The race for the Guinness PRO14 quarter-finals is set to crank up with Finals Series chasers Connacht and Cardiff Blues going head to head in Galway on Saturday night.
The two sides will be desperate to secure one of the coveted top three places in Conference B but sit on the fringes after 10 matches.
Connacht lie in fourth, five points adrift of third-placed Munster and will be aiming to end a run of five straight defeats in all competitions.
But Cardiff are breathing down their necks as they are just one place and one point behind the men in green and know a victory could put them firmly into the mix for a top-three spot.
Connacht have been boosted by the return of two Ireland internationals as Ultan Dillane comes into the second row and Dave Heffernan starts at hooker.
Wing Hallam Amos has overcome an ankle injury to line-up for Cardiff as he joins Dan Fish and Jason Harries in the back three.
Flanker Josh Turnbull will make his 100th Guinness PRO14 appearance.
How to watch: Live on Premier Sports 1, TG4, DAZN and pro14.tv
Players to watch out for: Jack Carty v Jason Tovey
With heavy rain and gales set to hit the Sportsground, the territorial battle will be all-important in deciding this clash.
A lot of focus will be on how fly-halves Tovey and Carty manage the conditions and move their side around the field.
Cardiff Blues’s Carty will be disappointed to have missed out on Ireland selection for the Guinness Six Nations and this will be a chance to push his case.
The 27-year-old has racked up 27 points in nine matches this term and Connacht will hope he will be on song from the tee against Connacht.
His opposite number, Tovey, has played second fiddle to Jarrod Evans for much of this season.
But with Evans away with Wales Tovey will be looking to seize his opportunity in the No.10 jersey and guide Connacht to victory.
The 30-year-old is not short of experience having made 176 appearances in the Guinness PRO14 and is just 49 points away from hitting the 1,000 mark.
Key stat: Four points or less have separated Cardiff Blues’s past four Guinness PRO14 matches with the Blues winning three of those so they are well-versed in tense tussles.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (CAPT)
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly
Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish; Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Garyn Smith, Hallam Amos; Jason Tovey, Lloyd Williams (CAPT), Rhys Gill, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Filo Paulo, James Ratti, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Will Boyde
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Nick Williams, Lewis Jones, Ben Thomas, Ryan Edwards
Jack Carty produced a masterful performance to steer Connacht to a bonus-point 29-0 victory over Cardiff Blues in the Guinness PRO14.
Having missed out on Guinness Six Nations selection the fly-half proved a point to Ireland boss Andy Farrell by pulling the strings in Connacht’s home triumph.
Carty played a part in two of Connacht’s four tries and landed four of his five kicks at goal in blustery conditions.
The result sees Connacht close the gap on third-placed Scarlets as Blues slipped off the pace in the race for the quarter-finals.
Connacht came flying out of the traps as Carty fed Tiernan O’Halloran who went charging through. Peter Robb collected O’Halloran’s offload as he was stopped short, but a few phases later the ball was turned over by James Ratti.
The early pressure resulted in a sixth-minute penalty by Carty and Connacht’s pack threatened to drive over the try-line on 14 minutes only for Ratti to make another crucial intervention.
Blues were struggling to get out of their own half with Carty and O’Halloran both producing a series of superb touchfinders.
Connacht were also dominant at the lineout with Gavin Thornbury making two steals and that pressure told on 27 minutes.
Hooker Dave Heffernan collected an overthrow by his opposite number Liam Belcher before stepping inside and cutting through Blues’ defence to score. Carty made the conversion to give Connacht a 10-0 lead.
It was all Connacht as Niyi Adeolokun flew through a gap and Paul Boyle surged forward before the hosts scored their second try on 34 minutes.
Carty was running the show and his deflected grubber fell to Robb who collected and dived over in the corner. Carty missed the conversion, but Connacht led 15-0 at the break and they strengthened their lead at the start of the second period.
Carty’s fizzing pass was gobbled up by Denis Buckley who pulled off a stunning behind-the-back offload for John Porch to finish. Carty added the extras.
The bonus point was then sealed on the hour mark as Connacht turned the ball over before Kyle Godwin stormed home from inside his own half.
Carty then curled the ball home from the tee to move Connacht 29-0 ahead.
Blues created their best chance moments later as No.8 Will Boyde made a barnstorming run only for Adeolokun to make a crucial tackle.
With Connacht’s penalty count rising Buckley was sin-binned for an infringement on 65 minutes. But Blues were unable to find a way through the home defence.
There were several contenders with Carty playing a starring role, but it was hooker Heffernan that sent Connacht on their way.
Just three points separated the two sides before Heffernan struck on 27 minutes as he was sharpest to an overthrown lineout and great footwork saw him breakthrough for the opening score.
Props are not usually known for their offloading ability but replacement loosehead Buckley produced an outrageous piece of skill on 49 minutes.
After picking a great line to get on the end of Carty’s pass Buckley then flicked the ball behind his back and Porch was on hand to dot down.