The European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup Quarter-Finals are upon us, and it’s great to see both Ospreys and Blues in action at the knockout stages after a pretty dismal few seasons for the Welsh regions in Europe.
This evening sees Cardiff Blues take on Gloucester at Kingsholm, a good, old-fashioned rugby ground, steeped in tradition, and one which I’ve always wanted to visit. Ex-Blues, Gloucester and Wales fly-half Nicky Robinson pointed to the outstanding – and often intimidating – atmosphere at the ground, but that will be the least of Blues’ worries this evening, as the Cherry and Whites boast the likes of Ross Moriarty, Johnny May and Billy Twelvetrees among their ranks. James Hook and Greig Laidlaw are both unavailable for selection through injury, however the home team will be determined to advance to the semi-finals this term after falling to the Dragons at this stage last season.
After a stirring performance against Leinster in Dublin last week, The Blues visit Kingsholm with some confidence, and welcome Sam Warburton, Gethin Jenkins and Lloyd Williams back to their starting line-up. Warburton had a fantastic Six Nations, and has arguably played himself right back into British Lions contention. He will need to put in a huge shift today against the wonderful Moriarty, who has enjoyed a breakthrough season in a Wales jersey.
Both teams lie in eighth position in their respective leagues, but I predict the Blues to have just enough fire power to emerge with the win.
Ospreys face Stade Francais tomorrow evening, in a match that is taking place at the Principality Stadium due to a fixture clash with Swansea City FC (with whom they ground-share). It’s a shame the Ospreys had to relocate for this clash, since their record-breaking 30 point haul in the Group stages of this tournament make them top seeds, and in my opinion, favourites to win this competition.
Stade bring a team loaded with talent to the Welsh capital, Sergio Parisse anchoring an enormous forward pack, while Will Genia is sure to be as lively as ever from scrum-half. Meanwhile Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric all look to continue their fine Six Nations form in an Ospreys jersey. Having suffered a surprise loss in Italy against Pro12 strugglers Treviso last weekend, Ospreys will want to hit the ground running. I predict a fiery encounter at the Principality Stadium, but ultimately I think the Welsh side will book their place in the semi-finals.