Connacht v Cardiff Blues | Guinness Pro14 | Saturday 15th February 2020
Cardiff Blues: WWLLW
Connacht are currently in a tough run of form having lost all three Irish inter-provincial games over the festive period before falling to defeats in the final two rounds of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stages.
Cardiff Blues, on the other hand, had a successful festive period with two wins and a losing bonus point, and although the loss away at Leicester ended participation in the European Challenge Cup, a big win over Calvisano ended the pool stages on a high.
Connacht 29-22 Cardiff Blues – 13/04/2019
Cardiff Blues 8-7 Connacht – 26/01/2019
Cardiff Blues 36-30 Connacht – 24/11/2017
Connacht 15-17 Cardiff Blues – 23/09/2017
Cardiff Blues 13-19 Connacht – 12/02/2017
There’s no real pattern to games between the two sides in recent years, with each being fairly evenly matches in terms of style of play, results and league position. In fact, the last eight times this fixture has been played has seen four Cardiff Blues wins and four Connacht wins.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c)
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly
The hosts are boosted by the return of hooker Dave Heffernan and second row Ultan Dillane to their tight five after their release from the Ireland Six Nations squad this week.
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty start together at half-back for one of the first times this season, but they are without Bundee Aki outside them who has been retained by Andy Farrell.
Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish, Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Garyn Smith, Hallam Amos, Jason Tovey, Lloyd Williams (c); Rhys Gill, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Filo Paulo, James Ratti, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Will Boyde
Replacements: Kris Dacey, Corey Domachowski, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Nick Williams, Lewis Jones, Ben Thomas, Ryan Edwards
Hallam Amos returns to fitness to save a back three crisis for John Mulvihill, as Dan Fish makes his first Pro14 appearance of the season. Garyn Smith is preferred at inside centre, Rhys Gill at loosehead and Josh Turnbull is recalled on the blindside flank.
Seb Davies is released from Wales’ Six Nations squad and is named on the bench, while Kris Dacey returns to fitness to cover hooker and Ryan Edwards could make a second debut after signing on loan from Bristol.
Player to watch
While Ultan Dillane is the man who has been involved in the Ireland squad from Connacht’s engine room, his second row partner Gavin Thornbury has been earning plenty of plaudits for his performances this season, despite struggling with the injuries.
The 6ft8 lock is tied for the most lineout steals in the league and has impressive athleticism for such a tall man which, when tied to a workrate that saw him make 26 tackles against Toulouse last month, makes him a player capable of causing Cardiff Blues problems.
What the coaches said
“The break over the past few weeks has come at a good time for the squad. It allowed time for a few injuries to clear up and gave some recovery time to others that had played a lot of minutes over the 13 week block of games. They boys are ready to go now and know the importance of the next three games in the context of our season.
“With Connacht and Cardiff in the same conference this game becomes even more important. A win in this game last season ultimately qualified us for the knockout stages of the Guinness Pro14 and for a spot in the Champions Cup. I’m sure they will be keen to turn the tables this season so we face a huge battle on Saturday.”
Connacht head coach Andy Friend
“We’re looking forward to getting involved again. We’ve had a 10-day preparation into Connacht away and this will be a very important game for us. They’re a quality outfit and are only missing one international player so we’ll need to be at our best to win, but I’m sure we can do it.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on the weather, and it looks pretty horrendous. We trained on Monday and Tuesday in poor weather over here, with the hailstones coming down on Tuesday. We’ve given ourselves good preparation into the game this week.
“The results, even from week-to-week, change to nature of the standings in that table. But all we can concentrate on is what we do from week-to-week, starting with this week and seeing if we can take something from this Connacht game, which would set us up nicely.
“We’re really heading towards the business end of the season now. There’s some huge games coming up, starting with Saturday, and these boys have an opportunity to put themselves in contention for those big encounters.
“It’s great to welcome a number of boys back from recent injuries. Every squad member will be playing an important role in the coming weeks and we’re in a good place at the moment.”
Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill
South African official Stuart Berry will take charge of Saturday’s encounter, with his first decision being whether the game should go ahead or not in Storm Dennis.
It will be his sixth game of the season if it is on, with three home wins and two away wins coming from them, as well as five yellow cards. The 37-year-old took charge of Cardiff Blues’ home loss to Munster earlier in the campaign.