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Hodges determined to reward CAP faithful with European run

First Team News | 19th January 2023


Richard Hodges has urged Cardiff to put themselves in the best possible position to secure a run of home knockout games in the European Challenge Cup.

The Blue and Blacks travel to Brive on Saturday for the final pool stage clash of the campaign with a home draw in the last 16 already secured.

However, should Cardiff retain their place at the top of Pool A, they would bank top seeding heading into the knockout rounds.

Having been part of the coaching team that led the club to European success in 2018, Hodges is hungry to make further memories at home and reward the Arms Park faithful.

“We’re thoroughly looking forward to it. Everybody gets a bit of a buzz around the Challenge Cup. Certainly there is a bit of history and tradition connected with this club.

“Even though we’ve already through to the following round, there’s still a lot to play for in terms of trying to guarantee home gams the further you go through the competition.

“So it’s a real meaningful game for us this week and one that we’re thoroughly looking forward to.

“It’s a thoroughly meaningful game for us because as I’m led to believe, if you finish in the top two and we were to win the home last 16 match, then you get a home quarter final.

“So from our point of view we’d much prefer playing at home. While some people may think that’s just a small bit of motivation for us this weekend, it’s actually a very big one for us and the playing group,

“To play at home in front of our fans, you saw how much they supported and backed us over the Christmas derbies but we came up short in two big games. So we spoke at half time of the Newcastle game that we owe our family and friends a little bit from those games against Ospreys and Scarlets.

“The more home games we can get in front of a packed Arms Park, the better. Our fans love European knockout rugby here and so does the staff and players. 

“So it’s a real meaningful game for us. Not so long ago, perhaps 12 to 18 months ago, we went probably a calendar year without winning a game outside of Wales.

“So an ability to win on the road is something that pleases us but on the other hand the home derbies over Christmas have really, really disappointed us.

“That’s why I think the ability to get an away win this week would transform itself and hopefully bring a couple of potential home games later on in Europe to reward the crowds that turned up over Christmas.”

 

Despite last week’s European disappointment against Connacht in Galway, Brive have been on an upward trajectory in recent weeks as they look to build momentum in their fight against Top 14 relegations.

The French outfit have secured three league victories on the bounce ahead of the European fixtures, with further crucial encounters against Bayonne and US Perpignan on the horizon.

Hodges says his side are prepared for a tough challenge at Stadium de Brive, against a side who have changed a lot since their last meeting in December.

The defence coach added: “We’ve got to plan for the best of Brive. Since we’ve played them at home, they’ve gone on to beat Clermont, Toulon and Lyon and that obviously gives them a bit of momentum.

“Obviously the Connacht game was a tough one for them away from home, but no French side will give up on a home game. 

“We know that they’ve improved dramatically since we played them at home and they’ve had a change of coach. They’ve certainly had a change of playing style.

“We’ve spoken about that over the last couple of days, in regards of what to expect. But we just want to continue on some of the good processes that we put out on the field against Newcastle.

“Regardless of what they roll out we just want to have a mindset of concentrating on ourselves. We’re just trying to improve and tweak a couple of areas from last Sunday.

“But if we can match that then hopefully we’ll be in a good spot.

“When we played Brive at home, they kicked the least in the Top 14. But we know that they’ve got a couple of Fijians in the outside backs who didn’t play at the Arms Park, and they’ve got some magic moments in them.

“You watch the last three games and they’ve certainly reverted to a much more of a contestable kicking game.

“They’ve got a huge emphasis around going after the breakdown early in sets. But we’re probably facing a side that have got a playing style which is similar to what we face week-on-week in the URC.

“So we’ve trained to that this week and spoken about it, and I would expect a lot more of a territorial game compared to when we faced them at home.”

Adding his thoughts on the side’s defensive form, Hodges said: “The way we finished last season was obviously one that disappointed us both individually and collectively.

“So this year was about getting our identity back. Obviously in terms of turnovers, everybody knows that we go hard at the breakdown.

“But we’ve conceded 10 tries in our last six games, and the defence on the scoreboard will always reflect the attitude and mindset of the group.

“This group of players have really put their shoulder to the wheel this season. 

“There will be a couple of bumps in the road like Glasgow or the second half against Bulls, and obviously the Scarlets game was a disappointment over Christmas.

“But overall we’ve got ourselves on a better track but you’re only ever as good as your last game in this gig and on the weekend we had a mindset and an ability to get off the line.

“We got the ball back 17 times against a side that has beaten Sale and Leicester in the previous two weeks. 

“But in this game it can quickly come and bit you on the behind so we’ve just got to keep working hard and stick tight. Overall we’re pretty pleased.”