Connacht’s most recent visit to the Arms Park saw them claim a 26-22 win back in February. Will they be able to repeat that result and make it an especially memorable night for their 200-times capped back rower John Muldoon?
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, September 13
CARDIFF BLUES (9th) v CONNACHT (3rd), Cardiff Arms Park, 7.05pm (live TG4/BBC 2 Wales)
Team News: Friday the 13th could prove interesting for Robbie Henshaw – he has been handed the Connacht number 13 jersey for their RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park.
Recent Ireland debutant Henshaw will move to outside centre as the fit-again Gavin Duffy returns to the fray for his first competitive game of the season.
Tiernan O’Halloran, who came on from the bench against Zebre last Saturday, starts on the right wing with Danie Poolman named amongst the replacements.
The pack remains unchanged with Michael Swift captaining the side for their first away trip of the season and the first game on Cardiff’s newly installed artificial pitch at the Arms Park.
Experienced flanker John Muldoon celebrates his 200th Connacht cap in the Welsh capital on Friday night. The game is live on both TG4 and BBC 2 Wales.
Meanwhile, like Muldoon, back rower Andries Pretorius and scrum half Lloyd Williams will both hit memorable milestones for Cardiff when they tackle Connacht.
The pair will make their 50th appearances for the Welsh region as the Blues play their first league game on their home ground’s new artificial surface.
Pretorius is one of three changes to the side that narrowly lost out to Glasgow Warriors in the opening round last weekend.
The talismanic Wales forward, who made his international debut during the summer tour to Japan, is named in the back row alongside Josh Navidi and Robin Copeland.
Lions star Alex Cuthbert will make his first appearance of the season on the right wing, while Dafydd Hewitt has been called up to play at inside centre.
Lou Reed and Kristian Dacey are both listed amongst the replacements and could make their first appearances of the new campaign.
CARDIFF BLUES: Tom Williams; Alex Cuthbert, Owen Williams, Dafydd Hewitt, Harry Robinson; Rhys Patchell, Lloyd Williams; Taufa’ao Filise, Matthew Rees (capt), Scott Andrews, Bradley Davies, Filo Paulo, Andries Pretorius, Josh Navidi, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Sam Hobbs, Benoit Bourrust, Lou Reed, Macauley Cook, Lewis Jones, Gareth Davies, Gavin Evans.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Tiernan O’Halloran, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Swift (capt), Andrew Browne, John Muldoon, Willie Faloon, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Sean Henry, Rodney Ah You, Ronan Loughney, Aly Muldowney, Jake Heenan, Paul O’Donohoe, Craig Ronaldson, Danie Poolman.
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees, Martyn Lewis (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 2/7; Draw: 20/1; Connacht to win: 13/5
Pre-Match Quotes: John Muldoon (Connacht) – “I am very proud I am from Connacht and it has been a tough place to be – we have had a lot of bad days – but at the moment I am just concentrating on getting selected,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“There are young players raring to go, everyone wants to play this Friday against Cardiff, and there is certainly a lot of competition here now.
“I have been around a long time and had a good relations with both Eric (Elwood) and Brads (Michael Bradley), but when a new coach comes in, you have to knuckle down because he is going to give everyone a fair crack at the whip.
“I had a disruptive year last year with injury and loss of form towards the end of the season, but I have drawn a line under that and come back refreshed. If I perform well, and more importantly if the team performs well, there are six or seven lads looking to get involved in Irish teams.
“Cardiff made a lot of changes over the summer. They had a tough game against Glasgow and they will be thinking ‘4G pitch, let’s run the legs off Connacht’.
“On the other side we got a good win, we’re not entirely happy with the amount of errors, but hopefully we can put that right on Friday night.”
Phil Davies (Cardiff Blues) – “We are coming up against a very good team in Connacht and they have brought in some very talented players during the summer. Craig Clarke, the former Waikato Chiefs captain, is a fantastic player and someone we’ve been aware of. He will galvanise the team.
“Pat Lam has taken over the coaching so I think there will be a slightly different emphasis in terms of the style of rugby they adopt. It will be a big challenge and we’ve got to perform well.
“Our ambition this season will be to put on a spectacle every time we play at the Arms Park and use the new surface to our advantage.
“We are trying to play an expansive style of rugby, but we also know we need to be effective with all facets of our game.
“What we must do is develop an all-round game that suits each and every occasion that we face. No matter what surface you play on, it’s about having that balance in your game and being to execute it.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Cardiff Blues – Points: Rhys Patchell 15; Tries: -; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 10; Tries: Nathan White, Matt Healy, Fionn Carr 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Thursday, September 30, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 22 Connacht 6, Cardiff City Stadium
Friday, April 15, 2011 – Connacht 12 Cardiff Blues 26, the Sportsground
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
– Cardiff Blues gained a losing bonus point during their defeat in Glasgow last Friday night but have still only won one of their last eight RaboDirect PRO12 encounters
– The Welshmen have not lost their opening two games in the league since the 2009/10 season
– Connacht beat Zebre 25-16 at the Sportsground in round 1 and have been defeated just once on the road in their last four trips: 22-0 at Munster in March
– Connacht have won three of their last four encounters with Welsh regions. The westerners have beaten the Blues in just three of their 20 previous league meetings, but one of those was in this equivalent fixture at the Arms Park in February