Preview: Cardiff Blues v Connacht

Date published: December 3 2015

Wing Alex Cuthbert returns to the starting line-up as Cardiff Blues tackle PRO12 league leaders Connacht at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday. 

Fit-again Wales international Cuthbert makes his comeback as head coach Danny Wilson makes five changes to the side that narrowly lost out to Ospreys in their derby last weekend.

The other change to the backline sees a call-up for Rhys Patchell who plays in the full-back jersey.

Hooker Ethan Lewis is handed a starting spot up front while Jarrad Hoeata returns in the second-row to partner Lou Reed.

The final change to the team comes in the back-row as Macauley Cook comes in at blindside with Josh Turnbull moving to openside flanker.

USA international Cam Dolan and Wales U20 centre Garyn Smith are named among the replacements.

"We're all looking forward to facing the league leaders and top try points scorers in the PRO12 on home soil," said Wilson.

"Connacht have built a squad over a period of years that has really gelled together and they are really starting to see the fruits of that labour.

"They have had consistency and stability and there is real togetherness under Pat Lam. They have recruited well and also developed from within.

"We know what a task it is to play a top of the table side, but it is a home game and we come in of the back of a good performance in the derby.

"Elements of our performance are starting to build and hopefully we can get the results we all want. If we can get a win it would really bounce our season and kick us on.

"We massively respect what Connacht have done, but this Friday we want to put them under pressure and get a result that can be a springboard for the season.”

Meanwhile, Connacht boss Pat Lam has made eight changes and one positional switch from the side that beat Munster at Thomond Park last weekend.

Darragh Leader comes on to the right wing for his 50th Connacht appearance while Tiernan O'Halloran shifts to full-back. Jack Carty is named at fly-half while scrum-half Ian Porter earns his first PRO12 start of the season.

There is a new front-row with the introduction of Ronan Loughney, Dave Heffernan and Rodney Ah You while Quinn Roux returns from injury to partner Aly Muldowney in the second-row.

Captain John Muldoon becomes the first player to break the 200-cap barrier in the PRO12 when he leads the side out in the Welsh capital. The Galway man, who turned 33 on Monday, is named in the back-row with Academy flanker James Connolly and the returning number eight Eoin McKeon.

Both Jason Harris-Wright and Conan O'Donnell are named among the front-row replacements. Academy backs Peter Robb and Rory Parata are also named on the bench, the former in line to make his PRO12 debut, having started in the centre against Enisei-STM last month.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Lam said: "We have another big game on the road again this week. 

"Cardiff has been a difficult fixture for us the past few seasons and they are very tough to beat at home. They have some quality, experienced players in their squad and they will view this game as a chance to get back to winning ways.

"We know we will have to be at our best and fully focused as a team to get the four points on offer in another vital PRO12 game, before attention switches to Europe.

"With the short turn around and following a very physical game against Munster, we obviously see some changes in the side this week.

"While we lost four more guys to injury in the last game, we also have players coming back into contention. And with competition as high as ever, it makes our job for selection that bit more difficult but that's what we want as coaches.

"I'd also like to give a special mention to our skipper and warrior Mul (John Muldoon) who consistently epitomises what we're about and leads his province into battle for the record-breaking 200th time in the PRO12."

Form: Cardiff Blues have slipped to seven straight defeats in the Guinness PRO12, their worst run in the history of the tournament, although they have at least picked up four losing and one try bonus point along the way. The Blues are actually the joint second top try scorers in the PRO12 with 23 whilst their only two victories over Irish provinces in their last 13 such encounters have both been against Connacht. Connacht continue to head the Guinness PRO12 table and are the tournament's top try scorers with 25. Their only defeat in any competition this season was by a single point in 65 at Glasgow in round 2. Connacht have won their last six matches in the competition, a new Connacht record. Connacht won 36-31 at Galway in round 3 this season, and are going for a first ever league double over the Blues. The Irishmen have won just twice before at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park – against Cardiff RFC in 2001 and The Blues themselves in February 2013.

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Manoa Vosawai, 7 Josh Turnbull, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Lou Reed, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Ethan Lewis, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 James Down, 20 Cam Dolan, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Dan Fish.

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Ian Porter, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 James Connolly, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Ronan Loughney.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Conan O'Donnell, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 George Naoupu, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Rory Parata.

Date: Friday, December 4
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Kick-off: 19:05 GMT
Referee: Andy Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Neil Hennessy (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)
Television match official: Jonathan Mason (Wales)