Missing Ireland contingent could prove costly for Connacht
Victory in Cardiff would prove a major fillip for Friend’s burgeoning squad
Andy Friend: “We have picked a team athat we have full confidence in to go to Cardiff and get a result.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Cardiff Blues v Connacht, Cardiff Arms Park, Saturday, 5.15 - Live TG4
History is not on Connacht’s side when they face Cardiff Blues in a return to Pro14 action at Arms Park this evening (5.15pm).
Connacht have won only twice in the Welsh capital since Eric Elwood knocked over two penalties in 2001 to win 6-3 – their last in 2017 was their only win in their last nine trips to the venue.
Currently in fourth place in Conference A, Connacht are five points ahead of the Blues – thus the result could have a huge bearing for each side’s ambitions.
Both are missing players on international duty, and Connacht coach Andy Friend has made 10 changes to the side that staged a dramatic late victory over Bordeaux-Begles.
Denis Buckley and Dave Heffernan return to the front row, captain Jarrad Butler and Colby Faianga’a join Eoin McKeon in the back row, while a training-ground injury has forced lock Gavin Thornbury out of action, with 21-years-old Cillian Gallagher making his first start this season alongside James Cannon.
In the absence of Ireland squad members Jack Carty and Caolin Blade, David Horwitz retains the No 10 jersey alongside James Mitchell. Tom Daly, in his second game, joins Kyle Godwin in midfield, supported by the experienced back three trio of Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher and Matt Healy.
Cardiff Blues welcome the return of Kristian Dacey who captains the side which features attacking threat Rey Lee-Lo, and Welsh internationals Lloyd Williams, and Matthew Morgan. The replacements also feature Cardiff-born James Botham, grandson of cricket legend Ian Botham.
Andy Friend says, despite the changes, Connacht are in confident form.
“We have made a few changes to our match day squad with players away on international duty and a few injuries to contend with, but we have picked a team that we have full confidence in to go to Cardiff and get a result.”
The loss of six Connacht players to the Ireland squad training could prove crucial in Cardiff, and it would be a huge bonus for Friend’s new burgeoning squad system if they were to pull off a victory.
CARDIFF BLUES: M Morgan; O Lane, H Millard, R Lee-Lo, A Summerhill; S Shingler, L Williams; B Thyer, K Dacey (capt), D Arhip; G Earle, R Thornton; S Lewis-Hughes, O Robinson, N Williams.
Replacements: L Belcher, R Carré, S Andrews, M Cook, J Botham, L Jones, D Fish, W Halaholo.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; C Kelleher, K Godwin, T Daly, M Healy; D Horwitz, J Mitchell; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; J Cannon, C Gallagher; E McKeon, C Fainga’a, J Butler.
Replacements: T McCartney, M Burke, D Robertson McCoy, J Maksymiw, P Boyle, A Lloyd, C Fitzgerald, S Fitzgerald.
Referee: Mike Adamson.