Connacht go in search of their first ever away win over the Cardiff Blues, determined to maintain their strong start to the Magners League season.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Thursday, September 30
CARDIFF BLUES (3rd) v CONNACHT (5th), Cardiff City Stadium, 7.05pm (live RTE 2/BBC 2 Wales)
Team News: Connacht coach Eric Elwood has finalised his starting line-up for Thursday’s Magners League encounter with the Cardiff Blues.
The selected team sees Adrian Flavin replacing Sean Cronin, as the Ireland hooker is rested as part of the IRFU’s player management programme. Academy graduate Dermot Murphy has been added to the replacements bench.
Galway man Andrew Browne replaces Bernie Upton in the second row, and experienced flanker Johnny O’Connor returns from a back injury to replace Shane Conneely on the bench.
Gavin Duffy, who has been nursing a back injury, is fit to start at full-back, while centre Keith Matthews (dead leg) and winger Troy Nathan (back) have overcome their respective knocks.
Connacht have to cope with a five-day turnaround this week, following on from a bruising draw with Ulster. They have also been forced to stay in Swansea, as there is no accomodation available in Cardiff due to the Ryder Cup.
Coach Eric Elwood said that the province did not pursue a possible switch of home and away matches with Cardiff, as such a scenario would leave them finishing the season with three successive road trips.
Meanwhile, former All Black centre Casey Laulala returns to the Cardiff Blues side for Thursday’s league tie. He has recovered from the knock to the head he sustained against the Newport Gwent Dragons and takes his place in the centre alongside Dafydd Hewitt.
Experienced scrum half Gareth Cooper will make his first start of the season, with Richie Rees’ calf strain and Lloyd Williams’ dead leg ruling them out. Young Pontypridd scrum half Kristian Baller covers on the bench.
In the forwards, Xavier Rush has recovered from a knee injury to captain the side from number 8, while Rhys Williams gets a start at hooker.
John Yapp starts at loosehead prop and will play in this position for the next three weeks with some big Heineken Cup matches approaching. However, the Wales international remains committed to converting to the tighthead side of the scrum.
On the replacements bench, Gethin Jenkins will provide back-up for the Blues’ front row, but back row duo Martyn Williams (shoulder) and Ma’ama Molitika (groin) are two notable absentees.
CARDIFF BLUES: Ben Blair; Leigh Halfpenny, Casey Laulala, Dafydd Hewitt, Chris Czekaj; Dan Parks, Gareth Cooper; John Yapp, Rhys Williams, Taufa’ao Filise, Bradley Davies, Deiniol Jones, Michael Paterson, Sam Warburton, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Gethin Jenkins, Scott Andrews, Paul Tito, Andries Pretorius, Kristian Baller, Ceri Sweeney, Tom Shanklin.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Troy Nathan, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy (capt); Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Andrew Browne, Michael McCarthy, Ray Ofisa, Mike McComish.
Replacements: Dermot Murphy, Ronan Loughney, Rob Sweeney, Bernie Upton, Johnny O’Connor, Cillian Willis, Miah Nikora, Darragh Fanning.
Referee: Andy Macpherson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: David Jones, Phil Connett (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Neil Ballard (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 1/8; Draw: 30/1; Connacht to win: 9/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We play Cardiff in our final home match in April before heading to Ulster and Munster, so a reversal could have seen us finish with three away games. That’s not an option.
“It’s far from ideal but we will just deal with it this week. We had a players’ meeting and it was pointed out that we took on Munster last year and then played and beat Leinster three days later.
“These things can be used to your advantage. It’s a big ask, but we want to get something out of every game we play and that’s our objective again on Thursday.”
David Young (Cardiff Blues) – “Connacht are always a difficult team to play against and they’ve played some great stuff this season. They’re probably only 30 seconds away form being unbeaten coming into this game, so I’m a little bit worried about this match.
“We’ve got to manage and match their desire and commitment and their work rate, and if we can do that I like to think we’ve got a bit of extra quality in our squad and we can come away with a win.
“But first and foremost we’ve got to match everything that they can bring to the game.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Cardiff Blues – Points: Dan Parks 41; Tries: Rhys Thomas 3; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 72; Tries: Fionn Carr 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, October 12, 2007 – Cardiff Blues 30 Connacht 16, Arms Park
Friday, May 2, 2008 – Connacht 11 Cardiff Blues 39, the Sportsground
Friday, September 26, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 58 Connacht 0, Arms Park
Friday, March 6, 2009 – Connacht 14 Cardiff Blues 19, the Sportsground
Friday, September 18, 2009 – Connacht 18 Cardiff Blues 16, the Sportsground
Sunday, December 6, 2009 – Cardiff Blues 21 Connacht 9, Cardiff City Stadium
– The Cardiff Blues gained an eleventh win in their last dozen matches in all competitions when they beat Benetton Treviso last Saturday
– The Blues have won their last four home games in the Magners League, since Leinster won 29-20 at Cardiff City Stadium on March 7
– Connacht have suffered just one defeat so far this season, a 35-33 loss to the Scarlets in round 3 of the Magners League
– The westerners won their most recent away game 19-17 in Glasgow on September 17, but have not won successive away games in the Magners League since the 2004/05 season
– Connacht’s only win in their last 22 visits to Wales was a 13-11 triumph at the Newport Gwent Dragons in April 2008
– Connacht have beaten the Cardiff Blues just twice before – in 2005 and 2009 in Galway. The Blues’ home record against Connacht is played 7, won 7