While mid-season friendlies have been something of a rarity in recent seasons, Cardiff coach T Rhys Thomas believes Friday’s clash with Bristol Bears provides perfect preparation time ahead of the second block of competitive fixtures.
The Blue and Blacks claimed four wins from their opening seven matches in the BKT United Rugby Championship this season. But with the international window in full swing, a total of four weeks separate the last encounter, against Edinburgh, and the next clash - a trip to Durban to take on Cell C Sharks.
Bridging the two competitive blocks is Friday’s trip to Ashton Gate, and Thomas insists there’s no better way of maintaining sharpness than a full 80-minute encounter, particularly with a tough trip to South Africa on the horizon.
The former Wales and Cardiff hooker said: “It’s really good the way it’s turned out for us. We’re going to South Africa in a few weeks and this game is a really good warm up, or build up, for that block.
“Last time round we had a bit of a break before we went out there, but Friday will be a huge challenge for us.
“Obviously they’re a quality team and a quality outfit. There’s quality throughout and we know they like to play an exciting brand of rugby, mixed with a huge physical challenge up front, which I’m sure they’ll bring.
“It’s a really good fixture for us to see where we are with a few boys who are getting their opportunity. It’s also a really good challenge for the boys who have been playing a little bit as well.
“They’re excited by the challenge on a Friday night in Bristol before we go to South Africa.
“It’s a bit of a local derby, really. All my family will be going up there as it’s not that far and I’m also sure that the eve of Wales against England in February is going to be a huge occasion at the Arms Park.
“The team they’ve picked adds to the excitement, because they go in with quality and will want to get as many fans in there as they can.
“For us, it’s an opportunity to go up against that league. Obviously the URC is a quality league, but we do look at the English league a lot as well - well I certainly do, I can’t speak for everyone else.
“The product is quality and we’d like to see where we are against the big boys of that division/
“What people don’t usually see is that we have internal games within these blocks anyway. If not that then certainly training against the likes of Dragons and we’ve done Bath before too.
“The units are opposed and we’ve even had Zebre come over in pre-season and Cardiff Met have been brilliant for us too.
“So we wouldn’t exactly go three, four, five weeks without any contact.
“But there’s no better preparation for a game than a game. It will be a long day after a proper training week and you obviously can’t replicate the 80 minutes on the weekend in training, so it’s good.
“It’s everything - from preparations to previews and reviews and it’s great for us to have.
“All we’re able to do now is concentrate on Friday. We want to put a good performance in and then we can worry about South Africa and building on the momentum we had in the middle of the first block.
“If we can train properly, that’s the biggest thing, and by doing that hopefully the performances will follow and the result will take care of itself. We want to get some big performances out in South Africa.”
While Cardiff will remain upbeat about their early season form, with plenty of positives on show, Thomas admits the defeat to Edinburgh last time out was frustrating, particularly after an encouraging first half display.
Reflecting on the clash, the assistant coach added: “The Edinburgh game was a little bit frustrating, but obviously we’re really happy with the first block as a whole.
“To lie where we are in the league, as an organisation we’re pretty positive. We know there’s still loads to work on.
“It was about picking up, not so much the result, but the performance we wanted.
“Probably in the first half - in my area, which is the scrum and line-outs - we were happy with the way it was going. But obviously we started to concede a few penalties in a row and they scored the try.
“As frustrating as it was to have a disappointing end to the block, on a whole if you’d said at the beginning of the season that we’d be in the position we are, going into the break, then we would’ve been happy.”
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