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Cardiff Blues and Connacht bid for final Champions Cup spot

Charlie Bennett

19 May 2017

The twentieth and final place in next season’s Champions Cup will be decided in the next two weeks as four sides compete in the play-offs.

Nineteen of the teams for next season’s trophy have already been confirmed with the top six from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 having all qualified.

They will be joined by seven sides from the Guinness PRO12 – of which at least one club will come from each of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

The semi-finals will see Cardiff Blues travel to Paris to face Stade Francais while Connacht travel to England on Saturday to play Northampton Saints.

This weekend’s two victors will meet on May 26 with Saints or Connacht set to have home advantage for the 19:45 kick-off.

Stade Francais v Cardiff Blues

British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has been ruled out for Cardiff Blues as he has failed to recover from a knee injury in time.

Warburton has not played since he suffered the injury during the Blues’ draw at Ulster on April 7.
Head coach Danny Wilson said: “It has been a long season and we said at the start that we wanted to qualify for the Champions Cup.

“The idea was to finish in the top six, but now we’ve got a one-off game in Paris against Stade Francais to keep our chances alive.

“We are excited by the opportunity and we want to finish the season on a high.

“Our form is pretty good at the moment with four wins and a draw in our last five games, but we know we have a big challenge ahead of us.”

Stade Francais: Sinzelle; Vuidarvuwalu, Danty, Bosman, Macalou; Steyn, Dupuy; van der Merwe, Bonfils, Emile; Alberts, Gabrillagues; Burban, Ugena, Parisse (C).

Replacements: Panis, Slimani, Melikidze, De Giovanni, Lakafia, Daguin, Plisson, Ross.

Cardiff Blues: Morgan; Cuthbert, Lee-Lo, Halaholo, James; Anscombe, Williams; Gill, Rees, Filise; Hoeata, Cook; Navidi, Jenkins (C), Williams.

Replacements: K Myhill, C Domachowski, A Peikrishvili, S Davies, S Bennett, T Williams, S Shingler, R Williams.

TV: Live on S4C at 4.45pm, kick off 5pm (BST)

Northampton Saints v Connacht Rugby

Ireland internationals Niyi Adeolokun, Matt Healy and Ultan Dillane return to Connacht’s match day 23 for Saturday’s play-off semi-final against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.

Adeolokun has recovered from a hamstring injury and will start on the right wing, while Healy and Dillane are included on the bench.

If Connacht are to progress then they will have to do something that they have only done twice before in the professional era and that is to win on English soil.

Head coach Pat Lam said: “Everything over the past few weeks has been geared towards this game.

“We know we haven’t been anywhere near our best in the last few matches and that’s been a big disappointment for us as a team.

“We’ve had a very positive week on and off the training pitch but we all know that the eighty plus minutes from 4pm tomorrow is when it needs to count.”

Northampton: Tuala, Foden, Tuitavake, Burrell, North, Mallinder, Groom; Waller, Hartley (c), Brookes, Lawes, Day, Gibson, Harrison, Picamoles.

Replacements: Haywood, Ma’afu, Denman, Ratuniyarawa, Wood, Dickson, Oliver, Hutchinson.

Connacht: O’Halloran, Adeolokun, Poolman, Ronaldson, Kelleher; Carty, Marmion. Buckley, Heffernan, Bealham, Roux, Browne, O’Brien, Heenan, Muldoon (c)

Replacements: Delahunt, Cooney, Carey, Dillane, Dawai, Blade, Cooney, Healy

TV: Live on TG4 at 2.50pm, kick off 3pm (BST)

The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. 

Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie

Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final