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Cardiff Blues

Preview: Cardiff Blues v Exeter

17th January 2014 09:27

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ROBIN COPELAND CARDIFF

Hard man top stop: Robin Copeland

Flanker Ellis Jenkins will make his first-ever Heineken Cup start as Cardiff Blues face Exeter Chiefs in a huge must-win European clash at Arms Park on Saturday.

Former Wales U20 captain Jenkins is one of four changes for Blues as they hunt a crucial win in the final game in Pool 2 to propel them into the last eight of European rugby this season.

Director of Rugby Phil Davies hands the captaincy to prop Sam Hobbs, with Wales international Gethin Jenkins (knee) ruled out.

Hobbs will pack down alongside hooker Kristian Dacey who has recovered from injury to be named in the starting line-up just days after agreeing a new long-term contract at Blues.

The final change to the team is a recall for experienced midfielder Dafydd Hewitt at inside centre where he will partner Gavin Evans.

"We've put ourselves in a strong position after five tough pool games and great credit must go to the players for some strong performances that have led us to this position," said Davies.

"However, the biggest challenge for the squad is in front of us this against Exeter. Only a big performance will be good enough to put us into the quarter-finals of Europe.

"Exeter Chiefs are a well organised side and have a talented squad that has been together as a unit for a long time. Rob Baxter will have his team highly motivated to finish the campaign strongly."

Meanwhile Exeter boss Rob Baxter has again tinkered with his squad, recalling Jack Yeandle, Dean Mumm, Dave Ewers and Don Armand to the pack.

Amongst the backs, Gareth Steenson comes in at fly-half meaning Henry Slade switches to the centre alongside Sam Hill. On the bench, former Cardiff players Ben White and Ceri Sweeney are included as is Jason Shoemark and James Phillips, the latter of whom is back following a short loan spell with the Cornish Pirates.

At Sandy Park in October, Baxter's men produced a devastating first 40 minutes to blow aside the Welsh region. Since that performance, Europe hasn't gone quite to plan for the Chiefs who have suffered double losses against both Glasgow Warriors and reigning champions Toulon.

"One of the big differences this year is that we have now had extra players who have come through full Heineken Cup campaigns. Guys like Jack Nowell and Dave Ewers, they hadn't done that last year. Also people like Damian Welch, he's had a full year; Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Moon (pictured), they've experienced playing at this level, so if you work your way through the team, we now have guys who have had some big game experience and they'll only get better for that."

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Chris Czekaj, 10 Gareth Davies, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Chris Dicomidis, 3 Benoit Bourrust, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs (c).
Replacements: 16 Marc Breeze, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Down, 20 Rory Watts-Jones, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Dan Fish, 23 Richard Smith

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Sam Hill, 12 Henry Slade, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (capt), 3 Alex Brown, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Carl Rimmer.
Replacements: 16 Greg Bateman, 17 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Ben White, 20 James Phillips, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Jason Shoemark.

Date: Saturday, January 18
Kick-off: 15:40 GMT
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Television match official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)

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Group B
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1Northampton29
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3Sale Sharks25
4London Irish21