Danny Wilson believes Friday’s derby with Scarlets can prove to be the perfect environment for his Cardiff Blues players to try and get back to winning ways in the Guinness PRO12.
After beginning the season with four league wins on the bounce, the Blues have hit something of a stumbling block of late, losing their last two.
They have not lost three in a row in the Championship since November 2015 but they have picked up recent momentum with back-to-back wins in Europe in their last two games.
The Welsh side also achieved the season’s double over Scarlets last year for the first time since the 2009/2010 season and Wilson, who has made seven changes to his team, knows his players will be fired up to try and keep the edge over their rivals.
“The derbies are our biggest games, they are where we get our biggest crowds and hopefully that will still be the case without some of the internationals,” he said.
“It’s a challenge we are ready to meet and we certainly have a squad of players who are hungry and excited to play in that derby. Hopefully they will put a performance in to get another home win.
“The Scarlets are always a very tough fixture, they are playing with a shape that gives them a lot of width at the moment and are playing a high-temp wide game which we will have to deal with.
“We have to make sure our defensive display is as good as it has been at times this season and that we can test them with our attacking game.
“It is still a derby, it will still have that edge and it’s a home game against the Scarlets.”
Switching from number eight to openside flanker, Josh Turnbull captains the Blues against his former region as Wilson makes seven changes from the squad which beat Pau in Europe last time out. Sam Warburton and Ellis Jenkins are absent with Cam Dolan coming in to the back-row.
Elsewhere Matthew Morgan, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James and Tomos Williams all returning the starting line-up while George Earle makes his comeback from injury although new signing Willis Halaholo is not included with Wilson keen to give him more time to get up to speed with the team.
Scarlets meanwhile are looking to improve upon their away record with only one victory in their last five trips away from home in all competitions – although they have won their last three matches in the Guinness PRO12.
DTH van der Merwe, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans and Rhys Patchell are joined in the backline by Jonathan Evans at scrum half, who makes his first competitive start for the region with Steff Hughes in midfield and Aled Thomas at fullback.
Wyn Jones links up with a new-look front row in Ryan Elias and Werner Kruger, Tom Price returns from injury to join David Bulbring in the second row whilst the backrow of Aaron Shingler, Will Boyde and John Barclay is unchanged.
Head coach Wayne Pivac said: “I think playing at home is a strength for the Blues. They’re obviously used to the fast surface, they play a game at home that is expansive.
“Last year they got the better of us physically. It’s a derby so we have to make sure we’re up for the challenge.
“Whoever takes the field 1 to 15 has a role to play. Clearly there’s an opportunity now with internationals going away. Other players will get more game time and it’s fantastic for them. You have to factor in the enthusiasm those guys bring.
“It’s going to be a difficult night. We’ve got to make it happen, it starts Friday night. It’s a big game for us but I think it’s a level playing field.”
At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 7.35pm. Live on BBC Wales
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU, 15th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Cammy Rudkin (SRU), Dai Cambourne (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: John Charles (WRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (IRFU)
Scarlets recorded a fourth Guinness PRO12 win in a row as they secured a 26-15 bonus-point victory over Cardiff Blues in an absorbing Welsh derby at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.
An open first half saw Scarlets notch three tries – Aaron Shingler, Jonathan Evans and DTH van der Merwe all dotting down – to their hosts’ one through Tom James.
Hadleigh Parkes then appeared to put the visitors out of sight shortly after the interval and despite Blaine Scully’s spectacular finish giving the Blues a glimmer of hope, they ultimately suffered a third Guinness PRO12 defeat in a row for the first time since November 2015.
It was the visitors who got off the perfect start on seven minutes as Rhys Patchell’s dangerous, hanging cross-field kick against his old club earned the Scarlets an attacking line-out and after seven phases of persistent pressure, Shingler used his powerful frame to barrel forward and stretch out to dot down.
Patchell duly added the conversion and did the same three minutes later as Scarlets crossed again – van der Merwe superbly scooping up and darting from the base of a ruck before offloading out the back of his hand for Evans to canter over.
But barely two minutes after that score, a back-and-forth passage of play ended with the hosts going over to narrow the deficit to 14-7.
A knock-on in the visiting 22 looked to have ended the Blues’ chances of a score as the Scarlets countered with pace but a loose John Barclay pass was gleefully intercepted by James, who sauntered over for his 40th Guinness PRO12 try.
The breathless nature of the derby continued and with both teams adventurously flinging the ball about, it was no surprise when another interception led to the game’s fourth score on 22 minutes.
Aled Thomas plucked Steve Shingler’s pass out of the air in his own 22 and reached halfway before passing to speedster van der Merwe to do the rest, the Canadian jogging clear to seemingly put the visitors on course for a fourth successive Guinness PRO12 win at 21-7 ahead.
And they held that lead until half-time thanks to some superb last-ditch defending, with the Blues spending the final ten minutes of the half camped in the Scarlets 22 but ultimately leaving pointless.
Danny Wilson’s men needed to score first after the break but instead, with just 40 seconds on the clock, Scarlets wrapped up the four-try bonus point.
Patchell’s dummy pass enabled him to burst through a hole in the defence on halfway and he feinted past full-back Matthew Morgan before offloading to Parkes for the score, although the missed conversion ended Patchell’s 100 per cent record from the tee.
Steve Shingler’s 46th-minute penalty narrowed the gap to 26-10 and when Will Boyde was sent to the sin-bin with 25 minutes left, the Blues had a glorious chance to get themselves back in contention.
They did just that as Scully collected a bouncing pass on the right and went airborne to avoid going into touch, acrobatically dotting down in the corner.
Shingler’s conversion attempt sailed just wide and despite Aaron Shingler getting yellow-carded for the Scarlets soon after, the Blues couldn’t close the gap any further as they suffered a third league loss in a row.
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