Hooker Matthew Rees makes his eagerly-anticipated return to rugby as Cardiff Blues face Ulster in at the Arms Park on Saturday.
Inspirational hooker Matthew Rees makes his eagerly-anticipated return to rugby as Cardiff Blues face Ulster Rugby in at the Arms Park on Saturday.
Rees – affectionately known across the rugby world as Smiler – has been out of action since October having taking an enforced period away from the sport to receive cancer treatment.
But after being given the all-clear to return to full training last month, the former Wales' international is set for his first appearance in over five months after being named among the replacements to face high-flying Ulster.
Blues make a total of seven changes to the starting line-up that lost to Ospreys as they hunt a winning finale on home soil this season.
Samoa international centre Isaia Tuifua is called up to join forces with Cory Allen in midfield while Chris Czekaj is named on the wing. Harry Robinson misses the game after picking up an ankle injury against Ospreys.
Scrum-half Lewis Jones is handed a starting spot and will combine with Gareth Davies at half back.
Hooker Kristian Dacey and lock Lou Reed, who makes his 100th appearances in the PRO12, are the new faces in the front five.
The final change to the starting line-up sees Macauley Cook named at blindside flanker. Cook will join forces with Josh Navidi and Robin Copeland, who makes his 50th appearance for Blues, in the back row.
Rees, Thomas Davies and James Down are among those given a call-up to the replacements bench.
“We were not happy with the manner of last week's performance and we need to make sure we react in the right way. We have to do justice to the jersey, show how much last week hurt and perform in our final home game at the Arms Park,” said coach Dale McIntosh.
“We need to be mentally prepared and ready. We say goodbye to the Arms Park for another season and we do not want to end on a sour note.
“Every game is massive to me, you put in a huge effort and the best performance you possible can. But as our last game at the Arms Park we want to put in a big display for our fans.
“Having Matthew (Rees) back is a huge inspiration to us all,” he added. “I am sure he will get a fantastic reception and he is a humble lad who will deal with it and get on with it. But I know how keen he is to get back out on the field and get that Blues jersey on his back.”
Meanwhile, loosehead prop Tom Court will make his 150th appearance for Ulster.
Court starts in the front-row alongside hooker Rob Herring and tighthead prop John Afoa.
Johann Muller captains Ulster in the second-row where he is joined by Dan Tuohy, who makes his first start since breaking his arm playing for Ireland in February.
Stephen Ferris is picked at blindside, with Nick Williams named at number eight and Chris Henry, who is playing his first game for Ulster since winning the Six Nations with Ireland, selected at openside.
Andrew Trimble, also back for Ulster after Ireland's Six Nations win, starts on the left. Michael Heaney continues at scrum-half in place of the injured Ruan Pienaar.
Ulster Head Coach, Mark Anscombe, has picked six forwards on the bench. Rory Best and Roger Wilson are rested for the game.
Form: Cardiff Blues have lost their last five PRO12 matches equalling their worst ever run in the competition. The Blues only victory in their last nine fixtures with Irish provinces was 21-10 over Connacht at the Arms Park in round 2 this season. Ulster have won their last eight matches in all tournaments although their 9-3 victory at Edinburgh on Friday was only the third time in the history of the tournament that Ulster have won a game without scoring a try. The Ulstermen have lost on two of their last three visits to Wales whilst the Blues only victory in their last seven encounters with Ulster was 21-14 at the Arms Park in February 2012.
Cardiff: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Isaia Tuifua, 11 Chris Czekaj, 10 Gareth Davies, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Robin Copeland 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Down, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Simon Humberstone, 23 Gavin Evans
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Michael Heaney, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chis Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy , 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ricky Lutton 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Sean Doyle, 22 Paul Marshall, 23 Craig Gilroy
Date: Saturday 29th March
Venue: Arms Park
Kick-off: 1830 (local & GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Ita)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris, Sean Brickell (both Wal)
TMO: Huw Lewis (Wal)