Preview: Cardiff Blues v Connacht

Date published: February 10 2017

Cardiff Blues welcome back a host of senior players as they return to the PRO12 against Connacht on Sunday.

Following two weeks of Anglo-Welsh Cup action the focus returns to the Championship and the Blues' bid to climb into the top six.

Head coach Danny Wilson has recalled several stars and has been boosted by the return of Kristian Dacey and Scott Andrews from the Wales Six Nations squad.

Lloyd Williams captains the team and partners Gareth Anscombe at half-back, with Steve Shingler combining with Rey Lee-Lo in the midfield. Matthew Morgan, Rhun Williams and Blaine Scully form the back-three.

Up front, Dacey goes straight back into the starting line-up with Rhys Gill and Anton Peikrishvili the props. Jarrad Hoeata and James Down start in the second-row while Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi and Nick Williams combine in the back row.

Wales' capital region are currently six points adrift of the top half of the table and enter a crucial sequence of matches, which Wilson believes can define their season.

The Blues slipped to an 18-7 defeat to Connacht in Galway earlier this season but they have not lost to the Irish province at Arms Park since 2013.

Wilson said: "We know Connacht is the start of a huge block for us – Connacht at home, Treviso at home, Edinburgh away and Munster back home during the Six Nations period.

"We have a rough idea of what we have to do to finish in the top six. We have had a couple of blows in the league which have dented that but we're sat seventh and we have picked up some wins, which we didn't manage last season.

"It's now the start of a four game block that has the capability of defining our season.

"We are fully aware we need our best players available to us, we're starting to get some of them back and we need to improve some of the inconsistencies we've seen.

"Ultimately it's about the league, it's about the top six and the next four games will be massive.

"Connacht are league champions, they are the next team below us and a very good team. It will be a tough fixture and we will need to be at our best.”

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named his side to face Cardiff Blues.

Niyi Adeolokun marks his 50th appearance for the province at the weekend starting in a back three with fellow Irish internationals Tiernan O'Halloran and Matt Healy.

Stacey Ili has returned from injury to form a centre partnership with Craig Ronaldson while Jack Carty and John Cooney are named at half back.

Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney and JP Cooney pack down in the front row with Quinn Roux and James Cannon, who this week signed a two-year contract extension, partnering in the second row. John Muldoon captains from the number eight position with Sean O'Brien and Jake Heenan alongside him.

Commenting on the upcoming game, Lam said: "While it was good to get the break and a chance to work away on different aspects of our game, we're all really looking forward to going out and playing this weekend.

"Cardiff have always been tough opponents for us, particularly away from home where so many games have gone right down to the wire. We expect a big challenge again on Sunday and we know there is little room for error as we look to improve our overall performance.”

Form: Cardiff Blues have won only one of their last five PRO12 encounters: 27-16 at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on Boxing Day. The Blues have won three of their last four matches at Arms Park in all tournaments since Ulster beat them there in the PRO12 on December 3. Connacht’s only victory in their last five matches was 66-21 at home to Zebre in the Champions Cup on January 4. The Irishmen’s only away victory in any tournament this season was 52-7 at Zebre in the champions Cup on October 23. Connacht won 18-7 when the two sides me at the Sportsground in Round 9 and have never achieved a season’s double over Cardiff Blues whilst the only time they have beaten Blues in Cardiff was 26-22 in February 2013. 

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Steve Shingler, 11 Rhun Williams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams (c), 8 Nick Williams, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 James Down, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Gill
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Sion Bennett, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Tom James

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Stacey Ili, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 John Cooney, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 JP Cooney, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 John Andress, 19 Naulia Dawai, 20 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Danie Poolman

Date: Sunday, February 12
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Kick-off: 13:05 GMT
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Elia Rizzo (Italy), Aled Evans (Wales)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)