Cardiff Blues welcome back James Down, Alex Cuthbert and Lloyd Williams for Saturday's Pro12 clash with the Scarlets.
Cardiff Blues welcome back James Down, Alex Cuthbert and Lloyd Williams for Saturday's Pro12 clash with the Scarlets at Cardiff City Stadium.
Second row forward Down has recovered from a fracture dislocation of his ankle to make his first start since Racing Metro in November.
The Blues also welcome back Grand Slam heroes Cuthbert and Williams to the side following their heroics against France last Saturday.
Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins are both out with shoulder injuries while Leigh Halfpenny is out with a dead leg. Jamie Roberts has been rested while Bradley Davies is suspended.
On the pitch the Blues have lost just one home game in any competition since October and take on a Scarlets side who have won back to back matches in the PRO12, at home to Treviso and Connacht. It is a crucial game for both teams who are locked on 45 points, two points behind the play off places.
“The Scarlets have a good blend of youth and experience,” said Cardiff Blues backs coach Gareth Baber.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the Scarlets welcome back into their 22 Grand Slam heroes Matthew Rees, Ken Owens, Jon Davies and Scott Williams as well as Scottish wing Sean Lamont and England's number eight Ben Morgan.
They line-up within a strong Scarlets side with key regional players who have carried the mantle and taken the Scarlets regional campaign forward this season with the side captained by centre Gareth Maule.
“This is a key part of the season for us and all our players both regional and international, know and respect that and they're all keen to be involved and give everything to these crucial last five league games for us and our Amlin Cup quarter-final,” said Head of Scarlets Rugby, Nigel Davies
“We know we need to win every contest now in the final run-in for top four places and there can be no bigger games that the two contests we have with the Blues away this weekend and then back with us at Parc y Scarlets on May 5th.
“We are mindful of the intensity of the Six Nations and the players that have been in the national set-up now for the past 10 weeks and we will manage individual players in the best way possible.
“We also know that they are keen to pull their Scarlets shirts back on and commit to their regions – many of them have only played in 8 of our 28 competitive games this season and the boys at home have been stepping up and so there's more competition for places. All our players want to front up for the region now at such an important phase in our season, and that's great for the squad's development and to build strength in depth in our group.”
Form: Cardiff Blues have won just one of their last three games in the RaboDirect PRO12: 20-13 in Treviso on 3 March. The Blues have lost just one home game in any competition since October: 19-23 to Leinster at the City Stadium on 7 January. Blues' only win over a fellow Welsh region since December 2010 was 28-9 over the Dragons at the City Stadium on 23 December 2011. Scarlets have won back to back matches in the PRO12, at home to Treviso and Connacht. Scarlets have won just once away from home in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season: 10-6 at Newport Gwent Dragons on 30 December. The Llanelli based side are unbeaten against fellow Welsh regions this season. The two teams' only previous meeting this season came in the Anglo-Welsh Cup at the City Stadium, where Scarlets ran out 30-3 victors.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Xavier Rush (c), 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Michael Paterson, 5 James Down, 4 Macualey Cook, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Ryan Tyrell, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Marc Breeze , 17 Nathan Trevett, 18 Sam Hobbs, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Maama Molitika, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Chris Czekaj.
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Gareth Maule (capt), 12 Scott Williams, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dominic Day, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Phil John, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Kieran Murphy, 21 Liam Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Jon Davies.
Date: Saturday, March 24
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)