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Magners Preview: Connacht v Cardiff Blues

Magners Preview: Connacht v Cardiff Blues

Play-off chasers Cardiff are the visitors to the Sportsground for Connacht’s final home match of the season. Eric Elwood men’s are eighth in the table and a victory here could inspire them to their best ever finish in the Magners League.

MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, April 15

CONNACHT (8th) v CARDIFF BLUES (5th), the Sportsground, 7.45pm (live TG4)

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Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team and replacements for Friday’s Magners League clash with the Cardiff Blues.

The selected squad is virtually unchanged from the side that earned a bonus point victory over Edinburgh two weeks ago.

Ireland Under-20 scrum half Mark Dolan, a member of the Connacht Academy, retains his spot on the replacements bench and is joined by promising centre Eoin Grifin who is returning after a lay-off with a hamstring injury.

Another of the province’s Ireland Under-20 internationals, Tiernan O’Halloran, will feature on the bench also, following Keith Matthews’ withdrawal due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Connacht’s starting line-up remains unchanged with Ronan Loughney and Jamie Hagan propping alongside Ireland international Sean Cronin.

With Michael Swift still out with a hand injury, Mike McCarthy is partnered by Bernie Upton in the second row and Andrew Browne, stand-in captain Johnny O’Connor and Ray Ofisa continue in the back row.

Frank Murphy and Ian Keatley will start again at half-back. Keatley has scored 195 points so far in this season’s Magners League, leaving him second in the top points scorers’ list behind the Ospreys’ Dan Biggar.

Troy Nathan and Niva Ta’auso form the centre partnership and wingers Brian Tuohy and Fionn Carr complete the back-three alongside full-back Gavin Duffy.

Carr became Connacht’s all-time top try scorer when he touched down twice against Edinburgh last time out. He overtook Conor McPhillips’ longstanding record of 32 tries for the province.

Meanwhile, the Cardiff Blues travel to Galway knowing that nothing short of a win will do if they are to climb back into the play-off zone, having recorded a draw with the Ospreys in Swansea a fortnight ago.

The Blues welcome back Chris Czekaj, who was a late withdrawal for the Ospreys game due to a minor knee injury, and John Yapp also bolsters the front row. The Wales prop has recovered from a calf injury.

Cardiff are without a number of their frontline players due to injury.

Richard Mustoe (groin), Rhys Thomas (hip), Sam Warburton (knee), Ben Blair (knee), Gethin Jenkins (toe) and Tom Shanklin (knee) are all currently sidelined.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Brian Tuohy, Niva Ta’auso, Troy Nathan, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Ronan Loughney, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Mike McCarthy, Bernie Upton, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor (capt), Ray Ofisa.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Brett Wilkinson, Rodney Ah You, Mike McComish, John Muldoon, Mark Dolan, Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin.

CARDIFF BLUES: Chris Czekaj; Leigh Halfpenny, Casey Laulala, Jamie Roberts, Tom James; Dan Parks, Richie Rees; John Yapp, Gareth Williams, Taufa’ao Filise, Bradley Davies, Paul Tito (capt), Andries Pretorius, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush.

Replacements: Rhys Williams, Sam Hobbs, Scott Andrews, Michael Paterson, Ma’ama Molitika, Lloyd Williams, Ceri Sweeney, Dafydd Hewitt.

Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 6/4; Draw: 20/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 8/15

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “Cardiff have four games left and are in a very strong position to make the top four so they will be travelling strong. It will not be easy.

“We have a horrible run-in, playing three teams vying for the top four, but our home record is strong and we are intent on gaining a win to have the best possible finish to the Magners League.

“We’re all very disappointed for Keith. He’s put in a tremendous amount of work and has been an integral part of our achievements this year.

“He was really looking forward to finishing the season on a high but unfortunately it looks like he’ll be out for a good chunk of the year now.

“It’s a good opportunity for one of our homegrown talents, Tiernan, to step up now and we’d like to wish Keith a speedy recovery.”

Paul Tito (Cardiff Blues) – “Connacht tipped us up out there last year, so we need to go out there and refocus and make sure we get the points.

“Discipline and holding on to possession will be crucial, but the thing that has been letting us down all year is our finishing. So, when we get these opportunities we’ve got to finish them and go out there and score some tries.

“It’s hard to put your finger on why we’ve not been able to do that. It’s very strange.

“Hopefully it’s one of those things that will just click and we’ll kick on. It’s not a bad time to do that with four games left and pushing on to the semi-finals.”

Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 195; Tries: Fionn Carr 7; Cardiff Blues – Points: Dan Parks 105; Tries: Tom James, Rhys Thomas 4 each


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
Thursday, September 30, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 22 Connacht 6, Cardiff City Stadium


– Connacht have won three of their last four games in the Magners League. Of late, at the Sportsground, their form has been impressive with five straight victories – their best ever league run

– The Cardiff Blues have secured just one victory from their last four outings, a 16-11 triumph at Edinburgh on March 4

– The Blues’ only away Magners League defeat since December was a 32-12 loss to Ulster at Ravenhill on February 25

– Connacht’s only win over the Blues in their last ten encounters was an 18-16 victory at the Sportsground in September 2009