With the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations stars spread out across leagues in Europe it’s not every week they get to face each other – this Friday represents one of those chances.
The European cup competitions reach their climaxes this weekend and first up on Friday it’s the Challenge Cup final – we take a look at Cardiff Blues v Gloucester Rugby.
There will be plenty of 2018 NatWest 6 Nations talent on display at Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium and most of it will be Welsh as the Blues line up to face Gloucester.
Gareth Anscombe made four appearances for Wales in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations and starts at full-back whilst Josh Navidi was one of his country’s leading players in the Championship and starts this one at No.6.
He’s joined in the back row by Ellis Jenkins, fresh from being named co-captain for Wales’ summer tour.
Also on that tour will be Blues men Seb Davies and Tomos Williams, who start at lock and scrum-half respectively on Friday.
For Gloucester, Jake Polledri has had a barnstorming 2017-18 season in the Aviva Premiership as well as in Europe and earnt his first Italy cap against Scotland in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations – he starts at blindside flanker.
Jason Woodward goes at No.15 and scrum-half Ben Vellacott is amongst the replacements, both have just been named in England’s training squad for next week.
WHAT THEY SAID
Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann said: “Hopefully the players will embrace this and put in a good performance to give ourselves an opportunity to lift the trophy and make everybody proud of the season.
“Cardiff are deservedly in the Final. They’re a team with a lot of threats – a very good loose trio and a very good back line.
“They’re a side who will fight for everything and I think it will be a great final between two sides that play a decent brand of rugby.”
Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson commented: “It has been a great achievement to reach this stage but we will now settle for nothing less than winning on Friday night.
“We are all determined to deliver some silverware to the region.
“It promises to be an electric occasion between two sides that like to run the ball and play attacking rugby.”
ROUTE TO THE FINAL
It’s the third Challenge Cup final in four years for the Cherry and Whites and they’ll be looking to repeat their 2015 success when they lifted the trophy at the Stoop having defeated Edinburgh.
Gloucester won four of their six pool matches and finished second behind Pau, before beating Connacht in the quarter-finals and Newcastle Falcons in the final four.
The Blues, meanwhile, won five of their pool matches then won away at Edinburgh in the quarter-finals and beat Pau 16-10 in the semi-finals – with Anscombe scoring their only try.
The most recent meeting between these sides came during last season’s Challenge Cup, as Gloucester secured a 46-26 quarter-final win to knock out the Welsh team.
They have met in a final before, but in the Anglo-Welsh Cup back in 2009 where the Blues lifted the trophy after a 50-12 victory.
Gloucester had their revenge the following year, knocking the Blues out at the semi-final stage, but they would go on to lose the final to Northampton Saints.