Cardiff Blues will be aiming to take a step closer to the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup when they take on Section Paloise (Pau) at Stade du Hameau on Saturday.
With two group stage fixtures remaining, Wales’ Capital Region sit joint top of Pool Four but fellow pace setters Bath have the advantage due to their superior head-to-head match points.
The Blues claimed a 27-12 victory over the French outfit in the home fixture back in October and be aiming to inflict a fifth straight defeat on them at the hands of Welsh opposition.
With 18 players currently sidelined, head coach Danny Wilson has made eight changes to his starting line-up with 20-year-old prop Corey Domachowski in line for both his European debut and first start for the region.
The loose-head prop comes in for Rhys Gill, who suffered concussion against Glasgow, with Brad Thyer also sustaining a head injury and captain Gethin Jenkins remaining on the sidelines with a bicep tear.
Matthew Rees, Taufa’ao Filise and Jarrad Hoeata also come into the pack while there are a further four changes in the backs.
Cory Allen and Rhun Williams replace Alex Cuthbert and Blaine Scully, while Tomos Williams and Nicky Robinson form a new half-back combination with Steve Shingler moving to inside centre.
Following this encounter, Danny Wilson’s men will host Bristol at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park. Bath travel to Bristol on Saturday before welcoming Pau in the final round.
What They Said
Danny Wilson: “It’s nice to be in a different competition and one where we have some confidence after picking up three wins from four games however we still have to manage the squad the best we can with a lot of injury problems.
“We have 18 players currently unavailable, including eight first team players. We are pretty depleted.
“The players we have are good players, they are working hard and they will pick up good opportunities and experiences. We are confident that if we perform we can go to Pau and pick up an away win this week.
“There will be the hostile environment of a French crowd but what an exciting environment and what a challenge it is to go there and beat them at their place. It would be fantastic if we achieve it.
“Their squad is full of star-studded names and ex-All Blacks, we don’t know if they will be selected but it’s a home game and French teams are a proud bunch at home.”
Lloyd Williams: "It's always a big occasion to play in European competitions, and Saturday is no different. Everyone is looking forward to the game, and we will be going to France looking to secure a good result.
"We hope the European Challenge Cup is an opportunity for us to build some momentum towards our league campaign. We've been doing well in the competition so far, and this is a chance to re-install some confidence within the squad, so it's a very important clash for us.
"Pau are a very physical side, with a pack who likes to take the game by the scruff of the neck. We weren't at the races up in Glasgow last week, therefore it's important we turn up on Saturday and show how physical we can be."
Ellis Jenkins, who has since been ruled out of the clash due to concussion, added: "If we win both games I think we will qualify for the quarter finals, whether that is as winners or best runner-up. Obviously that will also depend on how the other groups go as well.
"If we do qualify, we want to put ourselves in the best position for a home draw by topping the group.
"All we can do is focus on ourselves. What happens with Bath, and the other groups, is out of our hands so we'll be going to Pau to win the game and re-evaluate where we are after that game."
"If you can get yourself into knockout rugby, it's exciting. You look at the biggest occasion at Cardiff Blues over the past few years, and it's when they beat Toulon in the final. If you can reach those stages of the competition, it's where you create those types of memories.
"Too often, since when I've started with Cardiff Blues, our season has finished after the first week of May, and haven't gone past the regular season. Being in a final would be a different scenario for us, and certainly something we would relish."
Pau: Charly Malie; Louis Dupichot, Pierre Dupouy, Watisoni Votu, Mosese Ratuvou; Brandon Fajardo, Julien Tomas; Julien Jacquot, Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes, Malik Hamadache , Masalosalo Tutaia, Daniel Ramsay, Ben Mowen, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler
Replacements: Lucas Rey, Jérémy Hurou, Sylvain Charlet, Baptiste Pesenti, Giovanni Habel Kuffner, Taniela Moa Teutau, Marvin Lestremeau, Romain Buros
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Cory Allen, Willis Halaholo, Steve Shingler, Rhun Williams; Nicky Robinson, Tomos Williams; Corey Domachowski, Matthew Rees, Taufa’ao Filise, Jarrad Hoeata, James Down, Macauley Cook, Sam Warburton (capt), Josh Navidi
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Anton Peikrishvili, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Cam Dolan, Lloyd Williams, Garyn Smith, Alex Cuthbert.