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Luxury limo revs up for Cardiff and Wales

rugby player

By Graham Thomas

The player Cardiff Rugby coach Matt Sherratt described as a Rolls Royce will go through the gears for the first time in six months on Friday night.

Taulupe Faletau – who broke his arm playing for Wales at the World Cup – will make his comeback in the capital city region’s United Rugby Championship match against Ulster in Belfast.

It is a comeback that will be welcomed by Wales supporters as well as those of Cardiff, since the 33-year-old No.8 was a huge miss in the Six Nations.

Faletau’s absence opened the door for Mackenzie Martin to win his first caps during the tournament, but the 20-year-old regards his teammate as far more of a mentor than a rival.

“When I used to watch Wales on TV, Taulupe Faletau was always the guy my dad would point out and say he was amazing,” says Martin.

“I was too young to realise but as I got a bit older, he was always the one I modelled myself on.

“It’s just the way he works around the field, the way he carries himself. He’s got so much class, he’s an inspiration.”

The return of Faletau will bring huge experience as well as quality to Cardiff ranks and opens up  the prospect of the master and pupil playing in the same back row for both club and country.

DragonBet make Cardiff 7/2 underdogs to win at Ulster, but their chances of finishing higher up the URC tables are certainly improved by the presence of the Lions star.

With five rounds remaining, Cardiff currently lay 12th in the table, 11 points off the top eight play-off places.

The only one of the four Welsh regions to currently occupy a place in the top eight are the Ospreys, who are seventh.

Head coach Toby Booth earned plenty of praise for the way he guided his team to the last eight of the European Challenge Cup, before last week’s 23-13 defeat to Gloucester, but now the Englishman must switch his team’s focus back to ensuring they stay above the eighth-place dotted line.

On Saturday, the Ospreys are away in South Africa to play the Stormers, who are two places above them in fifth.

None of the Welsh regions have yet mastered the trick of getting on a plane, flying south, and performing on hard grounds, often at altitude, with much success.

The Ospreys – who leave Cape Town for a second match against the Bulls in Pretoria a week later – have only won once on South African soil and that was in Europe, rather than the URC.

But that victory – a 38-28 win over the Lions – was achieved on their most recent trip south in January.

Like Martin at Cardiff, the Ospreys youngsters such as Harri Deaves, Morgan Morse and Dan Edwards have all shown their promise this season but a tough assignment in the shadow of Table Mountain looks a difficult task.

“What we’ve done is try and be innovative and it’s allowed us to punch above our weight and be resilient,” says Booth.

“Don’t get me wrong, there have been times where we’ve hung on by the skin of our teeth because of injuries. The big issue is squad size.”

Dragonbet have the Ospreys at an attractive-looking 11/1 to beat the Stormers on Saturday.

Whilst both the Ospreys and Cardiff are looking upwards at targets to aim for, the Dragons and Scarlets are way off the pace.

Both regions have difficult-looking away trips on Saturday night, with the Dragons in Italy to face Treviso, whilst the Scarlets are in Edinburgh.

Both the Dragons and the Scarlets have won just three matches out of 13 in the URC and both could yet finish bottom of the table if Zebre Parma get their act together.

The Dragons beat Parma in their last URC match at the end of March, but before that they had lost their previous five.

Benetton are having a strong campaign and currently stand fifth in the table, while the Dragons are yet to win away from Rodney Parade this season.

The Dragons are a 6/1 shot with DragonBet to end that sequence by beating Benetton on Saturday.

The Scarlets have had a desperately disappointing campaign and their mood cannot have been improved by the news that Ken Owens – their inspirational hooker and long-time captain – will not be pulling on their red jersey again.

Owens has announced his retirement which, together with announced departures at the end of the season, adds to the sense that the Scarlets are in major rebuild mode.

Head coach Dwayne Peel wants his youngsters to look to Owens as an example to follow.

“If ever the young players at the club wanted a role model for their professional career, they should look to Ken Owens. He is someone who is going to leave a massive hole and he will be missed by everyone here at Parc y Scarlets, his team-mates, coaches and all the staff,” says Peel.

DragonBet make the Scarlets big 10/1 outsiders to win at Edinburgh.

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