Cardiff Blues v Scarlets
The battle for Guinness PRO14 supremacy roars back into view on Friday night with a series of high-octane clashes on the menu – including a mouth-watering showdown between Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets.
In an all-Welsh encounter, two teams battling gamely to reach the Guinness PRO14 Final Series go head-to-head, with the Blues and the Scarlets attempting to give themselves a shot in the arm in Conference A and Conference B respectively.
A number of players that featured in Wales’ Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam triumph also start, meaning there will be no shortage of quality on show at Cardiff Arms Park.
What’s at stake?
Both teams are looking to keep their hopes of reaching the Guinness PRO14 Final Series in fine fettle whilst simultaneously chucking a spanner in the works of the other.
The Blues are currently fourth in Conference A, level on points with third-placed Connacht, while the Scarlets are fourth in Conference B but have four points to make up on Ulster in third.
With a fierce battle raging for spots in the end-of-season shake-up and the end of the regular campaign fast-approaching, the margin for error is growing ever-narrower.
Team news (Cardiff Blues)
After starring for Wales in recent weeks, Josh Navidi and Gareth Anscombe come straight back into the fray for the Blues – the latter at full-back and the former in the back row.
Fellow Welsh internationals Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull, Tomos Williams and Jarrod Evans are also included in head coach John Mulvihill’s matchday 23.
Williams starts at scrum-half, with Evans deployed at fly-half while Turnbull handed the No.4 shirt.
Team news (Scarlets)
Flanker James Davies returns to the fold for the Scarlets having suffered a foot injury in his side’s last clash with the Blues in November, which also ruled him out of the Guinness Six Nations.
Davies is handed the No.7 shirt while Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Patchell, Wyn Jones and Samson Lee are all named in the starting XV, with Rob Evans, Gareth Davies, Ken Owens and Steff Evans named on the bench.
Lock Steve Cummins also returns but Scarlets are missing the injured Ryan Elias, with Marc Jones in at hooker.
Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill said: “It’s great to be able to include all of our Wales internationals following a hugely successful Six Nations.
“They will have no problem getting themselves up for a Welsh derby and we are all hugely motivated for this crucial fixture.
“The Scarlets, traditionally, are a team who really like to move the ball and will test us across the park, so we will have to be at our defensive best to negate their attacking threats.
“They have proven in the past they are a champion team and they have their own top-three aspirations, so we know they will be desperate to win this contest.”
Scarlets head coach Wanye Pivac said: “It stacks up for a massive derby.
“The team that gets success goes a long way towards getting a place in the play-offs in either conference, so there is a lot to play for and [it’s] interesting with both squads welcoming back players from the Six Nations. It is going to be a tight affair.
“We looked at the last couple of games as ‘must-win’ because the position we found ourselves in.
“We are seeing this game as one of two Test matches – Blues and Edinburgh – because all three teams are in the fight for the play-offs.”
Key battle – Gareth Anscombe v Leigh Halfpenny
Two top-class Welsh full-backs go to head-to-head in Cardiff and whoever hits the ground running for their respective team may just heavily impact which way the pendulum swings on Friday.
While the Blues’ Anscombe featured heavily for Wales in the Guinness Six Nations at fly-half, ending up as the Championship’s second-highest points-scorer, injury kept Leigh Halfpenny from featuring.
With the latter fit to start for Scarlets, can his freshness trump Anscombe’s momentum?
The Scarlets’ only away victory this season in any tournament was a 41-34 win over the Isuzu Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth back in October.
Did you know?
The Blues ended the Scarlets’ 26-match unbeaten run at Parc y Scarlets in the Championship in Round 12 and are aiming to achieve a season’s double over the west Walians for the first time since 2015-16.
Cardiff Blues: Gareth Anscombe, Owen Lane, Ray Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams, Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey (c), Dimitri Arhip, Josh Turnbull, Rory Thornton, Josh Navidi, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Lloyd Williams, Harri Millard, Matthew Morgan
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Kieron Fonotia (c), Paul Asquith, Ioan Nicholas, Rhys Patchell, Kieran Hardy, Wyn Jones, Marc Jones, Samson Lee, Lewis Rawlins, Steven Cummins, Josh Macleod, James Davies
Replacements: Ken Owens, Rob Evans, Werner Kruger, Josh Helps, Will Boyde, Gareth Davies, Dan Jones, Steff Evans
TV: At Cardiff Arms Park, 19.35pm. Live on Premier Sports and Eir Sport
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy, Sean Gallagher (both IRFU) TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
Cardiff Blues put on quite a show in front of a sell-out Cardiff Arms Park as an irrepressible first-half display proved enough to see off Welsh rivals the Scarlets.
A pair of tries each from Owen Lane and Aled Summerhill brought up the bonus point, with Josh Turnbull making the scoreline all-the-more intimidating come the break.
An assured second-half display saw the visitors salvage some credit with a couple of scores, but the Blues never looked like forfeiting their sizeable advantage.
Blues got off to a rocky start as they lost talismanic Grand Slam winner Josh Navidi to a freakish arm injury just three minutes into proceedings, before Leigh Halfpenny missed the opportunity to give his side the lead when his lengthy penalty struck a post.
The hosts went close as the ball was fed wide to Lane, but for Ioan Nicholas to foil his opposite number’s effort with a sliding try-saving tackle, but it wasn’t long before the Blues made their mark on the scoreboard through a Gareth Anscombe penalty.
And Lane soon made up for his close call when he crossed for the first try of the evening, Shane Lewis-Hughes – on to replace Navidi – made the initial break, with the ball quickly recycled back out to the flyer, who crossed comfortably.
They asserted their advantage soon after through another well-executed line-out move, working the ball to Jarrod Evans, who broke the line in a flash and fed wide to Anscombe, who shifted to Summerhill, with a dart to the corner enough for the Blues’ second.
Scarlets stemmed the tide briefly, but their stay was short-lived as the Blues grabbed a third from an unusual source out wide, Tomos Williams electing to shift play the other way to Lane, with Josh Turnbull on-hand to put the finishing touches to proceedings.
And they wrapped up a bonus point soon after, the set-piece again causing all the damage for the Scarlets, this time a first-phase from the scrum seeing Summerhill take it in under the posts for his second.
The Blues landed a sucker-punch blow on the stroke of half-time, Lane latching onto Evans’ gorgeously flighted kick to double up, giving them a daunting 38-0 lead at the break, just reward for a peerless first-half performance.
Scarlets gave themselves an iota of hope with a Rob Evans try, but the Blues made them work hard, running ten minutes off the clock and making sure that time stayed on their side along with the favourable scoreline.
Playing against 14 after Dillon Lewis’ yellow card, the visitors had the manpower to force a second, Evans bustling his way over once again as the Scarlets went on the hunt for a losing bonus point.
Nicholas pounced on an errant pass from Rhys Carre for the simplest of finishes, but it wasn’t enough as they fell short of a valuable fourth.
21 Mar 2019