Richard Hodges is looking forward to an exciting and crucial part of the campaign, as Cardiff Blues turn their attention back to the Guinness PRO14 following the conclusion of the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Wales’ Capital Region were defeated by a strong London Irish side in the final pool stage game of the competition on Friday, despite tries from Aled Summerhill, Seb Davies and Corey Domachowski.
The visit of Toyota Cheetahs to the Welsh capital is next on Cardiff Blues’ agenda, and Hodges insists the upcoming block of games will be season-defining, as they look to strengthen their claim for a place in Europe’s premier competition next year.
“We’re entering into a period now where every game matters, and as a player, a coach or as a supporter that’s all you want,” said Hodges.
“We’ve got the European quarter-final to look forward to up in Scotland but right here, right now it’s about Cheetahs, Munster and Zebre and they can dictate whether we get into the Champions Cup next year.
“People will agree or disagree with how we treat the competition, but due to our squad depth we have to use this to rest some boys because we’ve got a bigger picture at stake, starting with Saturday when we turn back to the PRO14.
“We can’t lose sight of how we treat this competition. The bigger picture is the opportunity for players, a chance to rest some boys, give some youngsters an opportunity to develop and we’re able to get ourselves ready for the Cheetahs next week.”
Hodges, who takes charge of the side for the Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign, believes a host of youngsters impressed with their opportunities over the past two weeks, but insists the team as a collective must move on immediately to next week’s return to the PRO14.
Hodges said: “The attacking shape was spot on with the limited possession we had in the first half.
“What hurt us during that first half was ill-discipline around the offside line, which mirrored Leicester last week, and gave them an opportunity to get a foothold in the game, get their line-out going and we couldn’t win collisions in the first two phases.
“They had a good speed of ball, extra numbers out wide and we conceded a couple of soft tries.
“For the last seven or eight weeks, we’ve been pretty pleased with how our defence has been progressing, but tonight there were a couple of soft scores and that’s something we need to review individual and collectively on Monday whilst moving on quickly to the Cheetahs.
“I understand we’re not going to be as cohesive and effective over the ball without some of our front-line boys, but is that an excuse or a reason? We must make sure we’re better than that.
“I thought some of the youngsters that came in really did well. I was impressed with Max Llewellyn during the second half and Owen Lloyd’s impact off the bench as well.
“Boys like Aled Summerhill went well tonight, and with Rhun there are some real signs over the last two weeks that his attacking game is getting going again.
“Some of the boys have put themselves in pole position to play next Saturday night and likewise some will probably have to wait a little bit longer to get another opportunity, but that’s professional team sport.”