PREVIEW: Newcastle Falcons v Cardiff Blues

BLUES BOOSTED BY RETURN OF WALES STARS

Pic by Richard Early

by Dylan James

Competition: European Challenge Cup

Venue: Kingston Park

Date: December 11th, 2020

Kick Off: 20:00

SIX Wales internationals return to the Cardiff Blues squad this week, as John Mulvihill’s side take on Newcastle Falcons in the opening round of the European Challenge Cup.

Cory Hill has been named captain for the fixture, and joins up with fellow Wales international Seb Davies in the second row. Seven changes have been made to Mulvihill’s starting 15, with Shane Lewis-Hughes slotting in at blindside after making his debut for Wales during the Autumn Nations Cup.

Welsh internationals Rhys Carre and Lloyd Williams are also among the replacements.

The last time the two sides met in the competition was when the Blues came out as 55-20 victors in 2010, on route to lifting the Amlin Challenge Cup for the first time.

Despite Newcastle’s good start to the season, Blues boss Mulvihill is keen to secure an all important win in North East England.

“We have done well in the Challenge Cup previously and the boys are looking forward to the challenge of taking on a Newcastle Falcons team flying high in the English Premiership.”

“It’s a very important time of year and we really want a big result up in Newcastle to roll into Stade Francais at home next weekend and then the Welsh derbies.”

Newcastle have altered their whole front row and back three from their last fixture in the Gallagher Premiership, with local lad Joel Hodgson captaining the Falcons.

One senior Blues player has tested positive for COVID-19, and is self-isolating. No further cases have been reported and all Blues players have been tested, all returning with a negative result.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Jarrod Evans (Cardiff Blues) – 24-year-old Evans has been a stalwart in the Blues side in recent years. The fly-half has beaten 20 players already this campaign, the most in the league in fact. His flair on the ball and ability to kick well under pressure will add some real potency to Cardiff’s attack on Friday. Expect to see him linking up with scrum-half Tomos Williams, in what could be a formidable half-back pairing in years to come.

POINT TO PROVE

Shane Lewis-Hughes  (Cardiff Blues) – Having returned from Wales duty for the first time, Lewis-Hughes will have to prove that he can fill the void at six after a number of injuries and Wales absentees have really stretched the Blues’ back row. Lock James Ratti has been forced to fill in at blind side for the Blues during the Autumn Nations Cup. Olly Robinson (shoulder) and Will Boyde (cheekbone) haven’t been available for selection due to injury, whilst Ellis Jenkins is still recovering from a long term knee injury sustained in 2018.

THE VERDICT

The Falcons have started the season well, and sit second in the Gallagher Premiership after three games played. The Blues however are fourth in Conference B of the Pro14, having struggled to find their footing, with the majority of the Welsh regional sides struggling to compete with the Irish teams. All things considered I think this might be a difficult away trip for the Blues, my prediction is Newcastle by 15.

TEAMS:

NEWCASTLE FALCONS

A Tait; G Wacokecoke, P Lucock, J Matavesi, T Arscott; J Hodgson (capt), S Stuart; A Brocklebank, J Blamire, M Tampin, D Barry, W Montgomery, R Farrar, J Basham, T Marshall.

Replacements: C Maddison, K Cooper, R Ah You, B Ransom, M Wilson, L Schreuder, C Vuna, B Connon.

CARDIFF BLUES

H Amos; O Lane, G Smith, B Thomas, A Summerhill; J Evans, T Williams; B Thyer, K Dacey, D Lewis, S Davies, C Hill (capt), S Lewis-Hughes, J Turnbull, S Moore.

Replacements: I Harris, R Carré, S Andrews, B Murphy, G Bradley, L Williams, H Millard, M Morgan.

Referee: Ludovic Cayre