Cardiff Blues travel to Glasgow Warriors’ Scotstoun Stadium on Saturday evening knowing a win is vital in their bid to return to the Guinness PRO12 top six.
Danny Wilson’s side have yet to open up their account for 2017, but come up against a Warriors team enjoying a run of four consecutive wins in all competitions.
What’s at stake? The Scottish side have enjoyed a triumphant Christmas period, with wins against rivals Edinburgh and Benetton Treviso seeing them firmly entrenched in the top half of the Guinness PRO12.
But a win could see them back in the top four, depending on other results this weekend, as they look to replicate their third-place finish from last season.
The Blues currently sit nine points adrift of their Saturday night opponents, but will certainly be hurting from derby day defeat to Scarlets on New Year’s Day – a slip-up they will be desperate to address at Scotstoun.
Team news (Glasgow Warriors): Not only does Jonny Gray return to the Glasgow side, but he comes back as captain in one of eight changes for Gregor Townsend’s charges.
Lee Jones joins Peter Murchie and Tommy Seymour in the back three, while Ali Price and Finn Russell provide the partnership at half back.
The front row remains unchanged, while Tim Swinson and Josh Strauss are among those to come in. Simone Favaro and Ryan Wilson are at blind-side flanker and Number 8 respectively.
Team news (Cardiff Blues): Wilson makes two changes from the side that started the year with defeat to Scarlets.
Blaine Scully has recovered from concussion, adhering with return to play protocols to take his place on the left wing as Rhun Williams makes way.
The other change sees Anton Peikrishvili return from suspension, with the Georgian prop in for Taufa’ao Filise.
Talking points: Momentum is forever a valuable asset in rugby, and the Warriors certainly have that. As well as the two Guinness PRO12 victories, Townsend’s team completed a European double over Racing 92, winning four in a row.
And with this their last domestic game for a month, the man at the helm is determined for that run not to end any time soon.
“We have built up some good momentum in recent weeks through the hard work of our playing squad, and we face another tough challenge tomorrow night,” said Townsend.
“Cardiff have been in the top half of the table for the last 18 months and had a great start to the season, including a win against us.
“They like to play attacking rugby and like us they are used to playing on a fast pitch, so it should be a great occasion in front of another capacity crowd at Scotstoun.”
For Wilson and the Blues, form has not been quite as forthcoming, without an away win since November, though the head coach believes they undoubtedly have the performance for the occasion.
“If we can play with the hunger and passion we played with in the two derbies and the physicality, it will give us a chance,” he said.
“We need to be more accurate with the opportunities we get, but I’m certainly seeing some areas of our game building and improving over the last month.
“Gregor Townsend has done a fantastic job at Glasgow and at their place, with the style of rugby they’re playing, it will be a big challenge.”
Key Battle: Tommy Seymour v Alex Cuthbert
In Tommy Seymour and Alex Cuthbert, Scotstoun will be graced by two players battling it out for the winger’s jersey come the Lions summer.
Seymour has had a stellar year, with no better example of that coming with his four tries in one game against Leinster back in September.
That has seen him as Warriors’ top points scorer with 40 this term, though he faces up against a man in Cuthbert who scored in the reverse fixture at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.
Cuthbert is also one score away from hitting 25 tries in the Guinness PRO12.
Key stat: The Blues won 23-19 at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park in Round 3 and are attempting to achieve a first season’s double over the Scotsmen since 2010/11.
Lions contenders: Though Stuart Hogg is not in action, Warriors boast plenty of Lions potential with the return of Gray to the second row – with some tipping him to start in that position for Warren Gatland come the summer.
Seymour – who has eight tries for the Warriors this season – and Finn Russell will also take to the pitch for the hosts.
Blues have a plenty of Lions experience in their side, with Sam Warburton and Cuthbert both tourists in 2013. They’ll certainly be looking for a strong half of the season to stake their claim once again.
Did you know? The Blues only previous victory at Scotstoun was 9-7 in the European Champions Cup in December 2013.
Glasgow Top Points Scorer: Tommy Seymour 40pts. Top Try Scorer: Tommy Seymour 8
Cardiff Top Points Scorer: Steve Shingler 79pts. Top Try Scorer: Tom James 6
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Warriors won 16, Blues won 11.
At Scotstoun Stadium, 7.35pm Live on BBC Alba and S4C
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 18th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Keith Allan (SRU)
Citing Commissioner: John Kirk (SRU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)
Peter Murchie scored two second-half tries as Glasgow Warriors pulled clear of Cardiff Blues in the second period to claim a 29-15 win in the Guinness PRO12.
The hosts made a fast start and scored early through Pat MacArthur, but the Blues bit back and scored just before the break through winger Blaine Scully.
But that was as good as it got for Cardiff, as Murchie scored two simple tries in the corner following excellent work from Scotland winger Tommy Seymour.
Hooker James Malcolm put Glasgow out of sight shortly after to confirm the bonus point, while Rhun Williams scored a late consolation for the Blues.
Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend made eight changes to his side for the match – with the likes of Jonny Gray, Alex Dunbar and Finn Russell back in the starting 15.
The Blues made two changes themselves, with Scully replacing Rhun Williams on the left wing while Anton Peikrishvili returned from suspension and replaced by Taufa’ao Filise.
Glasgow made a fast start and attacked from the off, with Finn Russell gaining good territory and the pack powering forward.
A neat break from Seymour put the Warriors five metres out, but some good defending from Matthew Morgan prevented Glasgow from scoring.
However, a few minutes later MacArthur powered his way over from a few metres out.
Glasgow enjoyed 94% of the possession in the first 15 minutes and the Blues were permanently under the cosh, but the hosts failed to make their dominance count.
The Blues looked good with ball in hand on the rare occasions they did break into the Glasgow 22, and they should have scored when Lloyd Williams and Rey Lee-Lo created space down the right for winger Alex Cuthbert – but he spilled the ball metres from the line.
Russell hit a penalty for Glasgow shortly after, but the Blues had the last laugh in the first period when the Warriors fly-half misplaced a kick that fell perfectly for Scully – and he darted in for a simple score in the corner.
For all of Glasgow’s early dominance, they found themselves level just minutes into the second half as Steven Shingler neatly booted a penalty.
But they bounced back quickly as Seymour broke from deep by using his pace to burst through Cardiff’s defence, and slipped it through to Dunbar – who looked set to score.
Cardiff kept him at bay, but Murchie came in and carried the loose ball over the line for his first of the night.
The dangerous Glasgow backs began to cause Cardiff a whole host of problems, and they struck again shortly after Ali Price slipped Seymour through.
The winger was tackled down but some quick ball set up Murchie for his second in the corner, and a bonus point was secured when hooker Malcolm touched down from close range.
Cardiff kept pushing, looking for a way back, but they were forced to settle for a consolation as substitute Rhun Williams crossed in the corner following a neat move to the right.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final