Preview: Connacht v Cardiff Blues

Date published: October 2 2015

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Connacht boss Pat Lam has named three changes from the team that started against Glasgow three weeks ago to face Cardiff Blues.

Finlay Bealham comes into the front row for his first start of the season to replace Rodney Ah You who picked up a hamstring injury during the week.

Galway man Eoin McKeon returns from injury to make a start at number eight in a back row with captain John Muldoon and Nepia-Fox Matamua.

Ireland international Kieran Marmion will start at scrum-half in an otherwise unchanged back line.

From the bench, experienced forwards Aly Muldowney and George Naoupu are both in line to make their season debut while year-one Academy prop Conan O’Donnell is named in the match day squad for the first time. The 19-year-old from Sligo has nine Ireland U20 caps from last season’s World Rugby Championship and Six Nations competitions.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Lam said: “Having recently lost players Rodney (Ah You), Ultan (Dillane), and Eoghan (Masterson) to injury, we see some changes to the team from last time out. Again, it’s a very young side, especially the back line, so it’s always pleasing to be able to call on the experience of guys like Aly (Muldowney) and George (Naoupu) from the bench.

“Young Conan (O’Donnell) has been called up. We are low on tightheads with Nathan (White) away at the World Cup. It’s probably a bit earlier than Conan expected to be playing PRO12 rugby but he is a talented player who has a lot of experience with the Under-20s. He has prepared well this week in training and I have no doubt he will grab the opportunity with both hands if he’s called on tomorrow.

“The boys can’t wait to get back out and play again tomorrow and having our home support behind us will certainly help in our fight for points. Cardiff are a good side who have had a similar start to the season as us. We’ve both had a little more time to prepare for this game than normal schedules would allow so it’s certainly set up to be a lively encounter.”

Meanwhile, wing Richard Smith makes his first appearance of the PRO12 season as Cardiff Blues head to Galway.

Fit-again Smith is one of three changes made to the starting line-up that faced Leinster by head coach Danny Wilson as Cardiff Blues look to return to winning ways in league action.

Lock Lou Reed will also start his first game of the campaign as he joins forces with Jarrad Hoeata in the second row.

The final change comes in the back row where Ellis Jenkins is handed the openside flanker jersey. Captain Josh Navidi moves to blindside and Josh Turnbull operates at number eight.

Hooker Matthew Rees could make his first appearance of the season from the bench and he is joined among the replacements by highly-rated Wales Under-20s prop Dillon Lewis.

Wilson said: "We go to a very tough venue and very tough opposition in Connacht to try and get a win. The boys are motivated and excited about the trip.

"Connacht are a good side who are well coached by Pat Lam and well organised; at home they are a very hard side to beat.

"They are a passionate side at home and are proud of their home venue – it's a difficult away fixture for us in the middle of four difficult away fixtures in Ireland.

"It's not a game we take lightly at all and we've prepared well and we're looking forward to getting out there. It will be a real achievement if we can come away with a win."

Form: Connacht have begun the Guinness PRO12 campaign with a home victory over Dragons and a two league point defeat in Glasgow in round two – only the third time they had picked up a losing bonus and try bonus point in the same game. Connacht's only defeat to a Welsh visitor in the last five such matches in Galway was to Ospreys in May. Cardiff Blues achieved an 11-try demolition of Zebre in round 1 but then slipped up to Leinster in Dublin the following week. The Blues have lost their last seven away fixtures since overcoming Wasps 45-42 at the Ricoh Arena in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in February – an encounter in which they were losing by 25 points with less than half an hour left. Connacht have won just one of their last 11 fixtures against the Blues: 26-22 at Arms Park in 2013, whilst Blues' solitary away win at an Irish province since January 2013 came when they visited Galway at the end of the 2013/14 PRO12 season.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Rory Parata, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Conan O’Donnell, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 John Cooney, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Fionn Carr

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Tom Isaacs, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Richard Smith, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Josh Navidi (c), 5 Lou Reed, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 James Down, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Garyn Smith

Date: Saturday, October 3
Venue: Sportsground, Connacht
Kick-off: 17:00 local
Referee: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Keiran Barry, Paul Haycock (both Ireland)
TMO: Gordon Black (Ireland)

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