Preview: Cardiff Blues v Ulster

Date published: December 2 2016

Gethin Jenkins and Sam Warburton return to the Cardiff Blues starting line-up to face Ulster at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday.

The duo are two of five changes to the side that slipped to a frustrating defeat to Connacht in Galway last weekend.

Blaine Scully switches to full-back in the absence of Dan Fish with Alex Cuthbert coming into the starting line-up. Lloyd Williams also returns from international duty. 

Up front Taufa'ao Filise steps up from the bench to join Jenkins and Warburton in the pack. Wales' Capital Region won the corresponding fixture last season and face an Ulster team that has lost their last three PRO12 encounters and saw last week's fixture against Zebre postponed.

Blues head coach Danny Wilson said: "We beat Ulster at home last season in quite an exciting game and I envisage something similar on Saturday evening.

"They would have wanted that game last week and are coming into this after three weeks off but they have a star-studded team and their internationals back. They have some real quality.

"We're disappointed we didn't pick up anything in Connacht, we certainly created enough opportunities and dropped the ball twice over the line which could have won the game.

"But one thing we improved was our defence. We've spent a lot of time on it in the last couple of weeks and we defended extremely well. 

"If we can see that at home and add to our attacking game on our surface it should be an exciting game."

Meanwhile, Ulster boss Les Kiss named a strong matchday squad for this encounter.

Stuart McCloskey will make his first appearance for the province since September, after overcoming a foot injury he sustained in the PRO12 win against Glasgow.

The Bangor man will be joined in midfield by fellow Irish international Luke Marshall, while Ruan Pienaar and Brett Herron will continue their half back partnership. The experienced trio of Tommy Bowe, Craig Gilroy and Charles Piutau will occupy the back three positions.

Chris Henry will make his first appearance of the season following his selection at openside flanker. Iain Henderson, who featured prominently in Ireland's success in the November series, is selected in the number six jersey. Sean Reidy is the other loose forward included by Kiss, meaning all three back row players are capped by Ireland.

Pete Browne and Franco van der Merwe have been paired together in the second row, with captain Rob Herring set to be joined in the front row by props Kyle McCall and Wiehahn Herbst.

John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Rodney Ah You, Kieran Treadwell and Clive Ross will provide forward cover from the bench, while Paul Marshall, Louis Ludik and Darren Cave are listed as the backline replacements.

Form: Cardiff Blues have won just one of their last five PRO12 matches: 34 – 28 in Treviso in Round 8. The Blues have lost their last two home games in the Championship, to Leinster and to Scarlets, but have not lost three in a row in the Championship at Cardiff Arms Park since the start of the 2014/15 campaign. Ulster have lost their last three PRO12 fixtures and have not been defeated in four successive matches in the Championship since 2011. The Ulstermen have not won away from home since defeating Glasgow at Scotstoun at the end of September. The Ulstermen have won their last four encounters with Welsh Regions. Each side won its respective home game when the two teams clashed last season whilst Ulster have been successful in Cardiff on two of their last four visits.

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Blaine Scully, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steve Shingler, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c) 
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 Macauley Cook, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Nicky Robinson, 23 Matthew Morgan

Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Brett Herron, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Kyle McCall 
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Louis Ludik, 23 Darren Cave

Date: Saturday, December 3
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Aled Evans (Wales)
TMO: Charles Samson (Scotland)