Cardiff Blues are yet to get off the mark this Guinness PRO14 season after three defeats from their opening games against Leinster, Benetton and Zebre Rugby.
This weekend’s opponents have had a starkly different beginning to the season, earning a resounding victory over Ospreys in round three to record a second win of 2018/19.
But who will claim the points on Friday when Cardiff host Munster Rugby?
What’s at stake? Since beating Southern Kings last April, Cardiff Blues have fallen to four successive Guinness PRO14 defeats after achieving a fourth-place finish in Conference A last year.
Whereas Munster have the opportunity to keep up the chase with Glasgow Warriors if they are able to claim a third win of the season.
The Irishmen sit just four points behind Glasgow in Conference A.
Team news (Cardiff Blues) Ellis Jenkins will make his 100th appearance in a Blues shirt after the Wales flanker missed out on the loss to Benetton.
Jenkins is one of seven changes with three changes in the backs with Jarrod Evans starting at fly-half, Willis Halaholo at centre and Blaine Scully makes his comeback from ankle surgery.
Meanwhile Josh Turnbull, Rhys Gill and Dmitri Arhip are in the pack.
Macauley Cook is also in line to make his 150th Cardiff Blues appearance should he be called into action from the bench.
Team news (Munster) Munster Head Coach Johann van Graan makes six changes to the side that beat Ospreys last week as CJ Stander makes his first appearance of the season in a back row that also includes captain Peter O’Mahony and Chris Cloete.
JJ Hanrahan comes into the side at full-back and there is an all-changed centre partnership with Jaco Taute making his first start since returning from injury alongside Rory Scannell.
Hooker Mike Sherry and second row Jean Kleyn are the only two alterations to the pack.
Talking points: Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill said: “It is an awesome achievement for both Ellis [Jenkins] and Macca [Cook] personally and we want to help them celebrate with a performance that is worthy of a win.
VIDEO | John Mulvihill says it’s been a brutally honest week in the Cardiff Blues camp, as they look to bounce back from Italian disappointment when Munster visit the Arms Park tomorrow evening (KO 7.35pm)
— Cardiff Blues (@cardiff_blues) September 20, 2018
“They are two local boys, who have progressed right through our player pathway to become established first team members and in Ellis’ case club captain.
“It’s also good to have Blaine Scully back. He provides a real aerial threat and is another quality leader, who has a presence on the field.”
“It has been a difficult start to the season but we are determined to put in a performance that our supporters can be proud of on Friday night.
“Munster are a quality side and it will be a big challenge but we are back at Cardiff Arms Park and want to kick-off our season.
“We certainly expect a big reaction and hopefully you will see that in our physicality and intensity through the entire 80 minutes.”
Key battle: Ellis Jenkins vs Chris Cloete
Clashes between the back rows don’t come much bigger than the battle between Munster’s Peter O’Mahony, Chris Cloete and CJ Stander, and Cardiff’s Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins and Nick Williams.
Jenkins is never one to shy away from the big occasion and the 25-year-old could make the difference after missing out on the visit to Benetton last week.
While South African Cloete may have had injury problems of his own, the former Southern Kings flanker is an athlete worthy of challenging Jenkins’ dominance and returned with a man of the match display last time out.
Key fact: The Blues single point defeat at home to Leinster in round 1 ended a run of five successive victories in all competitions at the Arms Park.
Did you know? Munster’s last five games in the Championship have all been won by the home side.
Cardiff Blues: Gareth Anscombe, Blaine Scully, Willis Halaholo, Rey Lee-Lo, Jason Harries; Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, George Earle, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carre, Scott Andrews, Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Lloyd Williams, Garyn Smith, Matthew Morgan.
Munster: JJ Hanrahan; Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam; Joey Carbery, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony, Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Darren O’Shea, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack Stafford, Bill Johnston, Shane Daly
At Cardiff Arms Park, 7.35pm.
TV: Live on Premier Sports, EIR Sports & TG4
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU, 12th competition game) Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas, Gareth John (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Dennis Jones (WRU) TMO: Ian Davies (WRU)
Two tries from scrum-half Tomos Williams gave Cardiff Blues their first win of the season as they surged past Munster.
After capitulating last time out against Zebre, the Blues showed their grit and dominated Munster in attack and defence, earning a bonus point for their endeavour.
Owen Lane thought he’d opened the scoring within the first few minutes, taking a lovely inside pop from Rey Lee-Lo to run in unopposed.
But just as Gareth Anscombe stood up to take the conversion, the referee disallowed the try after the TMO showed Willis Halaholo had blocked Joey Carbery from making the tackle on Lane and the score was chalked off.
Halaholo made up for his mistake immediately, taking a crash ball and making 20 metres through Munster’s 22, before Nick Williams followed up with a pick and go try under the posts – this time Anscombe slotted the extras too.
Munster replied well though, with Carbery stealing the ball after Jason Harries lost it in contact and the ball making its way out to Andrew Conway, who blasted free, chipped to the try line and dived over.
The Irish then went ahead, with Carbery – after making a stunning break to take the visitors from one end to the other – set up Conway for his second in the same corner.
But the hosts hit back, with Lee-Lo making a searing break after a quick turn of pace and a lovely step to set up Tomos Williams under the posts, with Anscombe again converting.
Carbery added more points to close the gap to a point before the break with a penalty, but it was the Blues who came out fighting in the second half.
After a spell of pressure in Munster’s 22, Cardiff were rewarded as Anscombe whipped a cut-back to Halaholo in the corner for the centre to dot down for his own score to increase the hosts’ lead.
Anscombe slotted the conversion from the touchline, before adding another three from the tee to put Cardiff 11 points ahead.
Blues were not only clinical in attack but showed great physicality in defence, shutting out Munster on the hour mark as prop Stephen Archer was caught holding on to the ball just metres from the line.
The hosts cleared their lines, broke Munster’s defensive line and earned themselves a scrum and a resultant penalty to consolidate their lead – a real turning point in the game – to increase the gap to two converted tries.
Again the fly-half added another layer to the comfort blanket with a third penalty to put Cardiff 30-13 up with 10 minutes remaining, as the Munstermen cut frustrated figures.
The hosts tails were up in the final moments of the match with the knowledge of a first win and the Blues went searching for a bonus-point fourth try, eventually forcing their way through as Tomos Williams sniped from close range.
After surrendering their lead against Zebre last time out, the Blues proved they’ve learned their lessons as they got themselves ahead at Cardiff Arms Park and closed the game out effectively.
20 Sep 2018
20 Sep 2018