Cuthbert on bench as the Blues go in search of Pau win
WALES winger Alex Cuthbert has been dropped to the bench for the Cardiff Blues’ crucial European Challenge Cup clash against Pau this weekend.
To have hopes of winning the Pool Four, the injury-hit Blues must better Bath’s results in their final two matches.
But just days before Rob Howley is due to name his squad for the 2017 Six Nations, British Lion Cuthbert has been consigned to the pine.
And with USA international Blaine Scully absent due to personal reasons, Cory Allen and young Rhun Williams will occupy the spots out wide, with Matthew Morgan operating at full-back.
Elsewhere in the backline, Steve Shingler has been ushered across to inside centre, forcing Willis Halaholo to outside centre to cover for the absent Rey-Lee Lo.
Nicky Robinson will run the show at fly-half, where he’ll be partnered by Tomos Williams at scrum-half and not Wales international Lloyd Williams, another high profile name who will have to be content with a spot on the bench.
Amid eight changes altogether, the new faces in the forwards are slightly more forced upon Wilson thanks to a growing injury list.
Ellis Jenkins and Rhys Gill have not recovered from concussions they suffered against Glasgow last week, meaning Corey Domachowski, who has played just 11 minutes of professional rugby, will start at loose-head with Macauley Cook coming into the back row.
Taufa’ao Filise and Matthew Rees join the 20-year-old Domachowski in what is a completely different front row to the one that started against Glasgow last week, with Georgian prop Anton Peikrishvili on the bench and Kristian Dacey unavailable.
The Blues have enjoyed some success in European competition this season, while their Guinness Pro12 form has waned in recent weeks.
Whilst the return of continental action provides a relative respite from the Pro12, Blues boss Danny Wilson points out that the same injury issues remain.
“It does give us a bit of a break (from the Pro12),” he said.
“Having said that, we still have the same sort of issues, which is currently trying to manage a squad that has a lot of injury problems.
“We currently have seven recognised first team players injured.
“We’re pretty depleted and I think there’s definitely a link there. We won seven out of our first 10 games when we had a very healthy squad to select from and at this point we don’t have a very healthy squad.”
Winless Pau are currently propping up Pool Four with a miserable one point to their name.
Like other French teams, they have been accused of not taking the competition seriously - former All Black Conrad Smith is not even registered for the competition - instead choosing to focus on the lucrative Top 14 league.
They’ve also opted not to select another Kiwi in the shape of Colin Slade, and Steffon Armitage has also been rested.
Wilson hinted that if the winners of the Challenge Cup were rewarded with a spot in next season’s Champions Cup, the French teams might be more inclined to select fully-loaded sides.
“The French teams recognise when is appropriate to have those players competing for places and when is appropriate to give them a rest,” he said.
“If competitions allow a qualification into the Champions Cup, I think sides have pushed a little bit harder in the past.
“If that isn’t a possibility for them then sides may choose to focus on the league.”