Challenge Cup: Vaea Fifita at number eight for Scarlets against Glasgow Warriors while Cheslin Kolbe set to shine at full-back for Toulon
The Challenge Cup semi-finals take place this weekend as Scarlets take on Glasgow Warriors on Saturday before Toulon face Benetton on Sunday.
Take a check over the team news and our predictions for two fascinating contests, which take place at Parc y Scarlets and Stade Felix Mayol respectively.
Scarlets v Glasgow Warriors
Scarlets have recalled four internationals to their starting line-up for the Challenge Cup semi-final with Glasgow Warriors at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
Johnny McNicholl, Gareth Davies, Wyn Jones and Sam Lousi are straight into the XV for the Welsh region’s first European last-four tie on home soil.
With a crowd close to 13,000 expected in Llanelli it promises to be a massive occasion for Dwayne Peel and his side.
McNicholl starts at full-back, with Steff Evans and Ryan Conbeer making up the rest of the back three. Johnny Williams and Joe Roberts continue in midfield, while Gareth Davies returns to the number nine jersey to partner Sam Costelow.
Up front, Wales and British & Irish Lions prop Wyn Jones gets the nod at loosehead and packs down alongside fellow Lion Ken Owens and Scotland international Javan Sebastian.
After sitting out the last two games, Sam Lousi is named in the second-row, as is Morgan Jones.
There is a reshuffle in the back-row. Josh Macleod leads the side from blindside, Vaea Fifita is handed the number eight jersey for the first time this season, while Dan Davis makes his return from injury at openside.
Aaron Shingler hasn’t recovered from a back issue so Iestyn Rees is named among the replacements.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Cancelliere will make his return from injury as the Warriors take to the field for the club’s first-ever European semi-final.
The Argentinian winger returns to take his place in a starting XV that will also see Richie Gray make his 100th appearance in Glasgow colours, the second-rower reaching the milestone 14 years on from his professional debut for his hometown club.
Having come off the bench in last weekend’s victory over Connacht, Jamie Bhatti and Zander Fagerson are promoted to the starting line-up to pack down either side of George Turner, who returns from injury to start at hooker.
Scott Cummings is selected to partner Gray on the latter’s landmark appearance, having reached his own century in the Challenge Cup round-of-16 victory over the Dragons at Scotstoun.
An unchanged back-row sees Jack Dempsey continue at number eight, the Scotland international flanked by Rory Darge and Sione Vailanu.
George Horne starts at scrum-half having scored more points than any other Warrior in the Challenge Cup to date, with Tom Jordan partnering the former Howe of Fife man in the half-backs.
Sione Tuipulotu comes back into the matchday 23 after missing the last two matches, Stafford McDowall shifting to inside centre to accommodate the Scotland star.
Kyle Steyn captains the side from the wing after being rested last time out, as Ollie Smith and the returning Cancelliere complete the back-three.
The tournament’s joint-top try-scorer takes his place amongst the replacements for Franco Smith’s men, as Johnny Matthews joins Nathan McBeth and Simon Berghan as the front-row cover.
JP du Preez continues his run of being involved in every one of the club’s Challenge Cup matches to date in the 2022/23 season, whilst Lewis Bean wears the number 20 jersey in a six-two split of forwards and backs.
Matt Fagerson is included in the matchday 23 for the fourth match in succession, as Ali Price rotates to the bench after starting against Connacht last weekend.
The matchday 23 is completed by Duncan Weir, the fly-half having slotted the match-winning penalty in the round one win away to Bath at The Rec back in December.
Prediction: Glasgow by 3
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Steff Evans, 13 Joe Roberts, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Vaea Fifita, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Josh Macleod (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Morgan Jones, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Shaun Evans, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Carwyn Tuipulotu, 20 Iestyn Rees, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Ioan Nicholas
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Kyle Steyn (c), 10 Tom Jordan, 9 George Horne, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Sione Vailanu, 6 Rory Darge, 5 Richie Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Jamie Bhatti
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Lewis Bean, 21 Matt Fagerson, 22 Ali Price, 23 Duncan Weir
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Kick-off: 17:30 BST (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Tual Trainini (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)
Toulon v Benetton
Toulon have named a fully-loaded team for their Challenge Cup semi-final with Benetton, with Springbok Cheslin Kolbe starting at full-back on Sunday.
Kolbe is joined in the back three by Jiuta Naqoli Wainiqolo and France international Gabin Villière, with Benetton set to have their hands full defensively.
Duncan Paia’aua and Waisea Vuidravuwalu start in midfield with Baptiste Serin at scrum-half alongside Wales fly-half Dan Biggar in a solid combination.
The pack is just as impressive as Italy great Sergio Parisse is at number eight alongside France star Charles Ollivon and the powerful Cornell du Preez.
Mathieu Tanguy and Brian Alainu’uese are the locks while props Dany Priso and Beka Gigashvili will pack down either side of hooker Teddy Baubigny.
Benetton aren’t to be written off, however, as their recent form has shown they can prove a match for any team, with Dewaldt Duvenage the skipper.
The South African is joined at half-back by Tomas Albornoz with Italy internationals Tommaso Menoncello and Nacho Brex the midfield at Stade Mayol.
An Englishman and South African combine on the wings as Marcus Watson and Rhyno Smith start, with lethal Azzurri star Matteo Minozzi at full-back.
Up front, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro and Simone Ferrari join hooker Siua Maile in the front-row while Niccolò Cannone and Federico Ruzza are the locks.
An all-international back-row trio of Seb Negri, Michele Lamaro and Lorenzo Cannone complete the starting line-up, with Henry Stowers on the bench.
Prediction: Toulon by 10
Toulon: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Jiuta Naqoli Wainiqolo, 13 Waisea Vuidravuwalu, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Gabin Villière, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Charles Ollivon (c), 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Brian Alainu’uese, 4 Mathieu Tanguy, 3 Beka Gigashvili, 2 Teddy Baubigny, 1 Dany Priso
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Bruce Devaux, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Adrien Warion, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Benoit Paillaugue, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Jérémy Sinzelle
Benetton: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Nacho Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (c), 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro, 6 Seb Negri Da Oleggio, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Siua Maile, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Giacomo Nicotera, 17 Thomas Augustin Gallo, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Henry Stowers, 21 Manuel Zuliani, 22 Alessandro Garbisi, 23 Jacob Umaga
Venue: Stade Felix-Mayol
Kick-off: 13:30 local (12:30 BST, 11:30 GMT)
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
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