Cardiff Blues kick off their Guinness PRO14 campaign with the unenviable task of travelling to Isuzu Southern Kings, with both sides eager to prove a point in Round One.
John Mulvihill begins the second season of his tenure looking to get back to winning ways in Port Elizabeth, with the Blues having ended 2018-19 with three defeats.
The Australian has named an experienced squad for the tie which contains more than 800 Cardiff appearances between them, with Nick Williams taking on the captaincy.
And despite Southern Kings only recording two wins from 21 Conference B games last time out, they will be hoping for a strong start having welcomed a number of new recruits during the off-season, and enjoyed warm-up matches against the likes of Georgia and Namibia.
Interim head coach Robbi Kempson has named six Guinness PRO14 debutants in his XV, which features an exciting blend of youth and experience.
Kick-off: NMB Stadium, Port Elizabeth | 15:00 (UK), 16:00 (SA) Saturday 28 September
How to watch: NMB Stadium, Port Elizabeth | Live on Super Sport, eir Sport, Premier Sports, DAZN – Broadcast partners
Players to watch out for: JC Astle (Isuzu Southern Kings) and Jarrod Evans (Cardiff Blues)
Following Mike Willemse’s departure to Edinburgh, skipper Astle is now firmly the man in charge at the NMB stadium and his new-look team will need all of his leadership and bravery if they are going to be successful this season.
After agonisingly missing out on Wales selection for the Rugby World Cup, Blues fans will be hoping Evans can channel all his frustration into pulling the strings from fly-half and steering their side to victory.
Key stat: Isuzu Southern Kings have only won one game out of 12 against Welsh regions and have lost both of their two meetings with Cardiff Blues.
Isuzu Southern Kings: Andell Loubser, Christopher Hollis, Howard Mnisi, John-Thomas Jackson, Yaw Penxe, Demetri Catrakilis, Stefan Ungerer; Alulutho Tshakweni, Alandre van Rooyen, Pieter Scholtz, Jerry Sexton, John-Charles Astle (C), Martinus Burger, Arthur de Wee, Lusanda Badiyana
Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Xandre Vos, Rossouw De Klerk, Aston Fortuin, Elrigh Louw, Josh Allderman, Bader Pretorius, Sibusiso Sithole
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Jason Harries, Garyn Smith, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams (C)
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski, Scott Andrews, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Will Boyde, Lewis Jones, Jason Tovey, Harri Millard
Harri Millard’s late try inspired Cardiff Blues to an unconvincing victory over a strong-willed Isuzu Southern Kings side in Port Elizabeth.
The hosts took a 13-5 lead into the interval as they chased a first-ever victory over their ill-disciplined Welsh opponents, and led with 15 minutes to go.
But despite struggling to gain control of the match throughout, the Blues rallied to get their season underway with a vital win.
The Blues had lost their previous three Guinness PRO14 games and made a nervous start, Seb Davies conceding an early penalty which allowed Demetri Catrakilis to kick the Southern Kings’ first points of the new campaign.
Cardiff duly responded with Olly Robinson powering over in the corner, but another careless penalty almost instantaneously allowed Catrakilis to restore the hosts’ lead.
The ill-discipline continued from the visitors, and Tienie Burger made a sustained period of pressure count, going over shortly after Jarrod Evans had been sent to the sin-bin.
The Southern Kings couldn’t make their two-man advantage count ahead of the break after Nick Williams was penalised for a high tackle, and the Blues carried late momentum into the second half, with Liam Belcher pulling his side to within a point of their opponents.
But the home side weren’t ready to lie down, Jacques du Toit capitalising on a lost Blues lineout to set up Stefan Ungerer for a fine breakaway try.
Matthew Morgan set up a tense finish for the Southern Kings with Cardiff’s third try of the match, and scores from Kristian Dacey and Millard seemed to have put the visitors on course for victory.
Andell Loubser restored Southern Kings’ hope with a late score, but with both sides temporarily down to 14 men, the Blues clung on to victory.
Skipper JC Astle led from the front for a spirited Southern Kings side but couldn’t quite inspire his team to their first Guinness PRO14 victory since January.
Fullback Morgan was impressive for Cardiff, gathering several loose balls, deputising with the boot during Evans’ absence, and grabbing a crucial score to help his team to victory.
The Blues were guilty of conceding too many chances from their own lineouts throughout the match, and the hosts broke away in style to punish John Mulvihill’s side early in the second half.
Lusanda Badiyana’s offload fed du Toit who cleverly picked out Ungerer. The 25-year-old successfully evaded two defenders to go over and stretch Southern Kings’ advantage.
Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!
General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.