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Preview: Cardiff Blues v Connacht

09th February 2012 13:38

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Martyn Williams Cardiff Blues Heineken Cup 2010

Martyn Williams: Returns from iniury

Veteran flanker Martyn Williams returns to Cardiff Blues' starting XV for Friday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at Cardiff Arms Park.

This will be the former Wales international's first match in five months having recovered from a broken arm, suffered against Ulster in September.

The Blues have won six out of seven of their last matches in Cardiff with their solitary loss a 19-23 defeat to Leinster in the PRO12 on January 7.

They have already recorded a win over Connacht this season with a 26-20 victory 29 October.

Connacht's long win drought ended with their victory over Harlequins in the Heineken Cup.

However, the Irishmen have not won away from home since the opening weekend of the season.

The Irish province's only win in their last dozen clashes with the Blues since 2005 was 18-16 at the Galway Sportsground on 18 September 2008.

The Blues complete their Triple Crown of Irish fixtures with a match against Ulster in Cardiff on Friday 19 February followed by a visit to Munster on Friday 24 February.

Cardiff Blues back-line coach, Gareth Baber said his players are excited about playing at Cardiff Arms Park.

"Within the period of time that the players have known about the fixture being played at the Arms Park it's created a buzz, not only at our training venue, but with the supporters and in the media as well," he said.

"So hopefully we will have a big crowd to watch the match.

"We know it's only for one match but it is nice to be back at a place where the players have had good results in the past and that's given us a bit more motivation to get the victory this evening."

Baber expects a tough encounter against the Irish province.

"Obviously Eric Elwood has taken over the reigns at Connacht this season and I don't think there has been a huge change, in so much as they have been a good solid outfit for a number of years," he continued.

"Everyone who has played out in Galway knows how difficult it is to get a victory out there.

"They recruit well and get a lot of young players in and supplement that with southern hemisphere players.

"It gives them a good style and probably away from home they could argue that they don't get the results they deserve."

Meanwhile, Connacht coach Eric Elwood has made only one change for the clash.

Inside centre Dave McSharry returns from a shoulder injury to replace Henry Fa'afili, who did duty in Connacht's memorable win over Harlequins two weeks ago.

Despite keeping the changes to a minimum, Connacht's selectors were still hampered by the non-availability of a number of players.

Andrew Browne (Achilles), Eoin Griffin (hamstring), Johnny O'Connor (facial fracture), Rodney Ah You (foot) and Frank Murphy (groin) are still not in contention, though many hope to be available for selection next week.

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Richard Mustoe, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Tom James, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Paul Tito (c) 4 Michael Paterson, 3, Sam Hobbs 2, T Rhys Thomas, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Tyrell, 17 Nathan Trevett, 18 Ryan Harford, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Macauley Cook, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Tom Williams.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (c), 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Kyle Tonetti, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Tiernan O'Halloran, 10 Niall O'Connor, 9 Paul O'Donohoe, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Stewart Maguire, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 Mick Kearney, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Henry Fa'afili.

Date: Friday, February 10
Kick-off: 19:30 (GMT)
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)

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3Sale Sharks25
4London Irish21