Cardiff Blues v Connacht, Cardiff Arms Park, Sunday, 1.0pm
Connacht enter a defining period in their Guinness Pro12 campaign to ensure Champions Cup qualification next season.
With 10 fixtures remaining, Cardiff are first up in an opening block of four, and Connacht know their season is on the line as they fight to improve their current eighth position on the table.
Having missed out on one of their seasonal goals, to make the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup, everything now rests on the Pro12, and coach Pat Lam believes the current Pro12 champions can still qualify, and even make the playoffs, if they can make a late charge.
Although missing the Ireland trio of Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dillane and Finlay Bealham, Connacht's injury list is improving for this crucial run of games in the Six Nations window.
Stacey Ili returns to partner Craig Ronaldson in the centre, while Niyi Adeolokun, making his 50th appearance, Tiernan O'Halloran, Matt Healy and Jack Carty are all available in a familiar backline.
John Muldoon, having fully recovered from a hamstring, joins Seán O’Brien and Jake Heenan in a physical backrow.
Connacht overcame Cardiff by 18-7 in Galway earlier this season, but the Arms Park has not been a happy hunting ground for Connacht in recent years, and the Blues, sitting just one place above Connacht, have been boosted with the return of Kristian Dacey and Scott Andrews from the Wales camp, while Welsh international Tom James is also set to make a return.
“Cardiff have always been tough opponents for us, particularly away from home where so many games have gone right down to the wire,” says Lam. “We know there is little room for error as we look to improve our overall performance.”
Given both side’s need to climb towards the top six, another tight affair is likely.
CONNACHT: T O'Halloran, N Adeolokun, S Ili, C Ronaldson, M Healy, J Carty, J Cooney, D Buckley, T McCartney, JP Cooney, Q Roux, J Cannon, S O'Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt). Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, J Andress, N Dawai, N Fox Matamua, C Blade, T Farrell, D Poolman.
CARDIFF BLUES: M Morgan, B Scully, R Lee-Lo, S Shingler, R Williams, G Anscombe, L Williams (capt), R Gill, K Dacey, A Peikrishvili, J Hoeata, J Down, M Cook, J Navidi, N Williams. Replacements: M Rees, M Thomas, S Andrews, S Davies, S Bennett, T Williams, W Halaholo, Tom James.