Ospreys remain in the hunt for a place in the Guinness PRO12 playoffs but know any slip-up could be costly as they face Cardiff Blues in the first of two Judgement Day clashes at Principality Stadium on Saturday.
What’s at stake? With just three rounds remaining, Ospreys are in third and on course to secure a play-off spot, but are looking over their shoulder with fifth-placed Ulster just two points behind.
The Blues look set to finish in the European Champions Cup play-offs with their fate out of their own hands, 12 points behind Glasgow Warriors.
Ospreys narrowly lost 20-18 to Leinster last time out while the Blues played out an exciting 24-24 draw with Ulster.
Cardiff Blues team news: Head coach Danny Wilson has made four changes, three of them forced with George Earle, Sam Warburton and Blaine Scully all missing out having picked up injuries against Ulster last weekend.
They are replaced by Macauley Cook in the second row, Nick Williams at No.8, and Matthew Morgan coming in at full-back with Josh Navidi named on the flank.
Wilson has also opted for Kristian Dacey at hooker, who returns having recovered from injury.
Ospreys team news: Ospreys also make four changes but only one through injury as Dan Biggar misses out with a head injury and is replaced by Dafydd Howells.
Howells moves to the wing with Dan Evans playing full-back and Sam Davies slotting in at fly-half.
Ashley Beck starts at outside centre, Bradley Davies comes in at lock and James King is on the flank.
Talking points: Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson said: “Hopefully we can go up another level because we’re all aware we need to against a very good Ospreys team.
“For the last three games, bar an unacceptable 14 minutes against Gloucester, the rest of the three performances have been really good, with the ball especially, we’ve played some really good rugby.
“Judgement Day is a great occasion, we’re playing against a very good opposition and I’m sure the boys will be right up for it and motivated.”
Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy has urged his players to put the occasion of Judgement Day V to the back of their minds and focus on the game itself.
He said: “There’ll be a lot of fuss around Saturday’s game, a derby match at the Principality Stadium in front of a big crowd, but we can’t allow ourselves to get wrapped up in the occasion.
“The Blues are a dangerous side, they have threats across the field, and can score tries from anywhere on the field so we’ve got to be at our best.”
Key battle: Kristian Dacey v Scott Baldwin
The two Welsh internationals go head-to-head at Principality Stadium but with neither sustaining a regular spot in the Test side, their battle will be a tasty one.
Both players will have something to prove and in a contest as big as this, their performances both in the loose and in the set-piece will be vital if their sides are to emerge victorious.
Key stat: Blues only previous win on Judgement Day was when they beat Scarlets 17-13 in 2014.
Did you know? Ospreys have slipped to three straight defeats in all competitions but have not lost four in a row in the same season since 2014/15.
Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Steven Shingler 128 pts. Top try scorer: Tom James 6
Ospreys top points scorer: Sam Davies 99pts. Top try scorer: Keelan Giles 6
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Blues won 7, Ospreys won 19 with 1 game drawn.
At Principality Stadium, 2.45pm. Live on BBC Wales
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 22nd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU), Gwyn Morris (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Dennis Jones (WRU)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (WRU)
Cardiff Blues romped to a bonus point 35-17 win over the Ospreys at Principality Stadium on Judgement Day leaving Steve Tandy’s men with it all to do to reach the Guinness PRO12 play-offs.
In the first of two matches in the Welsh capital, Cardiff were in inspired form, running in five tries to hand the Ospreys their first-ever defeat on Judgement Day.
Having lost three straight games in all competitions, including heartbreaking defeats to Stade Français in Europe and then Leinster last weekend, the Ospreys needed a response against their regional rivals.
Instead it was the Blues who dominated proceedings in the opening half at Principality Stadium, racing into a 21-3 half-time lead.
Kristian Dacey got the ball rolling just six minutes in, and while Sam Davies got the Ospreys on the board with a penalty, further tries from two Williams, Lloyd then Nick, put Cardiff in complete control.
Blues’ dominance continued at the start of the second half as Tau Filise secured their bonus point with a fourth try from close range before Gareth Anscombe ran in number five as things unraveled for the Ospreys.
The Ospreys mounted something of a late fightback with tries from Dan Evans and Paul James but it was too little too late on a tough afternoon.
The Blues gave notice of their intentions from the opening minutes, with Rhun Williams breaking down the left only for a loose pass to put paid to that opportunity.
They didn’t have to wait long for the first try though, Dacey spotting a lack of blindside cover off a maul and peeling off to go over unopposed.
Davies cut the deficit to four with a penalty after Cardiff failed to roll away at a breakdown but that good work was undone immediately.
A knock-on from the restart got Cardiff back on the front foot and after an initial charge from Alex Cuthbert, Lloyd Williams was able to snipe over.
Anscombe converted again and soon after he was almost in for a try, just held up by Rhys Webb. It was only temporary respite for the Ospreys though as Nick Williams proved unstoppable from close range at the resulting scrum.
Trailing 21-3 the Ospreys needed a spark and they were given a lifeline when Cuthbert was sin-binned for taking out Evans in the air just before the half-hour.
That led to a long period of Ospreys possession but they could not do anything with it and the Blues survived until half-time.
Any hopes of an Ospreys comeback were then killed off at the start of the second half with Filise crashing over from close range after Cuthbert’s initial burst.
Two minutes later and they were in again, Willis Halaholo’s little grubber through bouncing up and Anscombe getting the better of Wales fly-half rival Davies to collect and stroll over. His conversion made it a scarcely believable 35-3 with Cardiff in dreamland.
On the hour the Ospreys finally got their first try, Evans crossing after some great hands from forwards and backs while Anscombe was sin-binned for going offside in the build-up. Davies converted with a drop kick as the Ospreys tried to mount an unlikely comeback.
They followed that up with a score from James, again from close range and again converted quickly by Davies to cut the deficit to make it 35-17 but that was as good as it got for them.
With games against their play-off rivals Ulster and Scarlets to close out the season, the Ospreys still have their destiny in their own hands. But following this loss they have two weeks to find their form or risk missing out on the top four altogether.
The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie
Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final
14 Apr 2017
14 Apr 2017