Castres out to keep pace
January 13, 2011
Leigh Halfpenny is back in action for the Blues © Getty Images
Cardiff Blues take on Castres at the Cardiff City Stadium on Friday night with their European dream in tatters.
Back-to-back losses to Northampton in rounds three and four ensured that last season's Amlin Challenge Cup winners will exit Europe's premier competition at the group stages for the second time in as many seasons, with Castres poised to rub salt in the wounds by snatching second in the group. The Top 14 side are currently four points clear of the Blues and six behind runaway leaders Northampton.
The French side took the spoils on their home track in round two thanks to a dominant scrummage and a powerful forwards display - two things they will hope to recreate this weekend against a Blues side that was dismantled at scrum and lineout by the Saints.
Cardiff Blues - Player to Watch: Leigh Halfpenny bagged his first try since a long injury lay-off in last weekend's win over Aironi, expect the winger to go all out to impress Wales boss Warren Gatland prior to the Six Nations.
Cardiff Blues - Team News: With Gethin Jenkins out injured, John Yapp comes in at loose-head in a front-row that is likely to be put under major pressure. Jamie Roberts and Casey Laulala are named in the centre, with Dan Parks at fly-half, while No.8 Xavier Rush is joined on the injured list by Tom Shanklin. Maama Molitika starts at the base of the scrum, with Andries Pretorius and Martyn Williams at 6 and 7.
Castres - Player to Watch: Seremaia Bai has broken Welsh hearts already once this season with a late penalty to secure a draw for Fiji at the Millennium Stadium back in November. Expect him to do further damage in Cardiff this weekend at inside-centre.
Castres - Team News: Bai is joined in the backline by French international winger Marc Andreu, while highly-rated prop Yannick Forestier is given the nod in the front-row. Influential All Black back-rower Chris Masoe is missing, as is points-machine fullback Romain Teulet - who is named on the bench.
Key Battle: The Blues have not had anything approaching a stable platform from first-phase in this season's tournament and if they are to prosper they will need to perform at scrum and lineout.
Trivia: Castres have only progressed from the group stages once in their Heineken Cup history, making the semi-finals in 2001-02.
Stats: Defeat to Northampton ended a record 12-match home winning run for the Blues in Europe.
Quote Unquote: "We've worked hard over the last couple of years to be one of the top seeds in the Heineken Cup and we have to make sure that if we do go out of the competition, we go out fighting. It shouldn't be a big job to lift the players as they have enough personal pride to put in a strong performance." - Cardiff Blues boss Dai Young
"We will approach round five as being a massive encounter, but we won't put ourselves under the pressure of having to qualify because it is too uncertain at this stage." - Castres scrum-half Alexandre Albouy.
Prediction: Cardiff will face a fired-up challenge from Castres but will take heart from Edinburgh's victory over the French side, who do not travel well. Narrow home win.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game