A number of players will make their final home appearances for Connacht, including departing backs Gavin Duffy, Eoin Griffin Dan Parks and Frank Murphy, as they look to climb above Cardiff Blues in the RaboDirect PRO12 standings.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, May 3
CONNACHT (9th) v CARDIFF BLUES (8th), the Sportsground, 5pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made just one change to his team to take on Cardiff Blues in the province’s final home game of the season.
The in-form Welsh side sit just three points ahead of Connacht in eighth place in the RaboDirect PRO12, ahead of the league’s penultimate round.
Up front, Andrew Browne makes way for Aly Muldowney who slots into the second row alongside Michael Kearney.
The Connacht Players’ Player of the Year Kieran Marmion will wear the number 9 jersey for his 25th start of the season, partnering Miah Nikora at half-back.
Robbie Henshaw is named at outside centre and links up with Galway-born Eoin Griffin, who will play his final game at the Sportsground before his departure for London Irish.
After missing out on facing Munster in the previous round, replacement hooker David Heffernan has recovered from injury to take his place on the bench.
Attention will undoubtedly be directed towards some of the other replacements – namely Frank Murphy, Dan Parks and Gavin Duffy, who will all be finishing with Connacht at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, out-half Gareth Davies will play his 50th game for the region as Cardiff Blues travel to Galway to face Connacht.
Davies, who has racked up 118 points this season, will hit the half-century mark as the Blues look to build on their recent hat-trick of league wins.
The coaching team of Dale McIntosh and Paul John make three changes to the side that defeated the Scarlets 17-13 at the Millennium Stadium last time out.
Winger Harry Robinson is called up for Chris Czekaj who is ruled out, while Lloyd Williams starts at scrum half as Lewis Jones moves to the bench.
The only change to the pack comes at number 8 where Ellis Jenkins starts with O2 Ireland Wolfhounds cap Robin Copeland currently suspended.
Hooker Kristian Dacey, who is the Blues’ top try scorer in this season’s league, and back rower Luke Hamilton are among the changes to the replacements.
CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Miah Nikora, Kieran Marmion; Ronan Loughney, Jason Harris-Wright, Rodney Ah You, Aly Muldowney, Michael Kearney, John Muldoon (capt), Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: David Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Michael Swift, Andrew Browne, Frank Murphy, Dan Parks, Gavin Duffy.
CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Dafydd Hewitt, Harry Robinson; Gareth Davies, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees (capt), Taufa’ao Filise, Bradley Davies, Filo Paulo, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins.
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Thomas Davies, Scott Andrews, Chris Dicomidis, Luke Hamilton, Lewis Jones, Simon Humberstone, Isaia Tuifua.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/5; Draw: 20/1; Cardiff Blues to win: Evens
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “This is a massive game for us. Cardiff are confident coming off the back of three good wins and in contrast we’ve had three straight losses.
“We’re both fighting for strong finishes to the season and I’ve no doubt it will be a hard-fought game.
“There is of course a lot of emotion attached to this game and it’s the last time a lot of guys will get the chance to play in front of the home crowd. It’s a great opportunity for us all to acknowledge the contribution of these true Connacht servants.
“As a team, we’ve spoken a lot this week about channelling all that emotion into doing our jobs well and putting ourselves in a position to finish where no Connacht team has finished before (seventh or higher).”
Dale McIntosh (Cardiff Blues) – “We took a week off after the Scarlets game to regroup and re-energise our batteries. The boys are in a good place, they are enjoying their rugby and training very well.
“Looking at the last game, the Scarlets are a very good side and we felt we performed very well for 55 minutes of that game and perhaps could have had a better lead. In all fairness to the Scarlets, they came back to us, but we felt we were deserving of the (17-13) win and it holds us in good stead for the game against Connacht.
“We would love to make it four on the bounce but that is easier said than done. Connacht have a strong team and are difficult to face in Galway so we will need to play well.
“In terms of team selection, Chris Czekaj is struggling with an Achilles problem but otherwise we are fine. Ellis Jenkins comes in for Robin Copeland and Lloyd Williams will come in for Lewis Jones.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 101; Tries: Kieran Marmion, Fionn Carr 5 each; Cardiff Blues – Points: Gareth Davies 107; Tries: Kristian Dacey 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, September 13, 2013 – Cardiff Blues 21 Connacht 10, Cardiff Arms Park
– Connacht have lost their last three RaboDirect PRO12 matches since beating the Newport Gwent Dragons 24-8 at Rodney Parade on March 23
– Connacht’s record against the Welsh regions this season is won 2, lost 4
– The Blues have won their last three PRO12 matches. They have not won four in a row in the competition since February 2011
– Cardiff’s record against Irish provinces this season is won 2, lost 5. They have not won in Ireland since a trip to Munster in January 2013
– Connacht’s only victory in their last eight fixtures with the Blues was 26-22 at the Arms Park on February 22, 2013