Match Preview: Cardiff Blues vs. Ulster Rugby

Nick Williams

Nick Williams starts against his future employers the Blues

Finally our luck ran out.

Against the Dragons and Glasgow we just about squeezed out two wins without looking overly impressive, but last Sunday the Scarlets made us pay for our wastefulness. They exposed our narrow defence by scoring some soft tries and in defence they were resolute. We blew our fair share of chances, make no doubt about that, but credit has to be given to how well they did to hold us out when we did threaten.

As a result we have now fallen behind the Scarlets in the PRO12 and we have missed the opportunity to go back to the top of the table, or at least keep in touch with Connacht at the summit. There is still plenty of time to make up the ground of course (we are only four points behind after all!) but as I say every week: it’s better to be on top looking down than below looking up!

That’s why this week’s game away to the Cardiff Blues becomes a vital game in our season, both in terms of the league and mentally. If we can snatch a win then it is a very important away win that keeps us in touch at the top of the tree and will also boost our confidence no end. However, another defeat would be two in a row and would leave us an uphill battle to reach the top four, as well as another dent to our confidence.

It certainly isn’t going to be an easy game either, especially on the unfamiliar plastic surface at the Cardiff Arms Park. Cardiff still have their sights set on an unlikely Champions’ Cup place, especially with the Ospreys misfiring this season, and they aren’t the kind of team to just roll over at the end of the season either. They ran Leinster very close last week in horrendous conditions and you can guarantee they will want to amend that this week.

In that game, number eight Manoa Vosawai was on rampaging form and will be a very dangerous player for them. Kristian Dacey, Josh Turnbull and Tom James have all been released from international duty to feature for Cardiff this weekend while Scarlets-bound Rhys Patchell will be desperate to show Warren Gatland that he is an option for the national team after falling off the radar for a couple of seasons.

But the table doesn’t lie – Cardiff languish in ninth in the table due to their inconsistency in the league. They handed Treviso their first win of the season a couple of weeks ago and they struggle to put teams to the sword when they need to. The stats tend to lie a little too – they are one of the league’s top try scorers with 34 tries to their name, however it is a little less impressive when 11 of those came in the opening game of the season at home to Zebre.

Really we should be looking at four points (although we said that last week) to get back on the wagon before welcoming Zebre to Belfast next week. This is not a game that should be taken lightly as the Blues have a record of causing upsets on a regular basis, however we still should head over knowing that this is a game we should win. And should we win all the demons of last week’s defeat will be banished.

Well, most of them anyway.

The stats

The Blues have lost two successive games in the Guinness PRO12, handing Treviso their first win of the season two weeks ago at the Stadio di Monigo and at home last week to Leinster. Their only victory over Irish opposition in their last seven attempts was a 20-16 success over Connacht at the Cardiff Arms Park back in December.

Our three game winning streak in the PRO12 came to an end last week with our defeat to the Scarlets and we are looking to avoid successive league defeats for the first time since December 2014. Our most recent win in Wales was back in October when we defeated the Dragons 19-12 in Les Kiss’ first game in charge, but we haven’t won successive games in Wales since 2012/13.

We have only lost once in our last seven meetings with Cardiff – a 28-23 defeat at the Arms Park back in March 2014.

The teams

Cardiff head coach Danny Wilson has handed starting debuts to two players – scrum-half Tomos Williams and loosehead prop Brad Thyer – as two of six changes to the team that faced Leinster last weekend. In the backs Rhys Patchell switches to fly-half in place of the called up Gareth Anscombe with Dan Fish coming into the team at full-back while Tom James is released from international duty to start on the wing. Elsewhere in the backs Aled Summerhill replaces the injured Cory Allen at outside centre with Tomos Williams in for Lloyd Williams at half-back. The two changes in the pack are both in the front row with Thyer swapping for Thomas Davies and Matthew Rees, who captains the side, starts at hooker in place of Kristian Dacey.

Six changes for Ulster too with both Ruan Pienaar and Nick Williams welcomed back after injury. Pienaar is one of two changes in the backs as he replaces Paul Marshall at scrum-half while the other change sees Sammy Arnold start at inside centre with Luke Marshall moving to outside centre in place of the benched Darren Cave. Up front the props are changed with Callum Black and Bronson Ross replacing Andy Warwick and Ricky Lutton respectively. In the second row Pete Browne replaces Alan O’Connor who is ruled out with an infection, while Williams is back at number eight in place of Roger Wilson.

 

Cardiff Blues vs. Ulster Rugby

Sunday 28th February, 14:30

BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park

Guinness PRO12 – Round 16

 

Live on BBC2 Northern Ireland and S4C

 

CARDIFF BLUES

15. Dan Fish, 14. Blaine Scully, 13. Aled Summerhill, 12. Rey Lee-Lo, 11. Tom James, 10. Rhys Patchell, 9. Tomos Williams; 1. Brad Thyer, 2. Matthew Rees (capt.), 3. Salesi Ma’afu, 4. Jarrad Hoeata, 5. James Down, 6. Josh Turnbull, 7. Ellis Jenkins, 8. Manoa Vosawai.

Replacements: 16. Kristian Dacey, 17. Thomas Davies, 18. Taufa’ao Filise, 19. Macauley Cook, 20. Josh Navidi, 21. Lewis Jones, 22. Jarrod Evans, 23. Garyn Smith.

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Stuart Olding, 14. Craig Gilroy, 13. Luke Marshall, 12. Sammy Arnold, 11. Jacob Stockdale, 10. Paddy Jackson (capt.), 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Callum Black, 2. John Andrew, 3. Bronson Ross, 4. Pete Browne, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Robbie Diack, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Nick Williams.

Replacements: 16. Jonny Murphy, 17. Kyle McCall, 18. Ricky Lutton, 19. Roger Wilson, 20. Sean Reidy, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Darren Cave, 23. Rory Scholes.

 

Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 49th competition game)

Assistant Referees: Dan Jones, Gwyn Morris (both WRU)

Citing Commissioner: John Charles (WRU)

TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)