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Warburton set for 100th Guinness PRO12 Cardiff Blues appearance in Welsh derby

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor 24 Dec 2016
Sam Warburton

It may be Boxing Day but there will be no bloated Christmas hangover at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on Monday, as Cardiff Blues welcome near-neighbours Newport Gwent Dragons to the capital for a festive feast of Guinness PRO12 entertainment.

Blues come into the game having won just once in their last five matches in all competitions, with their last Guinness PRO12 victory coming at Treviso on November 4.

Meanwhile Dragons have won two of their last three in the competition, beating defending champions Connacht in Round 8, before downing Edinburgh in their next game.

What’s at stake?

Apart from the south east Wales bragging rights, vital Guinness PRO12 points are up for grabs.

Blues – fresh from the news their coach Danny Wilson will head on tour with the national side next summer – currently sit seventh in the table.

Wilson’s side won their first four domestic fixtures this season, but have gone on to lose five of the next six, so will hope to be turn their form around and begin a march back up the standings.

Dragons, meanwhile, come into the game in form having beaten the sides directly above and below them in the table, in recent weeks.

But the ninth-placed side have not won on the road since beating Gloucester at Kingsholm in the quarter-finals of last season’s European Challenge Cup, so will also be motivated to arrest that losing streak.

Team News (Cardiff Blues)

Not only is this clash a local derby, but the game also sees Sam Warburton make his 100th appearance for Blues in the Guinness PRO12.

The 28-year-old made his debut for the region in 2009 but has taken his time to rack up a century, due mainly to international commitments.

But the back rower signed a new deal with Blues recently, committing his future to the club and the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park faithful will be looking forward to many more pivotal performances from Warburton in a blue shirt.

Elsewhere in Wilson’s starting XV, Scott Andrews steps up from the bench, while Gethin Jenkins’ absence continues but Kristian Dacey, Nick Williams, Tom James and Alex Cuthbert all return to the starting lineup.

Team News (Newport Gwent Dragons)

Kingsley Jones has made five changes to the team that beat Worcester Warriors in European action last weekend.

The most prominent changes see Cory Hill and Tyler Morgan return to the starting XV, while Tom Prydie moves back from the wing to full-back.

Pat Howard – Dragons’ leading try scorer – also returns, as does hooker Thomas Rhys Thomas, while Rynard Landman returns to partner Hill in the second row.

In the back row, Dragons skipper Lewis Evans moves to flanker as Ed Jackson comes back in at No.8, with Ollie Griffiths completing the trio.

Talking points

Which Welsh region will end their rotten run of form against their rivals on Boxing Day?

Dragons have played two regional fixtures so far this season, losing both, and are without a win against Welsh opposition since the 2014-15 season.

While Blues’ Wales derby form may not be quite so lacklustre, three losses against Welsh opposition on the spin will leave their fans wanting a result.

Can they give centurion Warburton a late Christmas present? Or will the Dragons drought finally end? Whatever happens, it won’t come easily.

Key Battle: Tom James v Pat Howard

Both men are the primary source of scores for their region this season, with James scoring six Guinness PRO12 tries for Blues, while Howard has dotted down four times in the league.

Howard’s return for Dragons will add some extra potency and finishing nous to their back line, while Tom James also returns to the starting XV after missing the Blues’ European loss to Bath last week.

With both players back in action, the supply to the wings will be key and the men regulating that, Steven Shingler and Angus O’Brien, will also have their own say on the outcome.

Both players are their region’s leading-point scorer, so whoever has the best day could well see their side coming away with the win.

Key Stat: Cardiff Blues have lost just once to Newport Gwent Dragons at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park since 2003; on Boxing Day 2014.

Lions Contenders:

A former Lions captain, Sam Warburton will be hoping to make it onto a second Tour next summer, and teammate Alex Cuthbert will be hopeful of the same.

Did you know?

Dragons have lost their last eleven encounters against fellow Welsh regions in the Championship.

 

Blues’ top points scorer: Steven Shingler – 57

Top try scorer: Tom James – 6

Dragons’ top points scorer: Angus O’Brien – 46

Top try scorer: Pat Howard – 4

 

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record: Played 26, Blues won 18, Dragons won 8.

 

At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 2.05pm
Live on BBC Wales
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 32nd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas, Sean Brickell (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Jeff Mark (WRU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)

Shingler guides Blues to derby victory

Paul Eddison 26 Dec 2016

Steven Shingler scored one try and made another as Cardiff Blues claimed the bragging rights with a 27-16 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons at the Cardiff Arms Park.

On Sam Warburton’s 100th Blues appearance, three first-half tries were enough for the home side to win, although they may regret not scoring a bonus point to close the gap on the Guinness PRO12 top four.

An entertaining first half saw Cardiff get off to a flyer thanks to a try for Shingler, but Ashton Hewitt hit back for the Dragons to make it 13-13 all on 30 minutes.

However the Blues finished the opening period much the stronger with tries from Kristian Dacey and then Josh Navidi to take an 11-point lead into half-time.

And that was how it remained after the break following a scoreless second 40 minutes in which handling errors and improved defence shut down the two teams.

The Blues made the perfect start when Shingler powered over on the shortside down the right, slipping out of a couple of tackles before nailing the conversion from the touchline. That gave the home side a 7-0 lead after barely two minutes.

Under pressure from the off, the Dragons fought back with a penalty from Angus O’Brien after a good scrum to cut the deficit ten minutes later.

But they allowed Cardiff to cancel that out with a penalty for obstruction from an up and under, and Shingler needed no second invitation to make it 10-3.

The teams were then temporarily reduced to 14 men apiece, Rey Lee-Lo sin-binned for a high tackle for the Blues a minute before Rynard Landman joined him for a dangerous clearout.

O’Brien and Shingler slotted the resulting penalties to make it 13-6 the home side, but the Dragons coped better a man down to level the scores just before the half-hour.

With possession just inside the Cardiff 22, O’Brien spotted some space in behind and played a perfect grubber with Hewitt racing through for the simplest of finishes. The fly-half added the extras to tie it up.

But with both players back the Blues took control once again after a long period of possession in Dragons territory. While the defence held initially, some good carrying from Nick Williams put the visitors on the back foot, and Dacey then twisted out of a tackle and over the line. Shingler added the easy conversion to put Cardiff back in front at 20-13.

O’Brien showed his kicking range with a long-range penalty after Navidi was pinged as they Dragons kept it close.

But right on the stroke of half-time the Blues took control with an elusive run through from Shingler, dummying one way before delivering the ball to Navidi for the run-in. His conversion made it 27-16 at the break.

While the first half was a free-scoring affair, the defences tightened up in the second, with both teams struggling to add to their scores.

The Dragons will have been particularly frustrated at coming away with nothing from one extended spell in the

Matthew Morgan could have stretched the Blues lead, but his penalty effort drifted just wide when Nick Crosswell was penalised for a late tackle.

And in the dying stages the Dragons looked like they might come away with a losing bonus point when Sam Beard sliced through but when he was hauled down, the visitors couldn’t recycle quickly enough and eventually conceded a penalty for holding on.

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