Dai Young believes Gloucester will provide the perfect pre-season challenge for Cardiff, with only two weeks remaining until the start of the United Rugby Championship campaign.
The Blue and Blacks travel to Kingsholm this evening (KO 7.45pm) for the first of two friendlies, with Zebre set to visit Cardiff Arms Park next Friday. Cardiff will welcome Munster to the Friday Night Lights of the capital on the opening night of the URC season the following week.
Young has named a side containing a blend of youth and experience for the trip to Gloucester, led by club captain Josh Turnbull. However the summer internationals - including new recruits Taulupe Faletau, Liam Williams and Lopeti Timani - continue their integration into training and will be absent on Friday.
With a full pre-season programme under their belts, the Director of Rugby is eager to see the selected Cardiff players test themselves against a strong Cherry and Whites outfit as they look to lay an early marker down for a place in the side ahead of the campaign.
“We’re really looking forward to it. It’s a great venue to play at and I’m sure it’ll be a packed house because they have a great following,” said former Wales international, Young.
“Gloucester went really well last season and have started off again with a good win out in Munster. We know from our own experiences that going out there isn’t easy.
“So it will be a big challenge for our team, especially without our internationals involved.
“But these are the challenges you want and it will certainly give us an indication of where we are before the season starts. That’s what you’re looking for in friendlies, is to find out what’s working and things you still need to work on to get to an area where you’re comfortable.
“First and foremost I was really pleased with how all the players came back from their break. They’re all refreshed and they’ve taken enough time to recover and recharge the batteries, which is important.
“They all came back in really good nick as well so they’ve all knuckled down, knowing how important the start of the season is for us.
“We’ll use something like 27 or 28 players on Friday. Pretty much everyone who is available for us will be involved.
“Anyone not involved will either have a niggle, a longer term injury or are the international boys. Our internationals are still going through their early pre-season, but these players have been here from the start and deserve an opportunity.
“I know they’re really eager to go out and show they can put their hands up, because in many ways the slate is wiped clean.
“That happens every season. Internationals have earned a right for everyone to understand where they are, but throughout the squad everyone is jockeying for positions, which is healthy.
“Obviously we’ve signed four internationals, so we can’t get much better than that. They’ve all come into training now, with Liam and Toby a little bit later than Lopeti and Thomas because they were on tour.
“They’ve all already shown why we’ve signed them in training. They’re quality players in their own rights who have played a lot of rugby at the highest level for a long time. They can add a bit off the field as well as adding quite a lot on the field.”
Young also believes the opening URC encounter with Munster is set to be a memorable occasion under the Friday Night Lights, as he paid testament to the ‘fantastic’ Arms Park atmosphere.
“You want games that’s going to challenge you and really excite you, and you won’t get many tougher starts than Munster,” added the former Cardiff prop.
“But we’re at home and we’re comfortable and confident that against any team that come here, we can get the result.
“We’ve got a responsibility. The better we play then the more noisy and more excited the crowd will become.
“Even when our performances haven’t been up to scratch, the one thing you can’t fault is the crowd here. They got behind the players, did their best to lead them and it’s a fantastic atmosphere here.
“We all enjoy playing here. We were disappointed with some of the performances because we feel like we owe the crowd a performance every time we play here.
“But certainly they always play their part and we’re going to need that again this season.”