The Cardiff Blues welcome two Grand Slam stars back to the starting line-up to face the Llanelli Scarlets tomorrow evening.
Alex Cuthbert, winning try-scorer against France, is back on the wing while Lloyd Williams starts at scrum-half. Unfortunately, the four other Blues representatives in Wales’s Grand Slam winning side will not be running out against the Scarlets with Leigh Halfpenny out with a dead leg, Gethin Jenkins out with a shoulder injury and Jamie Roberts, who has not been picked for the match.
Wales’s skipper, Sam Warburton, is still waiting to hear the extent of the shoulder injury he picked up against France. After initial scans and examinations proved inconclusive, Warburton has seen a leading London specialist to determine whether he will be forced to sit out the remainder of the season.
Tomorrow’s Welsh derby also sees the return of Blues’s second-row, James Down, to the starting line-up. Down has been out since April with a fracture dislocation of his ankle, which he picked up against Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup group stages.
The Blues injury list rolls on with key components of the first team still out for the immediate future. Club captain, Paul Tito, is out with a head injury, T Rhys Thomas with a neck injury, Martyn Williams with a rib injury, Richard Mustoe with a hip injury, Fau Filise with a shoulder injury, Andries Pretorious with a knee injury, Deniol Jones with a shoulder injury and Bradley Davies who is still serving a suspension for his dangerous tackle on Donncha Ryan in Wales’s opening match of the Six Nations against Ireland.
The Blues go into the game with their west Wales rivals having only lost one home game since October, which was against Leinster in a RaboDirect PRO12. They currently sit at 7th place in the RaboDirect PRO 12 table, just behind the Scarlets.
Both teams have chalked up 45 points on the board with the Scarlets sneaking the lead on points difference. The Scarlets have had a successful run as late with back to back victories over Treviso and Connacht and will be looking to increase their lead over the Blues. Both teams are two points off the play off positions in the league, currently held by Leinster, Munster, Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors.
The Scarlets will be going into tomorrows game with an air of confidence after beating the Blues in their three previous meetings, the most recently in October when the Scarlets thrashed the Blues 30 - 3 at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Speaking ahead of the match, the Blues’s backs coach Gareth Baber said: “The Scarlets have a good blend of youth and experience. They work hard for each other, have a good work ethic and work hard around the field to create opportunities, so we know it’s going to be a difficult match but we are ready for the challenge.”
The Scarlets are set to field a strong team with the return of their international players. From the Grand Slam winning side, hooker Ken Owens and centre Scott Williams are back in the starting line-up with Jonathan Davies and Matthew Rees on the bench. George North and Rhys Priestland are rested for the game. Scotland and England Internationals Sean Lamont and Ben Morgan also feature in the Scarlets’s starting line-up. Second-row Lou Reed is out with a knee injury, full-back Dan Newton is out with a shoulder injury and second-row Aaron Shingler is out with a toe injury.
On the return of the Six Nations players, Baber said: “Players from both teams contributed significantly to the Wales team success and we have looked at these returning international players individually to see where they are mentally and physically.
“It is important to get them back into our set up and get them comfortable in what we are doing again. Then hopefully they can go out and perform, pushing the potential of the squad.”
On the depth of the Blues squad, Baber said: “Now that we are entering the business end of the season the competition level rises and everybody is fighting for positions in the starting XV. That is what you want as a coach, you want people competing and pushing each other hard.”
He added: “Ultimately the players know, although they may not like it sometimes, that there can only be 15 people that can be on the field and we are picking the team that will get the victory.”
Cardiff Blues v. Llanelli Scarlets kicks off at 18.30 tomorrow at the Cardiff City Stadium. Before the match, fans will get the opportunity to meet Blues’s Grand Slam heroes such as Sam Warburton and Jamie Roberts, and have their pictures taken with the Six Nations and Triple Crown trophies at the Heineken Fan Zone from 17.00. Tickets cost £22 for adults and £10 for under 16’s.
Cardiff Blues Team: Ben Blair; Alex Cuthbert, Casey Laulala, Dafydd Hewitt, Tom James, Dan Parks, Lloyd Williams; John Yapp, Ryan Tyrrell, Scott Andrews, Macauley Cook, James Down, Michael Paterson, Xavier Rush (c), Josh Navidi.
Replacements: Marc Breeze; Nathan Trevett, Sam Hobbs, Cory Hill, Maama Molitika, Richie Rees, Ceri Sweeney, Chris Czekaj.
Llanelli Scarlets Team: Liam Williams; Sean Lamont, Gareth Maule (c), Scott Williams, Andy Fenby, Stephen Jones, Gareth Davies; Rhodri Jones, Ken Owens, Deacon Manu, Dominic Day, Damian Welch, Josh Turnbull, Ben Morgan, Johnathan Edwards.
Replacements: Matthew Rees; Phil John, Peter Edwards, Sione Timani, Kieran Murphy, Liam Davies, Aled Thomas, Jonathan Davies.