As we enter what should be the most enjoyable and crucial part of the season, it is matters off the field which dominate thoughts more than the up coming derby games of the holiday season. Yet, in a strange way, the fight with the Union off the field has brought the four teams together to promote these derby matches better than ever before and it seems to be working as ticket sales are very good. We even have a sponsor for the games as Domino Pizza are putting up some cash – perfect for the couch potato follower of the game in Wales.
These upcoming games (Ospreys at home and then our friends to the East at both home and away) should be about finalising qualification positions for next season’s European competitions but, sadly, they will not be. Either all four of our teams will be playing some dreadful Pro12 Cup with a few disinterested French teams, or we’ll all happily be playing the English. The latter, please, for me.
However, there is still some bragging rights and pride to play for plus there’s a rumour that Gatland might actually watch some of them as Irish chat shows aren’t broadcasting over Christmas, so there may be some Six Nations squad places up for grabs.
The last two games have seen Cardiff knock Glasgow out of the European Cup and many are proclaiming that things have turned around since the bad times of the first half in Exeter. I’m not quite sure of this yet, however, as the Munster game proved that there is still a soft underbelly in this Cardiff team that can be attacked through close driving rugby. Glasgow, thankfully, barely played that way in either game but they did have some success at it when they tried it.
I think that it is pretty obvious that both Newport and the Ospreys will know how to beat Cardiff. First up, the Ospreys will rumble it up the park, play for territory and bring their centres back close to the back row. They will play off their scrum half, bring runners on the ball and Tipuric will have a field day as Warburton is still carrying a book signing injury. This will be a real test for Cardiff and a true measurement of how McIntosh has improved things since Exeter. The potential strength of the Ospreys pack, even if it is missing Hibbard and Adam Jones, should see the visitors win by more than a converted try if they play that way.
Newport GD, on the other hand, don’t really have the pack to do that. They don’t have the ball carrying options or the talent or togetherness to drive consistently close to the breakdown in order to create the gaps in the defensive line. The games against this lot, both home and away, will likely be a lesson in madness, in unstructured play and in indiscipline, to the point where the games will likely be won by individual talent and goal kicking (the latter being referee dependent).
The game at home will be labelled “entertaining” as the surface will allow a chuckabout and, potentially, something of a point fest. Cardiff really should be winning both games but the injury list will mean that the workload on the players of the last few weeks will catch up with them for the away game. In other words, this series is likely to end one all.
The shame is that these series of games aren’t as important as they should be and, hopefully, aren’t as meaningful as they will be next season.