Eric Elwood wants his Connacht players to build on their historic Heineken Cup victory over Harlequins by putting it up to the Blues at Cardiff’s famous Arms Park venue.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, February 10
CARDIFF BLUES (7th) v CONNACHT (11th), Cardiff Arms Park, 7.30pm
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has selected his team to take on the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park on Friday night.
With the return to action following a welcome two-week break, the Connacht management are still hampered by the non-availability of a number of players.
Andrew Browne (Achilles), Eoin Griffin (hamstring), Johnny O’Connor (facial fracture), Rodney Ah You (foot) and Frank Murphy (groin) are still not in contention, though some of them hope to be available for selection next week.
This will not worry Elwood, however, as there is only one change to the starting line-up for the trip to the Welsh capital.
David McSharry, who missed the historic Heineken Cup pool win over Harlequins, has recovered from a shoulder injury to start at inside centre. Henry Fa’afili is the players to make way.
The westerners will field a hugely experienced pack backed up by a youthful and dynamic back-line marshalled by full-back and captain Gavin Duffy.
Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues face into a run of three successive matches against Irish sides – taking on Connacht and Ulster (February 17) at home before a visit to Munster (February 24).
For the Connacht game, Martyn Williams returns to the Blues side for the first time in five months having recovered from a broken arm suffered against Ulster in September.
But there is no place in the matchday squad for Welsh international Gavin Henson who had been released from Six Nations duty earlier in the week.
CARDIFF BLUES: Ben Blair; Richard Mustoe, Casey Laulala, Gavin Evans, Tom James; Ceri Sweeney, Richie Rees; John Yapp, Rhys Thomas, Sam Hobbs, Michael Paterson, Paul Tito (capt), Ma’ama Molitika, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush.
Replacements: Ryan Tyrrell, Nathan Trevett, Ryan Harford, Cory Hill, Macauley Cook, Lewis Jones, Gareth Davies, Tom Williams.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Kyle Tonetti, David McSharry, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Stewart Maguire, David Gannon, Michael Kearney, David Moore, Matthew Jarvis, Henry Fa’afili.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: tbc, Greg Morgan (both Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 1/6; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 4/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We certainly needed the break. We had a lot of broken bodies. The lads had gone to the well for 13 weeks on the bounce and, to be honest, we would put our hands up and say, ‘thank God for the rest’,” Elwood told the Galway Advertiser.
“Obviously we were on the wrong end of defeats. We had that monkey and it was a huge demand both physically and mentally, but in fairness the players stuck to the task and got their just rewards in the end (against Harlequins).
“The guys have said it themselves this week, what we did against Harlequins counts for nothing now, it’s in the past and we have to kick on. We have to rock up and it’s important that if we prepare properly, we have a good chance.
“Cardiff score a lot of points, but they also concede a lot. We know the type of rugby they play, they still had 12 internationals out last week and they are at home, so it will be a huge challenge.
“However we do see the Cardiff game as a big opportunity and we are going there to play our type of game. If we get a positive result, then we have two home games to look forward and that’s what we are looking for.
“It’s about momentum. We have the one win after those defeats, and the key is to build on that.”
Gareth Baber (Cardiff Blues) – “Within the period of time that the players have known about the fixture being played at the Arms Park it’s created a buzz, not only at our training venue, but with the supporters and in the media as well.
“We know it’s only for one match but it is nice to be back at a place where the players have had good results in the past and that’s given us a bit more motivation to get the victory on Friday.
“Everyone who has played out in Galway knows how difficult it is to get a victory out there. Obviously Eric Elwood has taken over the reins at Connacht this season and I don’t think there has been a huge change, in so much as they have been a good solid outfit for a number of years.
“They recruit well and get a lot of young players in and supplement that with southern Hemisphere players. It gives them a good style and probably away from home they could argue that they don’t get the results they deserve.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Cardiff Blues – Points: Ceri Sweeney 62; Tries: Alex Cuthbert 5; Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 62; Tries: Gavin Duffy 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, April 15, 2011 – Connacht 12 Cardiff Blues 26, the Sportsground
Saturday, October 29, 2011 – Connacht 20 Cardiff Blues 26, the Sportsground
– Cardiff Blues have slipped to three defeats in their last four matches in the RaboDirect PRO12 – the only success being a 28-9 win at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons on December 23
– The Blues’ solitary loss at the Cardiff City Stadium in their last seven fixtures in all competitions was a 23-19 beating by table topping Leinster in the PRO12 on January 7
– The Welshmen’s only win in five encounters with Irish provinces this season was a 26-20 victory in Galway on October 29
– Connacht’s long win drought ended with their impressive victory over Harlequins in the Heineken Cup
– However, if Connacht lose to the Blues in this match, they will set an unwanted record for the province of ten successive PRO12 defeats
– The westerners have not won away from home since the opening weekend of the season in Treviso
– Connacht’s only win in their last dozen clashes with the Blues since 2005 was a 18-16 triumph at the Sportsground in September 2008
– Connacht have not won in Wales since their 13-11 victory over the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade in April 2008