Ellis Jenkins returns to captain Cardiff Blues as they kick-off their Guinness PRO14 campaign against reigning champions Leinster at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday night (7.35pm).
Jenkins, who was named club captain last month, is one of four players to come straight back into competitive action with Rey Lee-Lo, Kristian Dacey and Nick Williams also handing the Blues a boost with their first appearances of the season.
Jason Harries, Rory Thornton and Dmitri Arhip all make their PRO14 debuts for the region following their summer moves to Cardiff Arms Park.
Head coach John Mulvihill admits Leinster – the PRO14 and European champions – present a formidable challenge but it is one Wales’ Capital Region are relishing and he is counting down the minutes until the mouth-watering clash.
He said: “It is a great way for us to kick-off the season – the European Challenge Cup champions against the PRO14 and Champions Cup winners. It promises to be an awesome occasion in Cardiff and we cannot wait to get started.
“You have to play the best and it will be a massive challenge but if you saw the way these boys finished last season, they love a challenge and that will certainly be coming at us on Friday night.
“We’ve had two solid pre-season games without being outstanding so it’s about us learning from those two experiences and making sure we get things right on Friday.
“It’s good to get some of our more experienced players back and the boys have trained really well this week.”
While Cardiff Blues finished the season in style last season, winning 11 of their last 13 matches, they paid for a slow start to the campaign.
That ultimately led to them narrowly missing out on the play-offs and they are acutely aware that they must make a positive start to the season to close the gap.
Mulvihill added: “Our bread and butter is the PRO14 and we didn’t make the finals last year.
“You have to be top three to make the play-offs and we want to play finals rugby in this competition so we need to start well.
“I could give you our three-year plan or our five-year plan but we also have a one-week plan and if we keep looking at it that way round then we will get to where we want to be.”
Cardiff Blues team to face Leinster: M Morgan; J Harries, W Halaholo, R Lee-Lo, O Lane; J Evans, L Williams; B Thyer, K Dacey, D Arhip, S Davies, R Thornton, J Turnbull, E Jenkins, N Williams.
Replacements: R Gill, E Lewis, S Andrews, G Earle, O Robinson, T Williams, S Shingler, G Smith.