandez, Peirre Dupouy, Bastien Pourailly, Brendan Fajardo, Thibault Daubanga; Jeremy Hurou, Quentin Lespiaucq, Sylvain Charlet, Masalosalo Tutaia, Daniel Ramsay (c), Pierrick Gunther, Sean Dougall, Ben Mowen.

Replacements: Lucas Rey, Geoffrey Moise, Joel Sclavi, Fabrice Metz, Giovanni Habel Kuffner, Thierry Lacrampe, Romain Buros, Marvin Lestremau



The visitors aren’t the only side ringing the changes though as Danny Wilson has nine new players in his starting XV. The front row of Gethin Jenkins, Kirby Myhill and Fa’ao Filise is back for the first time since the season opener, James Down makes his first start of the season at lock with Macauley Cook switching to flanker and Josh Turnbull at number eight.

Lloyd Williams switches with Tomos at scrum-half to form a half-back partnership with Steve Shingler, while Garyn Smith and Cory Allen team up in the centres. Dan Fish and Blaine Scully join Alex Cuthbert to complete the back three. On the bench young Seb Davies could make his senior debut, while Jarrod Evans is ready to make his first appearance of the season.

The interesting news from the team selection is Kris Dacey having to provide back row cover from the bench with Sam Warburton and Josh Navidi injured, while Cam Dolan cannot play due to foreign national restrictions. Other familiar faces not included are Rey Lee-Lo and Tom James who are both rested, while one of Gareth Anscombe’s permitted NDC games is not used up.

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Kirby Myhill returns to the starting XV after injury

 

 

Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish, Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Garyn Smith, Blaine Scully, Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins (c), Kirby Myhill, Fa’ao Filise, Jarrad Hoeata, James Down, Macauley Cook, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Turnbull

Replacements: Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Kris Dacey, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Matthew Morgan

It’s a calculated risk by Danny Wilson in the sense that, although the primary focus of the season is a minimum top six finish in the Pro12, momentum is gained from victories and there’s a certain expectation amongst fans to continue to be competitive across the board. There’s also a chance that the players providing the squad depth may get injured and then the side looks slightly threadbare going into the international break.

Despite all that there should still be enough in the Cardiff side to dispose of the travelling Pau and it’s a good chance to see Kirby Myhill properly for the first time, as well as Garyn Smith at 12 and Jarrod Evans returning to the senior squad. I hope to see a decent attendance and get a bit of atmosphere inside CAP on Friday, as well as a few tries in the first encounter between the sides. Come on Cardiff!!

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Blaine Scully replaces the rested Tom James

 

 

Stats

Cardiff form: WWLLW

Pau form: LWLLL

Cardiff top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (56)

Paul top points scorer: Colin Slade (11)

Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (5)

Pau top try scorer: Watisoni Votu (2)

Ref Watch

JP Doyle (RFU) – Only one previous game involving Cardiff for the Englishman who officiated our Challenge Cup quarter-final loss to Newport in 2014/15 season. Well respected in the Aviva Premiership and joined by Wayne Barnes as touch judge. No TMO though as game is not televised.

 

 

 

 

Preview: Bristol v Cardiff

A welcome break from the Pro12 season after last week’s humiliation away to Ospreys sees Cardiff Blues kick off the European Challenge Cup season against Bristol this Friday night.

The trip to Ashton Gate is the perfect chance to right the wrongs of that 46-24 loss in Swansea and prove that it was just a blip rather than any sign of our early season form being a fluke.

It was a tough one last weekend
Bristol themselves are having a really tough start to life back in the English Premiership. Six straight losses, including hammering of 70-22 away at Wasps, and 0-39 at home to Saracens, see them stone dead bottom of the table.
Last week’s 19-14 defeat away to fellow relegation battlers Newcastle Falcons did little to aid their already ominous battle to avoid dropping back to the Championship where they fought for so many years to escape from. 

Having said that, head coach Andy Robinson was positive following that latest loss, claiming the side are heading in the right direction and getting better each week as they hunt for the first win of the season. 

Bristol went down to Newcastle last week
There was some debate over how seriously both sides would take the competition this year with bigger things to worry about away from Europe’s second tier Cup. Cardiff looking up the Pro12 towards at least Champions Cup qualification, while the home side will just be happy to stay in the Premiership. 

In the end both sides have decided to ring the changes with a combined 19 changes to the starting sides from those which played last week. 

Bristol see the most of them with 11 new faces from the team which narrowly lost out in Newcastle. Amongst those is winger Tom Varndell who Cardiff fans will remember sprinting away for two tries in the pre-season friendly we played against Bristol at CAP back in August.

Bristol team vs Cardiff: Jack Wallace, Tom Varndell, Jack Tovey, Thretton Palamo, David Lemi (c), Adrian Jarvis, Rhodri Williams; Soane Tonga’uhia, Max Crumpton, Gaston Cortes, Ian Evans, Ben Glynn, Nick Koster, Olly Robinson, Mitch Eadie

Replacements: Chris Brooker, Jack O’Connell, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Joe Joyce, Nick Fenton-Wells, Andy Uren, Billy Searle, Luke Arscott

Cardiff were victorious over Bristol in pre season


The man that Varndell bypassed on that day was Alex Cuthbert who returns to Cardiff’s starting line-up having recovered from the injury that he picked up against Glasgow.

Joining him in returning to the squad is Kirby Myhill who takes a seat on the bench for the first time after the shin injury suffered on the opening day of the season.

The other changes come in the form of tactical ones made by Danny Wilson. The front row is changed, with Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees and Scott Andrews all getting a chance to start. Behind them Josh Navidi is rested so Jarrad Hoeata gets a chance to make his first appearance of the season thanks to Josh Turnbull reverting to flanker.

Alex Cuthbert is back…again
In the backs there is a change of Williams at scrum-half with Lloyd rested to allow Tomos a start, while Steve Shingler comes in at 12 with Rey Lee-Lo moving out to 13 as Garyn Smith drops to the bench. Matthew Morgan and Dan Fish also trade the 15 and 23 jerseys again.

The final returning player is Dillon Lewis who is set to make his first appearance from the bench as Wilson gives a chance to more fringe players to stake a claim for Pro12 rugby.

Cardiff team vs Bristol: Matthew Morgan, Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Steve Shingler, Tom James, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees, Scott Andrews, Jarrad Hoeata, Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Gethin Jenkins, Dillon Lewis, James Down, Cam Dolan, Lloyd Williams, Garyn Smith, Dan Fish

A first Severnside rugby derby for a few years and an interesting one in terms of seeing the squad depth on both sides, but particularly from a Cardiff point of view as we see what the team has about them to bounce back from last week.

A European run will always be something to aim for, but right now I’ll happily take 80 minutes of dedication from the players, a return to the simplified early season running rugby and a good confidence boosting performance. Any result would just be a bonus, come on Cardiff!!

Let’s get back to these scenes
Stats

Cardiff record v Bristol: W 2  L 0

Cardiff form: WWWLL

Bristol form: LLLLL

Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (28)

Bristol top points scorer: Tusi Pisi (15)

Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (4)

Bristol top try scorers: Mitch Eadie, Ross MacMillan (2)

Ref Watch

Pascal Gauzere (FFR) – Last refereed Cardiff to an away win over Glasgow in the Heineken Cup back in December 2013. I’ve never heard of him! No TMO though, poor for European competition but unsurprising seeing as we’re not on TV in the Mickey Mouse competition.