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Preview: Connacht v Cardiff Blues

Avatar Paul Eddison 12 Apr 2019

A place in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series could be on the line at the Sportsground on Saturday, where Connacht host Cardiff Blues (kick-off 3pm)

What’s at stake?

Four points separate third-placed Connacht and fourth-placed Cardiff Blues in Conference A with the visitors realistically needing to win to have a chance of claiming the last Final Series spot.

A Connacht victory would guarantee a top-three place but they face a Blues side who had been in fine form prior to last week’s defeat to Munster.

Connacht have also enjoyed an impressive season under new coach Andy Friend, and battled to an important victory away to Zebre a week ago.

Team news (Connacht)

Connacht have made two changes to the side that beat Zebre last time out as Bundee Aki returns to the side in midfield. He replaces Peter Robb and will line up alongside Tom Farrell in the centres.

The other change is in the pack where Paul Boyle slots into the back row in place of Eoin McKeon, with Jarrad Butler captaining from No.8.

Team news (Cardiff Blues)

Cardiff Blues have made three changes to their team that lost at Munster, with Jason Harries coming onto the wing in place of the injured Aled Summerhill. Up front Ethan Lewis replaces Kristian Dacey, while George Earle comes in for Shane Lewis-Hughes, with Seb Davies shifting to No.8 as a result.

Gareth Anscombe will captain the side from fly-half.

Talking points

Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “The stakes are really high but our destiny remains in our own hands. If we perform on Saturday and can win the game we can secure that play-off on Saturday and ensure a Champions Cup spot, which would be brilliant.

“We know what we need to do to get a result. We must make sure we are nice and direct, that we control the football when we have it, and when we don’t, we don’t give them easy yardage.”

Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill said: “This is a grand final for us and if we don’t get the result that we want we will be looking to a fourth-placed play-off. The club has never played in the Final Series so that’s our burning desire.

“The boys have approached this game and trained during the week as if it is a final. It’s knockout competition now and we are looking forward to the challenge.

“Connacht are a quality outfit, who have come into a bit of form, and we have known for some time it would come down to this game and Judgement Day. It is great for the competition and we are determined to stay in the fight by winning in Connacht.”

Key Battle – Bundee Aki v Willis Halaholo

A pair of Super Rugby winners will go head-to-head in midfield, Aki having won the title in his penultimate season with the Chiefs, while Halaholo managed it in his final year at the Hurricanes.

Since heading north, both have shone at domestic level, and in the case of Aki, international level as well, and their match-up should be worth the admission fee.

With gifted distributors like Jack Carty and Gareth Anscombe, expect Aki and Halaholo to be given plenty of opportunity to express themselves with ball in hand.

Key fact: Cardiff Blues have won the last three meetings between the two sides, including a 17-15 win at the Sportsground last season. Connacht are unbeaten at home to Welsh teams this season however.

Did you know? Cardiff Blues have won just one game outside Wales in the Guinness PRO14 this season, away to Edinburgh.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c)

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Jason Harries, Gareth Anscombe (c), Tomos Williams, Rhys Gill, Ethan Lewis, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Seb Davies

Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Carre, Dmitri Arhip, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Lloyd Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)
AR1: George Clancy (IRFU), AR2: Fin Brown (SRU)
TMO: Ken Henley-Willis (IRFU)
TV: Live on Premier Sports 2 & TG4 15:00


The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

Historical Lineup Pre Opta (sfms data) - Preview - v2

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

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Carty leads Connacht to a Guinness PRO14 Final Series spot with win over Blues

Avatar Will Thompson 13 Apr 2019

Jack Carty inspired Connacht to a fourth consecutive Guinness PRO14 win to secure a top three spot in Conference A by beating Cardiff Blues.

In tough, windy conditions in Galway, Caolin Blade sliced through first before Owen Lane responded for Blues.

Gavin Thornbury gave Connacht the lead before the break, and Carty added another after half time to put them in the driving position.

In a dramatic conclusion, Josh Turnbull powered over to give Blues hope, before Matt Healy scored instantly from the restart for Connacht to get them over the line despite Jason Harries dotting down in the last minute.

Blade opened scoring with some fancy footwork to get beyond the last fender after Paul Boyle broke the defence and offloaded brilliantly on the way down.

Carty converted, but Cardiff responded not long after.

Lane burst through the Connacht line with electric pace and raced underneath the posts as the defenders fell away.

Gareth Anscombe added the extras to level the score halfway through the first half.

Thornbury scored only his second try for Connacht to put them ahead after a driving-maul line-out, with Carty again converting.

Carty had the chance to increase the hosts’ lead with a penalty but his effort went awry due to the strong winds, and Connacht went into the break 14-7 up.

The fly-half redeemed himself after half time by slotting a penalty in front of the posts, bringing his tally in the Guinness PRO14 this season to 142, more than any other players.

Carty then finished off a flowing move from back to front, chipping past Matthew Morgan to touch down and converted his own score, putting Connacht 24-7 in front.

Anscombe pulled three back from the tee with half an hour remaining as they searched for a foothold in the game.

They looked to have done exactly that when Seb Davies pounced on a loose ball in front of Connacht’s try line and put Jason Harries in space down the corner to touch down.

However, the TMO replay showed Harries touching the ball down while his other hand brushed the touchline and the score was chalked off.

Blues were vindicated shortly after, with Turnbull muscling over from a driving-maul line-out, but Connacht pressured Blues straight from the kick off and Healy jumped on an error to dot down in the corner.

There was still drama to ensue, as Anscombe put Harries over in the corner with a minute remaining to give them hope, but Connacht turned the ball over in added time and kicked it out to hold on to a valuable victory that sealed their first quarter-final in four seasons.

The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

Match Page 2017-18 - Summary WP:137

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Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Performance WP:138