Cardiff Blues and Dragons will both be looking to return to winning ways when they clash at Arms Park in Round 11 of the Guinness PRO14 on Friday night.
The two sides were both winless during the European hiatus, with the Blues suffering back-to-back defeats against reigning Premiership Rugby champions Saracens in the Champions Cup.
Meanwhile, Dragons were beaten by Northampton Saints and ASM Clermont Auvergne in the Challenge Cup as their chances of reaching the knockout stages were all-but ended.
What’s at stake?
Cardiff have plenty of work to do in Conference A, with John Mulvihill’s side sitting down in fifth position after the first 10 rounds with four wins to their name.
The Blues have lost their last two games in the Guinness PRO14, meaning they are currently on a run of four consecutive defeats in all competitions stretching back to the start of November.
Dragons are not faring much better in Conference B, where they are second from bottom after 10 games with three wins – their last coming against Edinburgh in round eight.
The Men from Gwent have lost their last 37 away games in the Guinness PRO14, but will hope to put that right under interim coach Ceri Jones, who has taken over from Bernard Jackman.
Team news (Cardiff)
Mulvihill has made three changes from the Cardiff side that last weekend’s Champions Cup clash against Saracens, with Tomos Williams coming back into the starting line-up.
Olly Robinson has also been given the nod in the back row, while Dillon Lewis is handed the number three jersey in the first of three festive derbies to come over the next fortnight.
Elsewhere, Blaine Scully will hit a half century of appearances for the Blues against Dragons – a milestone George Earle could also reach if the South African comes off the bench.
Number eight Nick Williams is another with something to celebrate, with Friday night’s game set to be his 150th in the Guinness PRO14, while Kristian Dacey will lead the side at Arms Park.
3⃣ changes: @ollyrobbo @tomosgwilliams and @dillon3_ all return to the XV
🔵 @BlaineScully1 and George Earle set for 50th appearances
🔵 @nick8williams will make his 150th @PRO14Official appearance
🔵 @LloydWilliams_ moves to third on all-time CB appearance list pic.twitter.com/2qURcNqaFb
— Cardiff Blues (@cardiff_blues) December 20, 2018
Team news (Dragons)
Dragons have made five changes to the side beaten on the road by Clermont Auvergne last weekend, with Harrison Keddie returning to the starting line-up at No.8.
He replaces Ross Moriarty, who misses the game through injury, with prop Lloyd Fairbrother back in the front row and winger Jared Rosser returning to the backline.
Centre Jarryd Safe also makes his comeback, joining forces with Adam Warren who moves over from the wing, while Rhodri Williams starts at scrum-half alongside fly-half Josh Lewis.
Richard Hibbard, Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd and Jason Tovey are recalled among the replacements, having missed the 49-24 defeat to the 2017 Top 14 champions in the Challenge Cup.
Cardiff head coach Mulvihill said: “We’ve got a pretty strong team going in, without changing too much from last week and the confidence is there in this group, and we’ll take that into the group.
“We’ve given a fair few guys an opportunity recently, whether that’s through form and injury, and we don’t want many changes from week-to-week to get a bit of consistency of selection and effort.
“Consistency is something we probably haven’t had much of this season, but we’re targeting these three derby games and will look to go as close to full strength as possible in every game we play.”
Dragons coach Jones said: “We’re all looking forward to the first game of this period. It is a crucial time of year and we’re excited about meeting the challenge we are going to face in Cardiff.
“The breakdown is a huge part of their game, we know they are going to go heavy there, so we need to be effective over the ball. We need good width in our defensive line and our set piece has to be on top of its game.
“I thought we gave a really good account of ourselves last time we faced them at Rodney Parade, especially in the first half, but we fell away in the second half.”
— Dragons 🏉 (@dragonsrugby) December 20, 2018
Key battle: Gareth Anscombe v Josh Lewis
Gareth Anscombe was the man of the match the last time the two sides met, kicking a conversion and two penalties as the Blues triumphed 23-15 at Rodney Parade in October.
