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Warburton set for 100th Guinness PRO12 Cardiff Blues appearance in Welsh derby

Sam Warburton

It may be Boxing Day but there will be no bloated Christmas hangover at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on Monday, as Cardiff Blues welcome near-neighbours Newport Gwent Dragons to the capital for a festive feast of Guinness PRO12 entertainment.

Blues come into the game having won just once in their last five matches in all competitions, with their last Guinness PRO12 victory coming at Treviso on November 4.

Meanwhile Dragons have won two of their last three in the competition, beating defending champions Connacht in Round 8, before downing Edinburgh in their next game.

What’s at stake?

Apart from the south east Wales bragging rights, vital Guinness PRO12 points are up for grabs.

Blues – fresh from the news their coach Danny Wilson will head on tour with the national side next summer – currently sit seventh in the table.

Wilson’s side won their first four domestic fixtures this season, but have gone on to lose five of the next six, so will hope to be turn their form around and begin a march back up the standings.

Dragons, meanwhile, come into the game in form having beaten the sides directly above and below them in the table, in recent weeks.

But the ninth-placed side have not won on the road since beating Gloucester at Kingsholm in the quarter-finals of last season’s European Challenge Cup, so will also be motivated to arrest that losing streak.

Team News (Cardiff Blues)

Not only is this clash a local derby, but the game also sees Sam Warburton make his 100th appearance for Blues in the Guinness PRO12.

The 28-year-old made his debut for the region in 2009 but has taken his time to rack up a century, due mainly to international commitments.

But the back rower signed a new deal with Blues recently, committing his future to the club and the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park faithful will be looking forward to many more pivotal performances from Warburton in a blue shirt.

Elsewhere in Wilson’s starting XV, Scott Andrews steps up from the bench, while Gethin Jenkins’ absence continues but Kristian Dacey, Nick Williams, Tom James and Alex Cuthbert all return to the starting lineup.

Team News (Newport Gwent Dragons)

Kingsley Jones has made five changes to the team that beat Worcester Warriors in European action last weekend.

The most prominent changes see Cory Hill and Tyler Morgan return to the starting XV, while Tom Prydie moves back from the wing to full-back.

Pat Howard – Dragons’ leading try scorer – also returns, as does hooker Thomas Rhys Thomas, while Rynard Landman returns to partner Hill in the second row.

In the back row, Dragons skipper Lewis Evans moves to flanker as Ed Jackson comes back in at No.8, with Ollie Griffiths completing the trio.

Talking points

Which Welsh region will end their rotten run of form against their rivals on Boxing Day?

Dragons have played two regional fixtures so far this season, losing both, and are without a win against Welsh opposition since the 2014-15 season.

While Blues’ Wales derby form may not be quite so lacklustre, three losses against Welsh opposition on the spin will leave their fans wanting a result.

Can they give centurion Warburton a late Christmas present? Or will the Dragons drought finally end? Whatever happens, it won’t come easily.

Key Battle: Tom James v Pat Howard

Both men are the primary source of scores for their region this season, with James scoring six Guinness PRO12 tries for Blues, while Howard has dotted down four times in the league.

Howard’s return for Dragons will add some extra potency and finishing nous to their back line, while Tom James also returns to the starting XV after missing the Blues’ European loss to Bath last week.

With both players back in action, the supply to the wings will be key and the men regulating that, Steven Shingler and Angus O’Brien, will also have their own say on the outcome.

Both players are their region’s leading-point scorer, so whoever has the best day could well see their side coming away with the win.

Key Stat: Cardiff Blues have lost just once to Newport Gwent Dragons at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park since 2003; on Boxing Day 2014.

Lions Contenders:

A former Lions captain, Sam Warburton will be hoping to make it onto a second Tour next summer, and teammate Alex Cuthbert will be hopeful of the same.

Did you know?

Dragons have lost their last eleven encounters against fellow Welsh regions in the Championship.

 

Blues’ top points scorer: Steven Shingler – 57

Top try scorer: Tom James – 6

Dragons’ top points scorer: Angus O’Brien – 46

Top try scorer: Pat Howard – 4

 

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record: Played 26, Blues won 18, Dragons won 8.

 

At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 2.05pm
Live on BBC Wales
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 32nd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas, Sean Brickell (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Jeff Mark (WRU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)

Match Stats - Lineups