Connacht lost their place in the top four of the RaboDirect PRO12 last time out and will certainly have revenge on their minds when the Cardiff Blues visit the Sportsground on Saturday evening.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, October 29
CONNACHT (7th) v CARDIFF BLUES (5th), the Sportsground, 6pm (live RTÉ Two/S4C)
Team News: Tongan Rugby World Cup winger Fetu’u Vainikolo will make his debut for Connacht when they welcome the Cardiff Blues to the Sportsground on Saturday night.
Vainikolo played twice for the Tongan team during the tournament in New Zealand, scoring a try in their 31-18 pool victory over Japan.
The 26-year-old slots in on the right wing for Connacht and joins captain Gavin Duffy and the returning Tiernan O’Halloran in the back-three.
Samoan international centre Henry Fa’afili renews his exciting partnership with Eoin Griffin who comes back into the team after missing the recent Leinster match with a late injury. The half-back pairing sees Frank Murphy combine again with Niall O’Connor.
There are two changes in the front row with Adrian Flavin coming in at hooker and Rodney Ah You selected on the tighthead side of the scrum.
They join Ireland Wolfhound Brett Wilkinson who starts at loosehead. Michael Swift and Mike McCarthy join forces in a second row pairing that has boasts over 300 provincial caps.
There is more experience in the back row where centurions John Muldoon and Johnny O’Connor are joined by Ray Ofisa who is winning his 96th cap for the westerners.
The pack has a total of 948 caps and they will call on all of their experience as they look to extend their 100% home record this season.
There is more good news for Connacht amongst the replacements with George Naoupu returning after picking up an injury away to Edinburgh and Miah Nikora making his first appearance in the matchday panel this season.
The Kiwi out-half came off the bench in the ‘A’ game against Munster last Friday and is sure to get a rapturous welcome from the Connacht fans if he takes to the pitch.
Meanwhile, the Cardiff Blues have picked a team that sees Dan Parks, Taufa’ao Filise and John Yapp all start for the first time this season.
The Welshmen welcome back Parks and Filise from the Rugby World Cup and there is also a welcome return for John Yapp who has recovered from his calf injury to make his first start of the current campaign.
The front row is also boosted by the return of Rhys Thomas who has recovered from a knee operation.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Eoin Griffin, Henry Fa’afili, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor, Ray Ofisa.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Dylan Rogers, David Gannon, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, Brian Tuohy.
CARDIFF BLUES: Chris Czekaj; Alex Cuthbert, Casey Laulala, Dafydd Hewitt, Tom James; Dan Parks, Richie Rees; John Yapp, Rhys Thomas, Taufa’ao Filise, Michael Paterson, Paul Tito (capt), Ma’ama Molitika, Josh Navidi, Xavier Rush.
Replacements: Ryan Tyrrell, Sam Hobbs, Scott Andrews, Deiniol Jones, Ellis Jenkins, Lewis Jones, Ceri Sweeney, Gavin Evans.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Peter Roche (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 10/11; Draw: 18/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 10/11
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We were lucky to have Fetu’u training with us before he went on World Cup duty, so he knows the boys and the training. It is good that he’s been involved in the high class environment of the World Cup and has come back full of confidence and beans.
“There was an element of rest and recovery, assessing injuries and down-time for the boys, but we now face an unprecedented 13 games in succession so it was important both physically and mentally – not only for the players, but the coaches – to get that break.
“We recognise Cardiff’s threat, but the key for us is that we have to win the collision. The game is won in that area, be it in the carry or the tackle, so we have to meet them head on.
“They have a formidable pack of forwards and we all know their strength behind the set piece, but we firmly believe if we can focus on our business, particularly at home, we are a match for anyone.
“We recognise what they have, but if we can get our business right, in how we play and apply ourselves, we believe we are a strong team at home.”
Dafydd Hewitt (Cardiff Blues) – “It’s a massively important game for us. We are fourth in the table at the moment, so a little bit off where we would like to be. We hope this weekend we can better our position by putting in a good performance and getting a good win.
“We started well with two bonus point wins and then slipped up a bit but managed to find our feet in Aironi.
“Ulster was a tough game, they kicked us off the park and Munster territory wise they only got into our 22 once and went away with the result.
“We couldn’t capitalise on our field position which was disappointing. If we can get into the top three or four and cement our place then we will be happy.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 35; Tries: Gavin Duffy 3; Cardiff Blues – Points: Ceri Sweeney 51; Tries: Alex Cuthbert, Chris Czekaj, Dafydd Hewitt, Sam Hobbs, Tom James 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, April 15, 2011 – Connacht 12 Cardiff Blues 26, the Sportsground
– Connacht have won eight of their last nine games at the Sportsground in all competitions, the one defeat being to this weekend’s opponents, the Cardiff Blues, on April 15
– Connacht’s only win in their last four RaboDirect PRO12 matches was a 17-13 triumph at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons on September 23
– The Cardiff Blues’ only victory in their last six games in all competitions was a 37-26 success at Aironi in the latest round of RaboDirect PRO12 matches
– The Blues have won just once in their last five visits to Ireland, taking a 26-12 verdict on their last visit to Galway in April of this year
– Connacht’s only victory over the Cardiff Blues since 2005 was a 18-6 win at the Sportsground in September 2009