The experienced Welsh international was a thorn in Dragons’ side throughout, making several breaks and setting up Cardiff’s third try for Owen Lane to make sure of victory.
His opposite number was also influential, scoring his side’s first try and playing a key role in the second, but Lewis will need to be at his best to prevent Anscombe from running the game.
Key stat: Cardiff Blues have won their last eight Guinness PRO14 fixtures against Dragons
Did you know? Dragons’ most recent win over a fellow Welsh region in the Guinness PRO14 came against Cardiff Blues at Arms Park on Boxing Day in 2014
Cardiff Blues: 15. Dan Fish, 14. Blaine Scully, 13. Rey Lee-Lo, 12. Willis Halaholo, 11. Garyn Smith, 10. Gareth Anscombe, 9. Tomos Williams, 1. Rhys Gill, 2. Kristian Dacey (capt), 3. Dillon Lewis, 4. Seb Davies, 5. Josh Turnbull, 6. Josh Navidi, 7. Olly Robinson, 8. Nick Williams
Replacements: 16. Kirby Myhill, 17. Brad Thyer, 18. Scott Andrews, 19. George Earle, 20. James Down, 21. Lloyd Williams, 22. Steven Shingler, 23. Matthew Morgan
Dragons: 15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Jared Rosser, 13. Adam Warren, 12. Jarryd Sage, 11. Hallam Amos, 10. Josh Lewis, 9. Rhodri Williams, 1. Ryan Bevington, 2. Elliot Dee, 3. Lloyd Fairbrother, 4. Brandon Nansen, 5. Matthew Screech, 6. Cory Hill (c), 7. Aaron Wainwright, 8. Harrison Keddie
Replacements: 16. Richard Hibbard, 17. Gerard Ellis, 18. Aaron Jarvis, 19. Lewis Evans, 20. Nic Cudd, 21. Tavis Knoyle, 22. Jason Tovey, 23. Jordan Williams
TV: Cardiff Arms Park 7.35pm, Live on S4C, Premier Sports 2, eir Sport
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (IRFU), Tim Spurrier (WRU)
TMO: Ian Davies (WRU)
Cardiff Blues earned a thrilling inter-pro victory over Dragons but that doesn’t tell half the story of the visitors’ rousing 14-man rearguard.
The visitors lost Lloyd Fairbrother to a red card on the half-hour mark and despite a second-half try from Cardiff’s Dan Fish, the boot of Josh Lewis kept them squarely in the contest.
Jarryd Sage gave his side a chance with a late try but Gareth Anscombe’s clutch penalty on the final play earned the Conference A side victory.
Dragons set off on the front foot, but their momentum was stymied on seven minutes when Zane Kirchner was sin-binned for a shoulder charge on onrushing Blaine Scully.
Blues couldn’t take advantage of their man advantage, reaching the red zone for the first time on 14 minutes only for Kristian Dacey’s lineout throw to drift off target.
Indiscipline crept into the visitors’ play and after they were punished for not rolling away at the breakdown, Gareth Anscombe defied swirling wind to stroke over the first three points.
Just as they gained territory and momentum through the set piece, Ceri Jones’ side were undermined once again when Lloyd Fairbrother was given his marching orders for entering the ruck with his elbow and connecting with Dillon Lewis’ head.
But the Conference B side preserved possession, allowing Josh Lewis to drop into the pocket and stroke over a drop-goal before the fly-half handed his side an unlikely interval lead with a penalty goal on 39 minutes.
Anscombe levelled terms from the tee, kicking a penalty goal from 30 metres to make it 6-6.
The first decisive act of the game came on 54 minutes when the Blues got quick ball and territory, a rarity in difficult conditions and an attritional contest.
Josh Navidi drove over the gainline and quick ball was recycled out to Olly Robinson, whose inside ball was met at pace by Dan Fish to dive over from close range.
Dragons kept plugging away and got their reward for some superb play in the loose when Jarryd Sage picked a perfect running line, broke through and dotted down under the posts to level scores.
An agonising five minutes with the score locked at 16-16 followed, but a scrum penalty gave Anscombe the chance to decide things from the tee with a clinching penalty goal.