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John Afoa expects close battle as Gloucester Rugby prepare for Cardiff Blues test

Gloucester Rugby prop John Afoa can see the similarities between the Cherry & Whites’ season so far and that of Challenge Cup opponents Cardiff Blues.

But the 33-year-old Kiwi insists there will be no sympathy for their Welsh opponents when they lock horns on Saturday, with a spot in a European semi-final on the line.

Gloucester currently sit eighth in the Aviva Premiership Rugby standings, after a topsy-turvy season that has seen them struggle to maintain momentum.

But that can all end on Saturday according to Afoa, with the top-six still in the offing for the Cherry & Whites if they can muster a strong end to the campaign.

“Right now we’re just hammering it out game-by-game,” he said. “We’ve done that all year, but we don’t have any big expectation or pressure on when we want to finish in Aviva Premiership Rugby.

“We’re just trying to play a certain brand of rugby and put in a type of performance that we can be proud of after the game, and our fans can be proud of.

“Cardiff pose a huge thread in Europe, especially in attack. They play with a lot of width, get it out to the wingers, have strong midfielders with good footwork, and their back row is handy as well.

“So it is going to be a good tussle; our set-piece will have to function well, and we want to be excited about the challenge ahead and really go after them at Kingsholm.

“Cardiff are probably similar to us in that they are probably in a place in the table where they think they should be higher, and this is pretty much their only chance to win silverware.

“So they’ll be coming across – it’s not a big journey – with a lot of their fans and it will be a big occasion, but we need to match their intensity and go above.”

Gloucester lifted the Challenge Cup on a glorious night for the club at Twickenham Stoop back in 2015, beating Edinburgh 19-13, but know all about the threat of Welsh opposition having crashed out at the quarter-final stage last year against Newport Gwent Dragons.

And Afoa admits that defeat, which cost them the chance to defend their title, still weighs heavily on the Gloucester players – something they will be looking to put right this time around.

He said: “We had a great year winning this trophy and going through the pool stages undefeated last time, but then had a shocker against Dragons.

“We got drawn into a game plan that cost us, so we need to learn from that to play a good brand of rugby to put the pressure on Cardiff.

“They’ll be opportunities in the game to play, but there will also be times where we need to slow it down so all the leaders of this team and the playmakers need to focus.

“Our first tackles will have to be good as will our kicking game; it’s like playing a club a bit like Harlequins, so even if we haven’t played the Blues that much they will have traits that we will have come across in the Aviva Premiership.”

Tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is on 27 May at Twickenham are now on sale. If you want to have an unforgettable day out at club rugby’s best Cup Final then click here for tickets.

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