Danny Wilson’s Cardiff Blues finished last year’s Guinness PRO12 with a flourish and he has named 14 internationals in the side which will take on Edinburgh Rugby on Saturday.
Ellis Jenkins skippers the side which welcomes Alan Solomons’ men to the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park after making his Wales debut in New Zealand this summer.
The Blues started slowly last year, losing seven of their first eight Guinness PRO12 encounters, but with a team including Tom James, new No.8 Nick Williams and Cory Allen, they are confident of downing Edinburgh.
“It will be a tough first game but because it’s at home and with the form we had last year hopefully we will start with a bang,” Wilson said.
“We won 80 per cent of our home games last year. We will be looking to start this season with a good performance which will also hopefully lead to a win.
“But Edinburgh have recruited well, they have a very big pack of forwards and are one of the sides in this league that play a set-piece dominant style of rugby.
“Our international players have only been back for a short period of time so there’s a responsibility to make sure they are not just going from game to a break and back into a game.We’ve tried to make sure every player has had a window of pre-season.”
Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Anscombe and Matthew Morgan are primed to make an impact from the bench against a strong Edinburgh side.
Scotland outside-half Duncan Weir starts his first Guinness PRO12 game for the Capital side after a summer move from rivals Glasgow Warriors.
Talismanic skipper Grant Gilchrist returns to the side, while Scottish hooker Ross Ford – who missed out on Scotland’s Test series with Japan with a calf strain – starts his 149th game for the club.
Former Ulster back Rory Scholes starts on the wing, with young back-rower Jamie Ritchie picked at blindside flanker.
Solomons said: “The pre season is now behind us and we are all looking forward to the start of the competition.
“Cardiff away is a tough opening fixture and we know that we will have to be at our best on Saturday.”
At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 7.35pm. Live on S4C/BBC Alba
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 54th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU), Rhys Thomas (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Jeff Mark (WRU)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
Nick Williams proved a smash hit in the opening game of his Cardiff Blues career as the former Ulster No.8 scored the decisive second-half try in a 34-16 victory over Edinburgh.
Williams would have been a sure-fire contender for man of the match without his try after delivering a ball-carrying masterclass.
Tomos Williams followed him over in the latter stages to bag the bonus point, while another new arrival in Steven Shingler crossed over in the first half as part of an impressive 15-point haul.
It was nip and tuck before the break – with Shingler and a penalty try keeping the scoreline in check after Edinburgh summer signings Duncan Weir and Solomoni Rasolea racked up their points.
Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons opted to start five of his new arrivals – all of them slotting into the back-line – and it was new signing Weir who struck first.
The visitors applied early pressure in the scrum and when the Blues were pinged, Weir calmly knocked over the second-minute penalty.
However, opposing fly-half Shingler also swapped clubs over the break and he gave the crowd a glimpse of what he could do after his neat show-and-go saw him storm over the try-line.
The former Scarlet then knocked over the conversion to hand the Blues a 7-3 lead with seven minutes gone, though he missed a penalty attempt moments later.
Solomons’ new signings continued to have the desired impact as this time inside centre Rasolea ran an incisive line to open up the hosts’ defence and breeze over.
Weir promptly added the extras and he wound up his boot to smack a superb 50-metre penalty between the posts soon after.
Then Williams, who left Ulster after four years of shuddering carries, carried deep into Edinburgh territory before forcing a penalty that saw Shingler reduce the deficit back to three.
And the home side restored their lead after Shingler kicked a penalty into touch an irrepressible rolling maul yielded a penalty try.
The lead stayed at 17-13 heading into the break after another long-range effort from Weir failed to find the target.
With Wales coach Warren Gatland looking on from the stands, the Blues drew first blood in the second half through another Shingler penalty.
But Edinburgh set up camp in the opposite half until the home side’s defence finally gave away to give Weir a successful shot at goal.
It was on the hour mark that a decisive gap finally opened up – Williams the wrecking ball scooped up from the ruck and bundled over from close range following heavy pressure.
Replacement Gareth Anscombe’s conversion then left Edinburgh staring up at an 11-point gap with a quarter left to play.
The momentum remained with the hosts and in the 70th minute, the last shred of doubt over the outcome was eliminated when scrum-half Williams sniped over from the base of a ruck for the bonus-point try.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
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