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Preview: Connacht v Cardiff Blues

02nd May 2014 12:10

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Gareth Davies Cardiff Blues 2013

50th game: Gareth Davies

Connacht coach Pat Lam has made just one change to his starting XV to face Cardiff Blues in their last home game of the season this Saturday.

Up front, Andrew Browne makes way for Aly Muldowney who starts at lock with Mick Kearney.

Connacht Players' Player and Back of the Year Kieran Marmion will wear nine for his 25th start of the season, partnering Miah Nikora at half-back.

Robbie Henshaw is named at outside centre and links up with Galway-born Eoin Griffin, who will play his final game at the Sportsground before departing for London Irish next season.

After missing out on the previous round, substitute hooker Dave Heffernan has recovered from injury to take his place on the bench.

Attention will undoubtedly be directed towards named replacements Frank Murphy, Dan Parks and Gavin Duffy who will all be finishing with Connacht at the end of the season.

"This is a massive game for us. Cardiff are confident coming off the back of three good wins and in contrast we're after three straight losses. We're both fighting for strong finishes to the season and I've no doubt it will be a hard-fought game," said Lam.

"There is of course a lot of emotion attached to this game and it's the last time a lot of guys will get the chance to play in front of the home crowd. It's a great opportunity for us all to acknowledge the contribution of these true Connacht servants.

"As a team, we've spoken a lot this week about channelling all that emotion into doing our jobs well and putting ourselves in a position to finish where no Connacht team has finished before."

Meanwhile, fly-half Gareth Davies will play his 50th game for the region as the Blues travel to Ireland.

Davies, who has racked up 118 points this season, will hit the half century as Blues look to build on a hat-trick of league wins.

The coaching team of Dale McIntosh and Paul John make three changes to the side that defeated Scarlets on Judgement Day II at the Millennium Stadium.

Winger Harry Robinson is called up for Chris Czekaj who is ruled out while Lloyd Williams starts at scrum-half as Lewis Jones moves to the bench.

The only change to the pack comes at number eight where Ellis Jenkins starts with Robin Copeland suspended.

Hooker Kristian Dacey and back row forward Luke Hamilton are among the changes to the replacements.

"We took a week off after the Scarlets game to regroup and re-energise our batteries. The boys are in a good place; they are enjoying their rugby and training very well," said McIntosh.

"Looking at the last game, Scarlets are a very good side and we felt we performed very well for 55 minutes of that game and perhaps could have had a better lead. In all fairness to Scarlets, they came back to us, but we felt we were deserving of the win and it holds us in good stead for the game against Connacht.

"We would love to make it four on the bounce but that is easier said than done. Connacht have a strong team and are difficult to face in Galway so we will need to play well.

"In terms of team selection, Chris Czekaj is struggling with an Achilles problem but otherwise we are fine.

"Ellis Jenkins comes in for Robin Copeland and Lloyd Williams will come in for Lewis Jones."

Form: Connacht have lost their last three RaboDirect PRO12 matches since beating the Dragons 24-8 at Rodney Parade on 23rd March. Connacht's record against the Welsh regions this season is won 2, lost 4. By the time this game is played Cardiff will know if they still have a chance to qualify for Europe next season. The Blues have won their last three PRO12 matches, whilst they have not won four in a row in the competition since February 2011. The Blues record against Irish provinces this season is won 2, lost 5, whilst they have not been triumphant in Ireland since a trip to Munster in January 2013. Connacht's only victory in their last 8 fixtures with Cardiff Blues was 26-22 at the Arms Park on 22nd February 2013.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 John Muldoon (capt), 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Aly Muldowney, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Ronan Loughney.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Michael Swift, 20 Andrew Browne, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Dan Parks, 23 Gavin Duffy.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Gareth Davies, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Ellis Jenkins, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Matthew Rees (c), 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Chris Dicomidis, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Simon Humberstone, 23 Isaia Tuifua.

Date: Saturday, May 3
Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Venue: The Sportsground
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Dudley Phillips (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)

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