Pro12 action returns on Friday night with a tricky trip to Galway face Danny Wilson’s side as they begin the run of six games that will take them through to Christmas. Despite Connacht being the reigning Champions they have had a fairly nightmare start to the season, but should never be written off, especially during an international period.
Cardiff are coming off the back of two losses in their last two games, but with the Anglo-Welsh Cup squad being dramatically different to that of the Pro12 team you have to go back to the start of the month to find some form and a close win away in Treviso. Of course that was actually better than the scoreline suggests with a trip to Italy always tough for us.
There’s a similar stigma with visits to Connacht recently as despite our overall record against the Irish side being won 19, drawn 2 and lost six, we haven’t won at the Sportsground since a 15-22 win on May 2014 thanks to tries from Lewis Jones and Dan Fish. A draw and a loss in the intervening years meaning it’s another psychological battle to overcome for this group.
Connacht, who have had two weeks off while the Anglo-Welsh Cup has been on, are smarting off the back of two away defeats in their last two games at Leinster and Newport, respectively. They haven’t played in Galway since a 30-25 win over Ulster back on 7th October and with a sold out Sportsground awaiting they will be keen to get back to winning ways.
The home side will be missing Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O’Halloran to Irish duty on the weekend, as well as suffering from a 10 player strong injury list, but can still name a pretty strong line-up with captain John Muldoon at number eight, winger Stacey Ili and standout centre Bundee Aki all starting. On the bench, South African fly-half Marnitz Boshoff could make his debut after finishing Currie Cup commitments.
Cardiff meanwhile are suffering slightly less with unavailable players as only Gethin Jenkins, Lloyd Williams and Gareth Anscombe are with Wales, while Sam Warburton, Nick Williams, Lewis Jones and Jarrod Evans are injured.
Danny Wilson has had to make a few tough decisions in the starting XV with Kris Dacey selected at hooker ahead of replacement Matthew Rees and the not included Kirby Myhill. At tighthead Scott Andrews is handed a starting berth in place of Fa’ao Filise and behind them Jarrad Hoeata and George Earle are paired at lock with Macauley Cook taking a seat on the bench.
There’s few surprises in the backs but Alex Cuthbert being kept on the bench is an interesting one as, once again, Danny Wilson and the rest of the coaching staff begin to rebuild his confidence after it was ruined by Team Wales. American captain retains his place on the right wing in Cuthbert’s place, while Dan Fish is preferred to Matthew Morgan at full-back.
On the bench there is space for Brad Thyer to provide loosehead cover, Shane Lewis-Hughes is included after an impressive individual Anglo-Welsh campaign and scrum-half Rhodri Davies is in line to make his Pro12 debut.
Cardiff team: Dan Fish, Blaine Scully, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Tom James, Steve Shingler, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Scott Andrews, George Earle, Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins (c), Josh Navidi
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Brad Thyer, Taufa’ao Filise, Macauley Cook, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Rhodri Davies, Alex Cuthbert, Matthew Morgan
Connacht team: Cian Kelleher, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Stacey Ili, Jack Carty, John Cooney; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux , James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (c)
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, JP Cooney, Lewis Stevenson, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Caolin Blade, Marnitz Boshoff, Danie Poolman
With a sold out Sportsground there could well be Friday night fireworks in Galway with both teams desperate for a win to kick-start the festive period. There’s sure to be plenty of running rugby on oshow and it will be a big test for the increasingly ropey looking Cardiff defence against a fired up Connacht back line. Quick blitzing and much improved first up tackling is very much required.
Dominating the set piece will be massively key and while the defence is falling apart, the lineout and scrum seems to be going from strength to strength. If the forwards can put their set piece form to work around the field, mainly at attacking breakdowns, then the backs are more than capable of taking advantage with ball in hand.
Although I’m sure it’ll be a great game for the neutral I am desperate to pick up a win on Friday and bring home some more points from the Emerald Isle after that fantastic win over Munster in September. Time to take this season by the scruff of the neck, come on Cardiff!!!
Cardiff record v Connacht:
Cardiff form: LWWLW
Connacht form: WWWLL
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (6)
Connacht top try scorer: Niyi Adeolukon (4)
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (64)
Connacht top points scorer: Jack Carty (33)
Nigel Owens (WRU): ‘Showtime Nige’ returns to Ireland, famously where he does like to award home wins! Kind of a novelty for him to referee a Cardiff game not against the Ospreys, but we get the pleasure of rugby’s ultimate one man band in Galway instead.