Having gone down to Glasgow Warriors last time out, Connacht are aiming to bounce back by beating Cardiff Blues to make it three straight home wins for Pat Lam’s men in the GUINNESS PRO12.
GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, October 3
CONNACHT (4th) v CARDIFF BLUES (10th), the Sportsground, 7.35pm (live TG4/Galway Bay FM)
Team News: There are eight changes to the Connacht team to take on the Cardiff Blues in Friday’s GUINNESS PRO12 match at the Sportsground.
Ireland international Kieran Marmion returns to the starting line-up to mark his 60th Connacht appearance while winger Niyi Adeolokun and centre Craig Ronaldson represent the other changes to the young back-line.
Up front, Galway-born prop Ronan Loughney earns his first start of the season after coming off the bench in the last two rounds.
Nathan White also comes into the front row with Michael Kearney and Quinn Roux starting behind them in the pack. After missing last weekend’s game away to Glasgow Warriors, Willie Faloon returns to start at openside flanker.
Carrick-on-Shannon-born back Shane Layden is promoted back to the bench following his debut from full-back in round 1.
There are still Connacht v Cardiff Blues tickets remaining for the Main Stand, Seated Stand and behind the goals. Adult tickets start at €;20 while it is just €;5 for all juniors.
Tickets can be purchased online on www.tickets.ie, from Centra or SuperValu stores province-wide or from the Connacht Rugby office at the Sportsground (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday).
Meanwhile, Matthew Rees is back to captain the Cardiff Blues for their third successive game against Irish opposition – they lost to both Ulster and Leinster in the past fortnight.
Wales international Rees is recalled in the front row and is one of eight changes made by director of rugby Mark Hammett to the side that lost 37-23 to champions Leinster last Friday.
Tighthead prop Taufa’ao Filise makes his first start of the campaign, with Adam Jones rested, while Gethin Jenkins packs down at loosehead. Samoa international Filo Paulo returns to partner All Blacks ace Jarrad Hoeata in the second row.
The back row sees Macauley Cook and Manoa Vosawai called in to play alongside Sam Warburton. Josh Turnbull drops down to the replacements bench.
Three changes in the backs include Adam Thomas being named at full-back, with the league’s current top points scorer Rhys Patchell moving to out-half. Dan Fish returns on the left wing and the fit-again Gavin Evans joins forces with Cory Allen in the centre.
CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Niyi Adeolokun, Robbie Henshaw, Craig Ronaldson, Danie Poolman; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Ronan Loughney, David Heffernan, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon (capt), Willie Faloon, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Aly Muldowney, Eoin McKeon, Ian Porter, Fionn Carr, Shane Layden.
CARDIFF BLUES: Adam Thomas; Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Gavin Evans, Dan Fish; Rhys Patchell, Lewis Jones; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees (capt), Taufa’ao Filise, Jarrad Hoeata, Filo Paulo, Macauley Cook, Sam Warburton, Manoa Vosawai.
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Sam Hobbs, Scott Andrews, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Tavis Knoyle, Gareth Davies, Geraint Walsh.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Andy Brace, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/9; Draw: 20/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 7/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Kieran, Niyi and Willie return to the starting line-up after a break last week to recover from niggles and are all raring to go.
“With Dave (McSharry) taking on a huge physical workload in the last four games, we’re going to manage him this week. It’s great to give an opportunity to young Craig at 12 who has done well for us coming off the bench and will also offer us added kicking options.
“Up front we have some bruised bodies from the last few weeks so there is some rotation in the pack – it’s great to have some depth there to allow us to mix it up.
“Cardiff are a team full of quality internationals led by Lions captain Sam Warburton. Despite losing three from four, I can see the influence new coach Mark Hammett is having and the improvements they’re making week on week. We have no doubt that this is going to be a tough game.
“But for us, getting the four points this week is the priority. While we’ll be focused on the process, the support from our fans will help us massively. Against Leinster two weeks ago, I had never experienced that sort of noise, and it would be awesome if our supporters can replicate that again and some more on Friday night.”
Mark Hammett (Cardiff Blues) – “We know Connacht is a tough place to go and play. It’s a hard assignment out in Galway, with the travel and potential weather conditions. But both teams are playing in it and we have got to deal with it.
“We have made improvements to our game every week this season and this is another fixture when we try and build on that.
“We were disappointed last weekend as we should have definitely taken a bonus point against Leinster. We had a situation where we had revived ourselves, were four points down and had momentum going our way. It was disappointing not to get a point or even a win.
“Now we need to continue to improve all aspects of our game. At the moment we are a team that has gone well in certain areas but haven’t put it together over 80 minutes. That needs to change.
“A win would certainly build confidence, there is no doubt about that, but we are looking at the big picture here and taking another step forward as a team at Connacht.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Connacht – Points: Darragh Leader 20; Tries: Eoin McKeon, Danie Poolman, Willie Faloon, Kieran Marmion, David McSharry, Darragh Leader 1 each; Cardiff Blues – Points: Rhys Patchell 55; Tries: Kristian Dacey, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Patchell, Dan Fish, Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Sam Warburton 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, October 29, 2011 – Connacht 20 Cardiff Blues 26, the Sportsground
Friday, February 10, 2012 – Cardiff Blues 22 Connacht 15, Cardiff City Stadium
Saturday, September 1, 2012 – Connacht 9 Cardiff Blues 13, the Sportsground
Friday, February 22, 2013 – Cardiff Blues 22 Connacht 26, Cardiff Arms Park
Friday, September 13, 2013 – Cardiff Blues 21 Connacht 10, Cardiff Arms Park
Saturday, May 3, 2014 – Connacht 15 Cardiff Blues 22, the Sportsground
– Connacht lost their 100% GUINNESS PRO12 winning record with their defeat at Glasgow last Friday evening
– Connacht have won their last two matches at the Sportsground but have not won three in-a-row at the Galway venue in the PRO12 since early 2013
– Cardiff Blues’ only victory in their last five PRO12 encounters came in Parma against Zebre in round 1 this season
– The Blues have won three of their last five away games, but have lost both of their encounters with Irish provinces so far this season
– Connacht have won just one of their last nine fixtures against the Blues: 26-22 at the Arms Park in February 2013
– The Blues have lost just once in their last eight visits to the Sportsground, in September 2009