Cardiff Blues host the Toyota Cheetahs on Friday night looking to make it two wins from two after a frustrating start to their campaign.
The Welsh side lost each of their first three games in heartbreaking fashion, but hit their straps against Munster, while Cheetahs came desperately close to their first win before having to settle for a draw against Ulster.
What’s at stake? With the two sides currently sixth and seventh in Conference A, there is a lot on the line at the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.
Despite three defeats, the Blues are still in a fairly healthy position in the race for a Guinness PRO14 Finals Series spot, having taken nine points from four games. The Cheetahs, in contrast, have struggled out of the gate, and will need to pick up some points on the road to make up for their slow start.
Team news (Cardiff Blues): John Mulvihill has made three changes to the team that overcame Munster in impressive fashion last Friday. Those changes all come in the pack where Scott Andrews gets the nod at tighthead prop, while Rory Thornton is included in the second row. The final change comes in the back row where Olly Robinson comes onto the flank where he will link up with skipper Ellis Jenkins and No.8 Josh Turnbull.
Team news (Toyota Cheetahs): The Cheetahs have made just the one injury-enforced change to the team that drew with Ulster as Ryno Eksteen replaces the injured Malcolm Jaer. Eksteen slots in at full-back, while on the bench Daniel Maartens gets the nod.
Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill said: “It is vitally important that we back up what was a really good performance and result against Munster with another win against the Cheetahs on Friday night.
“We have selected a side to suit our game-plan but also to ensure players are managed sufficiently, to get through the season, and that others are given opportunities.”
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith said: “It’s good to have continuity, which is an important factor for team to grow. With continuity we can learn from mistakes and grow for form a good base. This tour is important to give the next step towards winning and doing better away from home. Cardiff offers a big challenge. They are well prepared and we expect a fast game on the artificial ground.”
Key battle: Willis Halaholo v Nico Lee
It’s hard to look past the midfield battle coming into this one with Willis Halaholo and Nico Lee both in flying form for their respective teams. Halaholo was the man of the match for the Blues as they beat Munster, and his running threat from midfield and partnership with Rey Lee-Lo is one of the Blues’ biggest assets. In Lee, he will be going up against a centre who has shown his worth in both attack and defence this season and will be key to South African hopes in the Welsh capital.
Key fact: The teams met twice last season, splitting the games with victories for the home side on each occasion.
Did you know? The Blues have lost just once at home in all competitions since February, losing in the last minute to Leinster on the opening day of the season.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Jason Harries, Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams, Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Scott Andrews, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Olly Robinson, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Turnbull
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, Macauley Cook, Sion Bennett, Lloyd Williams, Steven Shingler, Garyn Smith
Toyota Cheetahs: Ryno Eksteen, William Small-Smith, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Nico Lee, Rabz Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Tian Meyer, Ox Nche, Joseph Dweba, Aranos Coetzee, Walt Steenkamp, Jean-Pierre du Preez, Gerhard Olivier, Junior Pokomela, Niell Jordaan
Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Charles Marais, Gunther Janse van Vuuren, Justin Basson, Stephan Malan, Daniel Maartens, Shaun Venter, Louis Fouche
At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, 7.35pm. Live on Premier Sports 1, SuperSport 1 and eir sport 2
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU), Assistant Referees: Joy Neville (IRFU), Gwyn Morris (WRU), TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)
Olly Robinson’s late try helped secure a second win in as many weeks for Cardiff Blues, deciding a nervy 24-21 victory over the Toyota Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs scored first in the match as Walt Steenkamp dropped on a loose ball, but Rey Lee-Lo responded for the Blues and Gareth Anscombe kicked them ahead at the break.
A scintillating second half saw Sibhale Maxwane and Benhard Janse van Rensburg cross for the Cheetahs, only for Lloyd Williams and Olly Robinson to fire back for the Blues.
Anscombe’s conversion meant the hosts were able to hold out for the final few minutes, securing successive wins but condemning the Cheetahs to defeat.
The match started nervously for the home side, with fly-half Anscombe kicking straight out from the kick-off before the Cheetahs won an early penalty.
Cheetahs fly-half Tian Schoeman missed the posts with a penalty on six minutes before Anscombe also saw his kick go wayward a minute later.
As the quarter-mark approached the South African outfit fought their way to a lineout in the opposing 22, with the ball escaping from the resultant maul to allow Steenkamp to pounce on it over the line.
Blues began to dominate possession and got the desired response on 26 minutes as Anscombe’s speculative kick evaded Ryno Eksteen and Lee-Lo collected to touch down.
At 7-7 Blues continued to attack but the Cheetahs defended stoutly, with Anscombe breaking through the middle before losing control of the ball – several other final passes not going to hand.
Hands in the ruck allowed Anscombe to kick his side 10-7 ahead at the break but the Blues soon found themselves behind as Maxwane went over ten minutes into the second half – touching down a perfectly-measured grubber.
The Bloemfontein side extended their lead just before the hour-mark, an attacking lineout seeing the ball to Nico Lee, with a deft offload to centre partner van Rensburg proving undefendable.
The hosts needed a response and found one five minutes later, a spell of attacking pressure seeing a gap open up for replacement scrum-half Williams to dart over.
The Blues wasted no time in working their way upfield minutes later, this time with the pack doing the damage and Robinson powering over from short distance.
Anscombe’s conversion sailed over from out wide to create a 24-21 lead, with the home side then suffocating the Cheetahs to keep the ball in the opposition half for the majority of the remainder.