Preview: Connacht v Cardiff Blues

Date published: August 31 2012

Cardiff Blues are without several big names for their RaboDirect PRO12 opener against Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday.

Cardiff Blues are without several big names for their RaboDirect PRO12 opener against Connacht at the Sportsground in Galway on Saturday.

Coach Phil Davies is missing the likes of Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny, Michael Paterson, Chris Czekaj and Jason Tovey.

There is a starting competitive debut at his new region for hooker Andi Kyriacou, who lines up alongside Taufa'ao Filise and Thomas Davies.

“We are looking forward to the start of the season, after a pretty gruelling pre season in many ways, the players have worked very hard to be fair to them,” said Davies, speaking ahead of the fixture.

“The fitness standards that are needed for regional rugby are high and the players have all worked to achieve that standard.

“A lot of work has been carried out over the summer to improve all our team system and hopefully that focus will be there Saturday and then there for the next 21 games after that.

“We have about nine players out injured now with Czekaj added to the list. Rhys Patchell is out injured with a bang on the shoulder from last week against Bath. He has done exceptionally well for a young man and Jason Tovey has been unwell all week. Michael Paterson is out with a shoulder injury and Scott Andrews is out with a knee injury but should be back next week. We are also missing Ryan Harford, Sam Hobbs and Cooper-Woodlley from the front row.

“The international players have a specific training programme so we are missing a number of them. We started training with one set of boys and that is the difference with the RaboDirect PRO12 to the English Premiership, the international players come back later than the initial squad.

“The first squad we had back on June 11 worked through a conditioning block a recover block and rugby block. The internationals and some of the Under 20s are doing the same.

“Following their conditioning block and recovery block they will be available on Monday until the Autumn internationals, so we have them for the next 8 games after this first game.

“As of Monday we have almost a full squad to pick from which is great, it's trying to get them all fit and fighting to play each week.

“At the moment is we have four fit props out of nine. We have Tom Davies who is a young player but he is also a Welsh lose head in the future, I have no doubt. Then we have Andi Kyriacou and Fau Filise with him who are experienced.

“I am confident we can go out and play well on Saturday and gain a result which is the most important thing.”

Meanwhile, Gavin Duffy will lead his Connacht side out, having been announced as captain for a second year running. Duffy is supported on the wings by last season regulars Fetu'u Vainikolo and Tiernan O'Halloran while the centres are Mata Fifita and Eoin Griffin.

Kieran Marmion will gain his first cap for Connacht at nine. He started in the pre-season friendly against Harlequins and also played a pivotal role for Ireland at the Junior World Championship, starting four of their five games en route to a highest ever finish of fifth.

Another regular from last season is out half Miah Nikora who got a good run out in both pre-season friendlies in August.

“All the pre-season training has led to this point and we can't wait to get going,” said director of rugby Eric Elwood.

Form: Both Connacht and Cardiff Blues have begun with an opening weekend victory for the past two seasons. Connacht achieved their highest tournament finishing position last season (8th), and won three of their last four games. Connacht have lost only one of their last six matches at the Sportsground: 16-20 to Munster on 24 March. Cardiff Blues had a disappointing end to the 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12 season, winning just one of their last six encounters: 38-13 over Edinburgh at the City Stadium in round 21. The Blues' solo away victory since January came in Treviso on 3 March. Connacht have beaten the Blues only once since 2005: 18-16 at the Galway Sportsground on 18 September 2009.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt), 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Mata Fifita, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Johnny O'Connor, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Ethienne Reynecke, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Rodney Ah You, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 David Moore, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Robbie Henshaw.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Harry Robinson, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Gareth Davies, 11 Tom James, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Andries Pretorius (c), 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Rory Watts-Jones, 5 James Down, 4 Robin Copeland, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Andi Kyriacou, 1 Thomas Davies.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Beniot Borrust, 18 Nathan Trevett, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Cory Allen, 23 Tom Williams, 24 Owen Williams.

Date: Saturday, September 1
Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Venue: The Sportsground
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Assessor: Bertie Smith (Ireland)