Lloyd Williams and Jarrod Evans will form the half back partnership for Cardiff as they welcome Edinburgh to the Arms Park on Sunday (15:00).
Scrum-half Williams, who will move within three appearances of his 250th for the club, will make his first start of the season, while outside-half Evans recovers from a groin injury to replace Wales squad member, Rhys Priestland.
The Blue and Blacks head into the encounter on the back of three consecutive BKT United Rugby Championship wins and the backline that finished last week’s win over holders, DHL Stormers, remains unchanged.
A young centre partnership of Max Llewellyn and Mason Grady is joined by the back three trio of Ben Thomas, and last week’s try scorers Jason Harries and Theo Cabango.
With Kristian Dacey and Dillon Lewis unavailable, Kirby Myhill and Dmitri Arhip are reintroduced into the front row alongside an in-form Rhys Carré. The back five of the scrum remains unchanged, with Josh Turnbull captaining the side from the second row.
Cardiff Director of Rugby, Dai Young said: “We’re looking forward to another big challenge on Sunday against Edinburgh to finish this opening block of fixtures.
“We have been pleased with our recent results and the steps we have taken forward in terms of our performances but we know it is going to be another step up this weekend.
“Edinburgh are on the back of two good wins and have scored more points and more tries than any other team this season. So we will need to be at our best, particularly in defence.
“They have a good core to their squad and will be targeting this game but we are at home and we have a good record at the Arms Park. The atmosphere, and the energy it has given us, has been massive in recent weeks and we are looking forward to more of the same.
“We have spoken a lot about consistency and if we can finish this block with a fourth consecutive victory, it will be a pleasing start to the season.”
With Cameron Winnett and Ellis Bevan coming into the matchday 23 for the first time this season, the average age of Young’s bench is only 23.5 years old.
While this is the final fixture of the opening block of URC games, Cardiff will face Bristol Bears in a fortnight before they travel to South Africa in late-November.
Cardiff: Ben Thomas; Jason Harries, Mason Grady, Max Llewellyn, Theo Cabango; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Carré, Kirby Myhill, Dmitri Arhip, Josh Turnbull (capt.), Rory Thornton, James Botham, Thomas Young, James Ratti
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Corey Domachowski, Will Davies-King, Teddy Williams, Gwilym Bradley, Ellis Bevan, Aled Summerhill, Cameron Winnett
Wales: Dillon Lewis, Taulupe Faletau, Tomos Williams, Rhys Priestland, Josh Adams
Blair: “Collectively, we were just off it.”
The Italian side held on for a 24-17 win with Rhyno Smith’s late score the difference in a back-and-forth battle at Stadio Monigo.
“Yeah, it’s definitely disappointing,” said Blair. “We knew this was going to be a really tough game with the team that they picked.
“Benetton were excellent and managed the game really well after the red card. They were really smart. But I said to the players at half-time that the game was still in our hands.”
Benetton went down to 14 men in the 10th minute when debutant Matteo Minozzi was sent off for dangerous play after his boot – in the process of gathering a high ball – made contact with Wes Goosen’s face, leaving the winger with a nasty cut.
Edinburgh failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage however, with Benetton proving too shrewd in defence despite being a man down.
“We’ve seen it before, though, with red cards and how it can really galvanise a team. It brings emotion into it and gives them that backs-to-the-wall type of mentality,” continued Blair.
“But we’ve got to be better than that. We’ve got to see that as an opportunity. I think we waited and thought that (red card) was going to be the thing that won us game.
“But that wasn’t the case. It’s your physicality, your relentlessness nature of attack, persistence in defence, your smarts – that’s what wins you games. Collectively, we were just off it.
“I don’t think you can put it down to one thing. We always speak about what we want the perception of us to be from others.
“That perception is around the ruthless and clinical nature of our attack, as well as physicality in defence. We didn’t get that today.”
Edinburgh finish this block of fixtures without its Scotland internationalists having won two out of three road matches, with Saturday’s defeat to Benetton ending a three-match winning streak.
The capital side now turn their attention to Munster this coming Friday night (2 December, kick-off 7.35pm) in a match-up that sees Edinburgh return home to DAM Health Stadium for the first time in over a month.
“This period is an opportunity for the club. This group of players won away against Zebre and Cardiff, so there’s been some real positives.
“This was a tough game to come back to after the break for a few weeks. We were just off it in a couple of areas and that’s something we need to fix moving forward to next week.”
