Conference A rivals Cardiff Blues and Connacht clash as the Guinness PRO14 gets back underway this week.
Nearly three weeks since they were last in action in the championship, the Blues and Connacht help kick off Round Nine as they both attempt to put pressure on the teams currently occupying the play-off positions.
What’s at stake?
These two teams are currently separated by just a single point in the Conference A table, with Friday’s hosts Cardiff fifth and Connacht fourth.
A much-changed Blues suffered back-to-back defeats in the opening two rounds of the Anglo-Welsh Cup but were 37-8 victors over Zebre in their last Guinness PRO14 outing.
Connacht will head out in search of their first away win of the season in the championship, with both sides looking to overhaul the third-placed Cheetahs.
Team news (Cardiff Blues):
After two weeks of Anglo-Welsh Cup action, the Blues have made ten changes to the side that started their loss to Ospreys last time out.
Jarrod Evans and Tomos Williams will start at half-back, with the former taking the place of Steve Shingler, who has been ruled out for a month with an ankle injury.
Cardiff are also missing captain Gethin Jenkins and full-back Rhun Williams.
Team news (Connacht):
Connacht will be without Ireland internationals Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane, while Jarrad Butler and Craig Ronaldson remain sidelined with injury.
Fresh from bagging a try in his first start of the season against the Cheetahs last time out, winger Niyi Adeolokun earns another start.
Eoin Griffin and Tom Farrell also start but new signing Pita Ahki is named as a replacement.
Cardiff head coach Danny Wilson is wary of a sting in the tail against Connacht, having seen his troops best the Irish province 17-15 in Galway in Round Four.
“We kickstarted our season off the back of the win against Connacht in September and they’ll be wanting to get revenge,” he said.
“That was a good win and a bit of a milestone for my time here, having not beating them away before then, it has to be matched with a home win.
“We’ve put pressure on ourselves to go after the home win and Championship-wise it will move us up to fourth, and into the qualification area that we want to be in.
Key Battle: Jarrod Evans v Jack Carty
Back in the fold after recovering from a broken nose, Evans has been given the nod at fly-half ahead of Gareth Anscombe in the battle to deputise for Shingler.
The 21-year-old will attempt to dictate the rhythm of Friday’s encounter at Cardiff Arms Park but will be going up against Connacht’s Jack Carty, who has kicked a steady three penalties and three conversions in his last three games.
Key Stat: Since losing to Ulster in Round Six, Connacht have won their last four matches in all competitions.
Did you know? The Blues have not beaten Connacht both home and away since the 2013-14 season.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Owen Lane, Garyn Smith, Willis Halaholo, Tom James; Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Corey Domachowski, Matthew Rees, Taufa’ao Filise; George Earle, Damian Welch; Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Brad Thyer, Anton Peikrishvili, James Down, Josh Turnbull, Lewis Jones, Gareth Anscombe, Harri Millard
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Quinn Roux, James Cannon; Eoin McKeon, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, James Mitchell, Steve Crosbie, Pita Ahki
TV: Live on BBC2 Wales at 7.30pm
Match officials – Referee: Craig Evans (WRU, competition debut), AR1: Simon Rees (WRU), AR2: Adam Jones (WRU), Citing Commissioner: John Charles (WRU), TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Cardiff Blues were forced to battle hard to hold on for a topsy-turvy Guinness PRO14 victory that sees them leapfrog Connacht into fourth in Conference A.
The Blues scored three tries on the night through Olly Robinson, Matthew Morgan and debutant Owen Lane, and led 30-18 with barely ten minutes remaining.
But Nick Williams’ yellow led to a nervy final few moments as Connacht crossed twice late on through Shane Delahunt – the replacement hooker bagged a double in all – and John Muldoon to secure two losing bonus points in the Welsh capital.
Replacement Gareth Anscombe kicked two penalties in between those two scores that proved vital in giving the Blues a victory that keeps them in touch with the top three.
Their Irish visitors – who came into the clash on a five-game winning streak – had dominated proceedings in the early stages with only a Jack Carty penalty to show for it.
But after a Jarrod Evans penalty, Robinson went over after fine work from Lane and Willis Halaholo in the build-up.
Evans added the extras and his side led 10-3 before Niyi Adeolokun picked off an interception and raced clear under the posts.
Carty’s conversion and subsequent penalty, sanwiched by two more from Evans, meant the Blues went in 16-13 to the good.
Eoin Griffin was shown a yellow card early in the second half and the Blues made that advantage count soon after when Morgan ghosted over down the right.
And moments later Anscombe, who impressed off the bench, released Tom James for what appeared to be the decisive score.
But it was ruled out for an unnecessary Nick Williams obstruction in the build-up and Connacht went up the other end and Delahunt went over at the back of a rolling maul.
However, Anscombe then broke clear and fed debutant Lane, who picked the pass off his toes and showed great awareness to roll over the line for a fine finish.
With that, the game appeared over but another Nick Williams indiscretion saw the No.8 sent to the bin and in the end the Blues had to hold on tight as Connacht came roaring back.
But the final victory means the Blues have done the double over their Irish opponents for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie