Cardiff Blues have made eight changes as they kick-off their European Challenge Cup campaign against Rugby Calvisano on Saturday (KO 2.30pm local)
It will be the first time the Blues have played in the competition since lifting the trophy in Bilbao in 2018, and they travel to Pata Stadium with a blend of youth and experience.
Josh Turnbull captains the side with Kirby Myhill, Keiron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, James Botham and Lewis Jones all making this first starts of the season.
There are also three debutants on the replacements bench with Will Davies-King, James Ratti and Ben Thomas all in line for their first senior appearances for Wales’ Capital Region.
Twenty-two of the match-day 23 are Welsh qualified with 16 progressing through the Cardiff Blues pathway and academy system.
Head coach John Mulvihill said: “We have picked a strong squad with a real mix of youth and experience with others getting their first opportunity to start this season.
“It is vitally important that we get some continuity and build momentum going into next week against Leicester Tigers, while giving some players a rest and others a chance to stake a claim.
“It’s also brilliant to name some exciting youngsters on the bench in Will Davies-King, James Ratti, who joined Cardiff RFC from the Ospreys in the summer, Ben Thomas and Alun Lawrence, who made his senior debut last week.”
The Blues go into the encounter after a hard-fought victory over Toyota Cheetahs, which put their Guinness PRO14 campaign back on track following four consecutive losses.
They have faced Rugby Calvisano on six previous occasions in Europe and have prevailed every time and while Mulvihill is not underestimating the Italian opposition, he knows it is an opportunity to build energy and momentum.
He added: “Calvisano have earned the right to be in this competition and we certainly won’t take them lightly. We have done a lot of homework on them and their last three games in particular.
“Every team has strengths and weaknesses, which we have identified, and they have a number of players who have had recent PRO14 experience with Zebre.
“They have a massive pack with a strong mauling game, and they win a lot of penalties from their scrum, while they also have some dangerous targets in the backs. This is the biggest game of their season so they will have no shortage of motivation and there will be a lot of excitement in the stadium.
“But we’ve also really focused in on ourselves this week and while we know we cannot take anything for granted, it is vital that we get off to a positive start in the competition.
“We were really pleased to get the win last week and we felt much more like ourselves in large areas of the game. There are still areas we need to improve and now in a new competition we need to continue that and build some confidence.”
Cardiff Blues will be hosting Leicester Tigers at the Welsh capital next week, as the sides meet for the first time in Europe since the infamous penalty shoot out in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Harri Millard; Jarrod Evans, Lewis Jones; Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill, Keiron Assiratti, Josh Turnbull (capt), Macauley Cook, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Seb Davies
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Rhys Gill, Will Davies-King, James Ratti, Alun Lawrence, Lloyd Williams, Dan Fish, Ben Thomas
European rugby returns to the Welsh capital on Saturday, November 23. It's a re-match of the infamous 2009 Heineken Cup semi final, as Cardiff Blues and Leicester Tigers write a new chapter in their long-standing European rivalry. Make sure you head down to CAP for what should be a stunning night of European rugby. Tickets available NOW!