Timani returns to fitness as Cardiff name side to face Sharks
Lopeti Timani returns to the Cardiff line-up for the opening clash of their BKT United Rugby Championship double-header in South Africa.
With the Blue and Blacks kicking off their tour in Durban against Cell C Sharks on Sunday (KO 4.10pm), Tongan international Timani, who missed the home clash against Edinburgh last month, takes his place in the second row alongside Rory Thornton.
Captain Josh Turnbull will wear the number six jersey, with Thomas Young and James Botham completing the back row, while Rhys Carré, Liam Belcher and Dmitri Arhip form the front row.
Behind the pack Jarrod Evans and Lloyd Williams continue their partnership at half back. Rey Lee-Lo returns to the midfield for the first time since the away win over Scarlets, linking up with Max Llewellyn in the centre.
Finally, having made his URC debut in South Africa last season, Theo Cabango is again given the nod on the wing. Jason Harries occupies the opposite touchline, while Ben Thomas slots in at 15.
Cardiff director or rugby, Dai Young said: “We’re looking forward to testing ourselves against a quality team in the Sharks on Sunday.
“We were disappointed with our last game out here last season so we have plenty of motivation to put things right and we’ve shown we are heading in the right direction and we want to build upon that.
“It is important now that we keep that momentum and confidence and show we have learnt and developed from last season.
“We know what to expect from the Sharks and they are formidable at home but we are in a good place. We will need to perform at our best and if we do that then there is no reason why we cannot make a statement.”
Cardiff have named a six-two split on the bench, with youngsters Ellis Bevan and Mason Grady providing cover for the back-line.
Seb Davies is passed fit to feature, having been on the sidelines since mid-October, while there are further fire-power from the likes of Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski and James Ratti.
Cardiff will also take on Vodacom Bulls during their time in the Rainbow Nation, before turning their attention to Europe and the festive derbies.
Cardiff: Ben Thomas; Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Max Llewellyn, Theo Cabango; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Carré, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Lopeti Timani, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull (capt.), Thomas Young, James Botham
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski, Will Davies-King, Seb Davies, Gwilym Bradley, James Ratti, Ellis Bevan, Mason Grady
Unavailable for selection: Dillon Lewis, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau, Tomos Williams, Rhys Priestland, Owen Lane, Willis Halaholo, Josh Adams, Liam Williams, Matthew Morgan, Jacob Beetham.
Internationals return for Munster interpro at Thomond Park
Six Connacht players who were with the Ireland squad in November have come into the starting lineup for tomorrow’s interpro with Munster in Limerick (k/o 7.35pm).
Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Cian Prendergast, Caolin Blade and Bundee Aki are all named in the starting lineup, as the squad aim to make it three straight wins in the BKT URC.
Denis Buckley joins Heffernan and Bealham in the front row while Josh Murphy is selected alongside Thornbury in the second row. Prendergast is named at blindside flanker, with Conor Oliver at openside and Jarrad Butler at number 8.
Captain Jack Carty continues at out-half while Tom Farrell partners Aki in the centre. The side is completed by wingers Alex Wootton and Byron Ralston, and full-back John Porch.
On the bench there’s a notable return for Shane Delahunt, who has recovered from an 8-month injury layoff for a potential first appearance of the season. The management team have opted for a 6:2 split, meaning Niall Murray, Oisin Dowling and Paul Boyle could all be called upon.
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
“Everyone had ten days off after the Ospreys game which I think was needed for coaches and players. Now that we have everyone back it’s all eyes on Munster for the start of an important ten week block for us, and we’re well positioned for these games going forward.
Munster away at Thomond Park is never an easy task but I thought we were close last year and the previous year we won there. You can’t just rock up to Thomond and think you’re going to win, you’ve got to work your backside off and bring an element of physicality along with accuracy in what you are doing”
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Saturday 26th November, 19:35 @ Thomond Park
15. John Porch (66)
14. Byron Ralston (6)
13. Tom Farrell (83)
12. Bundee Aki (119)
11. Alex Wootton (37)
10. Jack Carty (184) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (154)
1. Denis Buckley (215)
2. Dave Heffernan (171)
3. Finlay Bealham (173)
4. Josh Murphy (5)
5. Gavin Thornbury (68)
6. Cian Prendergast (33)
7. Conor Oliver (47)
8. Jarrad Butler (100)
16. Shane Delahunt (117)
17. Peter Dooley (5)
18. Jack Aungier (38)
19. Niall Murray (40)
20. Oisín Dowling (31)
21. Kieran Marmion (215)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (57)
23. Paul Boyle (79)
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