Blog Banner

Jenkins named captain as Cardiff host defending champions for European opener

First Team News | 10th December 2021

Ellis Jenkins will captain Cardiff on Saturday as they welcome defending European champions Stade Toulousain to Cardiff Arms Park for the Heineken Champions Cup opener (KO 1.00pm).

The Blue and Blacks’ preparations for the encounter were disrupted as 42 players and staff were forced to quarantine upon their return from a recent URC trip to South Africa.

As a result, acting head coach Gruff Rees, who is assisted by former Welsh internationals T Rhys Thomas and Richie Rees, has been forced to call upon a combination of Premiership players, the academy’s promising youngsters and Wales internationals, who did not travel to the Rainbow Nation following the recent Autumn Nations Series campaign.

A total of 11 players included in the matchday 23 are in-line to make their competitive first team debut on Saturday. 15 of those involved are products of the club’s pathway system, including seven of the starting pack.

Having been denied the opportunity over the autumn due to injury, Josh Adams will start in the number 13 jersey, making his own bow on European rugby’s top table.

The British and Irish Lion is joined in the midfield by fellow Welsh international, Willis Halaholo, while Tomos Williams and Jason Tovey link up to steer play as half backs

Two academy members are handed debuts in the backline, with Jacob Beetham lining up at full back and former Glantaf and Plasmawr pupil Theo Cabango named on the wing.

The exciting duo, who are joined by the experienced Dan Fish in the back three, have impressed in their debut campaign for the Rags this season.

Skipper Jenkins will wear the number six jersey for Saturday’s highly-anticipated clash, as Olly Robinson returns to the openside to make his first competitive appearance of the season.

Wales star James Botham, who has recently been sidelined with shoulder and heel injuries, completes the back row.

Academy graduates Alun Lawrence and Seb Davies combine in the boiler room. Aberavon loosehead prop, Rowan Jenkins, who has previous professional experience with Ospreys, joins Iestyn Harris and Will Davies-King in the front row to complete the pack.

Academy manager, Rees, said: “Our thoughts are with the playing and the staff who have had to endure such difficult times upon their return from South Africa. We're trying to give them as much support as possible and we feel the best support we can give them is to give them a boost this week with putting our best foot forward.

“It’s a challenge but we want to see the opportunity that goes with it, the excitement that young players will get an opportunity that perhaps in normal circumstances they may not have for six months, nine months or a year or so.

"So that gives them a chance to really have a crack against the best in the business and we can't hide away from the fact that it could be a daunting task, but one that actually can bring the best out of everyone who's remaining here.

"That's one of the exciting features for all of us involved, really - young players coming in making their debut; people like Theo Cabango, Jacob Beetham - to thrive off the support of the crowd.

"We really need that 16th man mentality to get behind us, get a bit of atmosphere, promote a style of play where we want to play some good rugby on the day and I think we've looked at that sort of opportunity with the players and the senior boys are excited around that.

"Ellis [Jenkins], Josh [Adams] have been part of the whole process and thinking that they can lead something special and it may not be in terms of a winning performance - that might be well beyond us. But we'll do our damnedest to play some real good rugby and bring some.

“Talk about strength through unity - it's all of us tying together: players, staff, supporters - we can have a great day of Cardiff rugby."

The entire bench is set to make their senior professional debuts against the reigning European champions.

Cardiff RFC hooker, Evan Yardley, Cardiff Met’s Joe Cowell and Aberavon tighthead, Geraint James provide front row cover on the bench.

Academy youngsters Rhys Anstey, Ethan Lloyd, Ioan Evans and Ryan Wilkins are also amongst the replacements, with Alex Everett, who has impressed for the Rags, completing the matchday 23.

Cardiff Rugby: Jacob Beetham; Theo Cabango, Josh Adams, Willis Halaholo, Dan Fish; Jason Tovey, Tomos Williams; Rowan Jenkins, Iestyn Harris, Will Davies-King, Alun Lawrence, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins (capt.), Olly Robinson, James Botham

Replacements: Evan Yardley, Joe Cowell, Geraint James, Rhys Anstey, Alex Everett, Ethan Lloyd, Ioan Evans, Ryan Wilkins

Player Unavailable for Selection

Forwards: Brad Thyer, Theo Bevacqua, Corey Domachowski, Rhys Carré, Liam Belcher, Kristian Dacey, Kirby Myhill, Dmitri Arhip, Keiron Assiratti, Scott Andrews, Matthew Screech, Rory Thornton, Teddy Williams, Will Boyde, Gwilym Bradley, Josh Turnbull, James Ratti, Shane Lewis-Hughes;

Backs: Lloyd Williams, Ellis Bevan, Jamie Hill, Jarrod Evans, Rhys Priestland, Ben Thomas, Max Llewellyn, Garyn Smith, Harri Millard, Jason Harries, Aled Summerhill, Owen Lane, Hallam Amos, Matthew Morgan.

 Unavailable due to injury or suspension: Rey Lee-Lo, Dillon Lewis, Josh Navidi, Mason Grady, Luke Scully, Sam Moore, Efan Daniel, Ben Burnell, Cameron Winnett, Gwilym Evans