BLOEMFONTEIN – Gareth Anscombe will captain Cardiff Blues against hosts Toyota Cheetahs in a crucial Pro14 fixture at Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
The Blues head into the game on the back of eight consecutive victories in domestic and European competition and a win would put pressure on the South African-outfit, as the race for the Pro14 play-offs.
The 26-year-old Anscombe replaces Jarrod Evans at outside half for the Toyota Stadium clash, and he has previous experience of playing at the Bloemfontein venue following his time in Super Rugby with Chiefs.
Anscombe is part of a new-look half-back partnership, with Lloyd Williams introduced to the starting XV as one of 11 changes from last week’s Challenge Cup quarterfinal win over Edinburgh.
Elsewhere in the backs, Matthew Morgan and Garyn Smith, who were unused replacements at BT Murrayfield last week, are recalled, while Alex Cuthbert returns from injury to take his place on the wing.
The Welsh international is looking to finish the season on a high, ahead of a summer move to Aviva Premiership champions, Exeter Chiefs.
Seven changes are made in the pack, with last week’s man-of-the-match, Josh Navidi, retaining his place in the back row. He moves to number eight and is joined by openside Olly Robinson, who recovers from a short-term injury lay-off, and Macauley Cook, who edges closer to his 150th appearance for the region.
Seb Davies and Damian Welch combine in the second row, while Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill and Anton Peikrishvili are given the nod in the front row.
As the season draws to a close, and the Blues remaining competitive in both the PRO14 and Challenge Cup, Wilson believes it’s crucial to manage his squad over the next month, and is aware of the travel and climate challenges facing his side at Bloemfontein.
"We’ll keep taking it game-by-game because I don’t think you can plan much further ahead than that," said Wilson. "But you certainly have to keep one eye on the fact that there is a semifinal around the corner, after two games in South Africa. You have to manage your squad for that type of challenge.
"You have to find the balance, with that headache - albeit a nice headache - of thinking about the semifinal as well. The travel element will take out of the recovery of a couple of players and therefore we haven’t risked on them.
"It’s also the fall out of the game we had last week. Winning an away quarterfinal against a side like Edinburgh was quite an achievement, but we had a pretty battled and bruised squad after the game.
"We’ve had a tough run of games recently, and played a lot of top sides, and it’s going to take its toll, but the important thing now is to manage the squad correctly going into the last few games of the season.
"We’ve obviously done our fair bit of research into the travel and how to reduce the effect of travel, then obviously playing at altitude, which we will do in the first game, and we won’t have a huge amount of time to climatise to that."
The Cardiff Blues team:
15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Owen Lane, 10 Gareth Anscombe (c), 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Rhys Gill
Subs: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Rey Lee-Lo
African News Agency (ANA)