Preview: Connacht v Cardiff Blues

Date published: October 28 2011

Cardiff Blues have named a XV that sees Dan Parks, Fau Filise and John Yapp all start for the first time this term for their trip to Connacht.

Cardiff Blues have picked a team that sees Dan Parks, Fau Filise and John Yapp all start for the first time this season for their trip to Connacht.

After a two-week break for the final stages of the Rugby World Cup, the RaboDirect PRO12 makes a welcome return and the Blues take on a team who have won eight of their last nine games at the Sportsground in all competitions, the defeat being to the Blues, on 15 April 2011.

The Blues know it will be a difficult match having won just once in their last five visits to Ireland, but can take confidence from the fact that Connacht have only recorded one win over them since 2005.

Cardiff's front-row is also boosted by the return of T Rhys Thomas who has recovered from his knee operation.

“It's a massively important game for us,” said centre Dafydd Hewitt.

“We are fourth in the table at the moment so a little bit off where we would like to be, we hope this weekend we can better our position by putting in a good performance and getting a good win.

“We started well with two bonus point wins and then slipped up a bit but managed to find our feet in Aironi.

“Ulster was a tough game, they kicked us off the park and Munster territory wise they only got into our twenty two once and went away with the result.

“We couldn't capitalise on our field position which was disappointing.

“If we can get into the top three or four and cement our place then we will be happy.”

Meanwhile, Tongan World Cup star Fetu'u Vainkolo is set to make his Connacht debut as the Irish welcome the Blues to the Sportsground.

The 26-year-old winger played twice for the Pacific Islanders in New Zealand, scoring a try in their 31-18 victory over Japan. He slots in on the right wing and joins captain Gavin Duffy and the returning Tiernan O'Halloran in the back-three.

Samoan international centre Henry Fa'afilli renews his exciting partnership with Eoin Griffin who comes back into the team after missing the trip to the RDS with a late injury. The half-back pairing again sees Frank Murphy paired with Niall O'Connor.

There are two changes in the front-row with Adrian Flavin coming in at hooker and Rodney Ah You coming in at tighthead. They join Ireland Wolfhound Brett Wilkinson who starts at loosehead. Michael Swift and Mike McCarthy are selected in a second-row that has over 300 caps between them.

There is more experience in the back-row with centurions John Muldoon and Johnny O'Connor joined by Ray Ofisa who is winning his 96th cap for the province. The pack has a total of 948 caps and they will look to call on all their experience as they look to extend their 100 per cent home record this season.

There is more good news for Connacht amongst the replacements with George Naoupu returning after picking up an injury away to Edinburgh and Miah Nikora making his first appearance of the season. The Kiwi fly-half came off the bench in the 'A' game against Munster last Friday and he will be sure to get a rapturous welcome from the Connacht Clan if he takes to the field.

Form: Connacht have won eight of their last nine games at the Sportsground in all competitions, the defeat being to today's opponents, the Blues, on 15 April. Connacht's only win in their last four RaboDirect PRO12 matches was 17-13 at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on 23 September. Cardiff Blues' only victory in their last six games in all competitions was 37-26 at Aironi in the latest round of RaboDirect PRO12 matches. The Blues have won just once in their last five visits to Ireland: 26-12 on their last visit to Galway on 15 April. Connacht's only victory over Cardiff Blues since 2005 was 18-6 at the Sportsground on 18 September 2009.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt), 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Henry Fa'afili, 11 Tiernan O'Halloran, 10 Niall O'Connor, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 Ray Ofisa, 7 Johnny O'Connor, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Dylan Rogers, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Brian Tuohy.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Chris Czekaj, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Paul Tito, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Taufaao Filise, 2 T Rhys Thomas, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Tyrrell, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Deiniol Jones, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Gavin Evans.

Date: Saturday, September 29
Kick-off: 18:00
Venue: Sportsground
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Peter Roche (Ireland)
Television match official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)