Preview: Cardiff Blues v Connacht

Date published: March 5 2015

Cardiff Blues will be hoping to follow up last weekend's victory over Edinburgh when they play host to a confident Connacht side on Friday.

The Blues, who responded well on the field to Mark Hammett recent departure from the region, face a team that enters the match after crushing Treviso 53-5.

Cardiff Blues back-row Josh Navidi returns to the starting line-up and Ellis Jenkins is handed the captaincy for Friday's game at the Arms Park.

Navidi is named at number eight for the big league encounter as the coaching team of Dale McIntosh and Paul John make a total of six changes to the starting line-up that earned a hard-fought victory over Edinburgh last weekend.

Fly-half Gareth Anscombe and wing Alex Cuthbert return in the back division after being released by Wales this week.

A new-look back line sees a switch to full back for Rhys Patchell while Argentine international Joaquin Tuculet is selected on the wing.

Tighthead prop legend Taufa'ao Filise starts the game in the front-row, with Adam Jones ruled out, alongside the called-up Kristian Dacey, with Sam Hobbs remaining at loosehead.

Lock Lou Reed is selected in the second-row alongside New Zealander Jarrad Hoeata while the captaincy is handed to the impressive Jenkins after his all-action display last weekend.

Scott Andrews is named among a powerful replacements bench that also includes forwards Filo Paulo and Macauley Cook.

"Connacht have enjoyed a fine season in the league and are pushing hard for a top six finish. Pat Lam and his coaching team have got them playing some fantastic rugby," said attack coach Paul John.

"There was nothing between the teams when we met at the Sportsground in Galway in October and I'm sure this will be a very tight encounter as we look to claim another important win at home.

"We were pleased to defeat Edinburgh last Sunday and it was important for everyone connected with the region for us to get a win on the board," he added.

"It's been a quick turnaround this week but we are lifted by the return of some of our Wales internationals and I know the likes of Gareth Anscombe and Alex Cuthbert will be keen to impress and get some rugby under their belts."

Meanwhile, Pat Lam has made three personnel changes to his Connacht side that will travel to Wales.

Mils Muliaina returns to the fray and will start at full-back, while last week's opening try scorer Tiernan O’Halloran shifts to the right wing.

23-year-old Mick Kearney is promoted to the starting line-up and joins Aly Muldowney in the second row while George Naoupu at number eight represents the other change to the pack.

Darragh Leader returns from injury to take his place on the bench and his fellow Galway-born team mate Andrew Browne is included amongst the replacement forwards.

"With another physical challenge away from home, it's great to be able to bring in fresh legs up front with Mick, George and Andrew in addition to the leadership and experience from Mils out the back," said Lam.

"Like every game from now until the end of the season, four points against Cardiff is massively important in the context of our ultimate goal.

"Challenges we face this week such as a short five-day turnaround, long travel, and 4G pitch were all identified early on and we tailored our preparation accordingly.

"We know how dangerous Cardiff can be, especially at home. They had a fantastic win against Edinburgh last weekend, playing more of an expansive game and stretching the defence to score some quality tries. Once again, we will need to perform as a team to secure the desired outcome that will leave us in a strong position before the break."

Form: Cardiff Blues ended a three game losing streak in the Guinness PRO12 with their 21-15 home victory over Edinburgh on Sunday. The Blues have yet to beat an Irish Province this season, their last such victory being over Connacht in Galway in May. Connacht have won back-to-back Guinness PRO12 encounters, at Dragons and at home to Treviso, but have not won three in a row since the first three rounds this year. Connacht were victorious on their most recent visit to Wales but have not won two in in succession in the country since season 2004/05. Connacht's only victory over the Blues in their last ten fixtures was 26-22 at BT Sport Arms Park in February 2013.

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Joaquin Tuculet, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Ellis Jenkins (c), 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Lou Reed, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Filo Paulo, 20 Macauley Cook, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Tom Isaacs.

Connacht: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Tiernan O’Halloran, 13 Danie Poolman, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Craig Ronaldson, 9 John Cooney, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Ian Porter, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Darragh Leader.

Date: Friday, March 6
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Craig Evans (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Aurwel Morgan (WRU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)