Connacht mindset is about winning as they travel to Cardiff
Team’s qualification could depend on victories over Cardiff and Zebre in next two games
Connacht’s new signing Pita Ahki: he is included in the squad for Cardiff. Photograph:Jayne Russell/Inpho
Too early to be season-defining, but both Connacht and Cardiff know the importance of this fixture (kick off: 7.35pm, live on BBC2 Wales) as the Guinness Pro 14 resumes after its two-week autumn internationals break.
Connacht, in fourth, currently hold one of the qualification spots by virtue of a losing bonus point, but Cardiff are just a single point behind in Conference A, ensuring this match at Arms Park on Friday will not lack bite.
Both sides are much changed from their September outing when Danny Wilson’s side grabbed the win for Cardiff with a late winning try when former Hurricane Willis Halaholo took advantage of some woeful defence.
Halaholo is one of only four in Friday’s squad who played in the Sportsgound, and he, along with Welsh internationals Tom James and Matthew Moran, will test Connacht’s defence, which has much improved since that occasion.
Connacht line out with an entirely different back line than that which played in the Galway defeat, but Keane has named the same front row. A notable inclusion in the squad is new signing Pita Ahki, a former New Zealand Sevens player, who arrived last week.
Connacht’s qualification could well depend on victories over Cardiff and Zebre in the next two games, and defence coach Peter Wilkins says it is now about winning.
“These next two weeks are 100 per cent about winning to put some distance between ourselves and those chasing us. In the context of the league, this is the first of an enormous two weeks for us.”
Most rugby attention will be on the All Blacks in Cardiff this weekend, but it will not detract from the fierce rivalry between Connacht and Cardiff, with important points on offer.
Cardiff Blues: M Morgan; O Lane, G Smith, W Halaholo, T James; J Evans, T Williams; C Domachowski, M Rees (capt), T Filise, G Earle, D Welch, M Cook, O Robinson, N Williams.
Replacements: K Myhill, B Thyer, A Peikrishvili, J Down, J Turnbull, L Jones, G Anscombe, H Millard
Connacht: T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, E Griffin, T Farrell, M Healy, J Carty, C Blade, D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham, Q Roux, J Cannon, E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: S Delahunt, P McCabe, C Carey, G Thornbury, E Masterson, J Mitchell, S Crosbie, Pi Ahki.