Following the record win at the Arms Park against Connacht last weekend, attention at the Cardiff Blues training centre now turns to five intriguing cup contests as the autumn approaches.
After games against the previous three League Champions and taking on the European Champions in their own backyard during the first four rounds of action, the region ended the opening block of Magners League games in style with a 58-nil win against perennial banana skin Connacht, and welcomed the return to fitness of Deiniol Jones, Xavier Rush and Richie Rees.
Now the Blues have four of the best teams from across the Severn Bridge and the Italian Champions to contend with in a month of cup rugby. The games in the Anglo-Welsh EDF Energy Cup competition sandwich two Heineken Cup fixtures during a five week period that will shape the rest of the season for the men in blue.
First its the return of the EDF Energy Cup, a competition in which the Blues have recorded some notable victories, both on the road and at home, including in the last two seasons a trip to the Millennium Stadium for a semi final following wins against Wasps, Saracens and London Irish and last season adding the scalps of Sale at the Arms Park and Bath at the Rec a feat only one other team has repeated in two years.
The Blues are determined to perform well in this competition, in what could be the swan-song for the Anglo-Welsh Cup in its current guise. Passions are sure to run high in the three Anglo-Welsh clashes that comprise the group stage, however, the challenge of this years pool could literally not be tougher with the Blues set to face the top three teams in the current Guinness Premiership standings after the leagues first three rounds.
Cardiff Blues three-quarter Leigh Halfpenny who scored twice in Fridays demolition of Connacht, adding to the vital try he got against Ulster three weeks ago, said: [The Connacht] result will be a massive boost to the squads confidence.
Obviously the Cups are another step up, but we will definitely go into the next game with team morale on a high. Im sure that was the sort of performance the fans have been looking for.
Theres been a lot of frustration so far this season, but we have got a good squad here. The fans have just wanted us to come out and perform. We definitely did that against Connacht, especially in the first half.
We had a game plan and we knew how we wanted to play against them. We kept it tight to start with, but the gaps soon started opening up out wide. We just made sure we took our chances when they came along.
Halfpenny, who was Blues Young Player of the Year last season, has carried his fine form into 2008/9 and has certainly caught the eye of late, but Blues Director of Coaching David Young insisted it wasnt a surprise to anyone inside the Blues camp. The 19-year-old has always been seen as a star of the future and Young is confident Halfpennys best is yet to come as the season progresses.
He is a quality player, enthused David Young. Hes probably the leading light in Wales Under-20s and Im sure hes going to come through strongly for us.
We really enjoy getting him out there because hes one of these players that can really get the supporters on the edge of their seats. Perhaps he may be a surprise to people outside who dont know much about him, but hes not a surprise to us.
Hes come through our system and weve worked hard with him. He takes his opportunities and hes only going to get better with the more games he plays.
The first Anglo-Welsh clash is a trip to Stockport to face Sale Sharks this Saturday (kick off 3pm), a team that have not yet conceded a try this season and who have their fair share of international talent, including Luke McAllister, Sebastien Chabal, Dwayne Peel and Charlie Hodgson.
There are a couple of familiar faces amongst the Sharks ranks, such as former Arms Park favourites Lee Thomas and Nick Macleod, and with the Blues winning two out of the last three games against Sale, the team will be determined to get the pool off to the right start with another crucial away win.
Having two games at home this season, is preferential to last season when the Blues just missed out on qualification to the semi finals, despite two away trips, however with the way this competition is structured, if you lose your first game then it can be very difficult to progress. The Blues realise that they will have to get off to a flying start away at Sale for any home advantage to become relevant.
It doesnt get much easier after playing the team at the top of the English Premiership either, with the other two games in the group against the teams currently placed second and third in the Premiership, Leicester Tigers and Bath Rugby, both heading to the Arms Park later in the month.
Before the group gets to this stage, the team will have travelled via northern Italy to kick off the Heineken Cup campaign against Calvisano, a trip the Blues last made, when Jonah Lomu made his first start. Now its Calvisano who have the giants in their ranks, both gentle and tall giants, the familiar faces of Ben Evans and Peter Sidoli, former Cardiff Blue and Gwent Dragon respectively.
After this Italian test, there is the not so small matter of a return to the Millennium Stadium to take on powerhouses of English rugby, Gloucester Rugby, on Sunday 19th October the first of three back to back Anglo-Welsh clashes, with Leicester and Bath also visiting the capital on consecutive weekends.
The Blues fans enjoyed each and every one of the nine tries the Blues recorded last weekend, getting nosier with every score, so the request from the dressing room ahead of a big month is more of the same please, it really does make a difference and it certainly
lifts the players when the going gets tough.
You can get your tickets for the match against Gloucester Rugby at the Millennium Stadium now, with tickets on sale at the Arms Park Ticket Office, via the ticket hotline on 029 2030 2030 or online at www.cardiffblues.com/tickets.