Reigning champions Connacht travel to Cardiff Blues on Sunday afternoon (13:05 GMT) as both sides look to move closer to a European Rugby Champions Cup qualifying spot as the Guinness PRO12 returns.
What’s at stake?
The Blues have faltered in recent weeks after starting the season well, their 29-15 loss to Glasgow Warriors in round 13 the fourth in their last five games. They currently find themselves in seventh place in the PRO12 table, six points behind Ulster.
Connacht are one place and a further six points below Cardiff and will hope this trip to Wales is more successful than their last as they lost 29-7 at Ospreys in the previous round.
Team news (Cardiff Blues)
Gareth Anscombe, returning from injury, is one of 14 changes to the Cardiff Blues side that lost 38-53 to Worcester Warriors in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last week, the fly-half lining up alongside captain Lloyd Williams.
Only inside centre Steve Shingler retains his place from last weekend and will partner Rey Lee-Lo in the midfield, with Matthew Morgan, Rhun Williams and Blaine Scully making up the back three.
Following his release from Wales’ RBS 6 Nations squad, hooker Kristian Dacey starts with Rhys Gill and Anton Peikrishvili either side of him, while prop Scott Andrews returns on the bench.
Jarrad Hoeata and James Down are the second-rowers with Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi and Nick Williams completing a formidable pack.
Team news (Connacht)
Winger Niyi Adeolokun will make his 50th Connacht after being named as one of five players to retain their place in the starting XV following last weekend’s Anglo-Welsh Cup thrashing by Glasgow Warriors.
He is joined in the back three by Matt Healy, who also started last week, and Tiernan O’Halloran with Stacey Ili and Craig Ronaldson in the midfield and John Cooney replacing Caolin Blade as Jack Carty’s halfback partner.
In the pack Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney, who also started last week, are joined by JP Cooney in the front three with Quinn Roux and James Cannon lining up behind them.
John Muldoon, nearing his 300th appearance for Connacht, captains the side and is joined by Sean O’Brien and Jake Heenan in the back row.
Anscombe will play his first game since picking up a groin issue two months ago and is keen to put himself back in with a chance of playing for Wales again.
“It’s tough when you think you are good enough to play at that Test level, but I just haven’t had enough games,” the 25-year-old said.
“There are a couple of guys there that have been playing well for a while now and deserve to be where they are, so Wales are in a lucky situation there.
“If I play well for the Blues and they start winning, hopefully people recognise you again.”
Key battle: Hooker Kristian Dacey will be keen to show Wales were wrong to not pick him for their game against England and will look to win what promises to be a fascinating duel with opposite number Tom McCartney.
Key stat: Cardiff Blues have only lost to the Irish province once in the Welsh capital, a 26-22 victory back in 2013 ending their chances of a play-off spot that season.
Did you know? Connacht have only achieved one victory away from home in any competition this season, beating Zebre 52-7 in Italy back in October.
Cardiff Blues: 15. Matthew Morgan, 14. Blaine Scully, 13. Rey Lee-Lo, 12. Steve Shingler, 11. Rhun Williams, 10. Gareth Anscombe, 9. Lloyd Williams (capt), 1. Rhys Gill, 2. Kristian Dacey, 3. Anton Peikrishvili, 4. Jarrad Hoeata, 5. James Down, 6. Macauley Cook, 7. Josh Navidi, 8. Nick Williams
Replacements: 16. Matthew Rees, 17. Marc Thomas, 18. Scott Andrews, 19. Seb Davies, 20. Sion Bennett, 21. Tomos Williams, 22. Willis Halaholo, 23. Tom James
Connacht: 15. Tiernan O’Hallornan, 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Stacey Ili, 12. Craig Ronaldson, 11. Matt Healy, 10. Jack Carty, 9. John Cooney, 1. Denis Buckley, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. JP Cooney, 4. Quinn Roux, 5. James Cannon, 6. Sean O’Brien, 7. Jake Heenan, 8. John Muldoon (capt)
Replacements: 16. Dave Heffernan, 17. Ronan Loughney, 18. John Andress, 19. Naulia Dawai, 20. Nepia Fox-Matamua, 21. Caolin Blade, 22. Tom Farrell, 23. Danie Poolman
Top points scorer: 84 – Steve Shingler
Top try scorer: 6 – Tom James
Top points scorer: 66 – Jack Carty
Top try scorer: 4 – Niyi Adeolokun
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Blues won 20, Connacht won 5 with 2 games drawn.
At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 1.05pm Live on S4C
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 61st competition game)
Assistant Referees: Elia Rizzo (FIR), Aled Evans (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: John Charles (WRU)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)
Tiernan O’Halloran’s late drop-goal propelled Connacht back to winning ways in the Guinness PRO12 as they snuck past Cardiff Blues 19-13 at BT Sports Cardiff Arms Park.
Connacht hadn’t won in the league since December 3 and looked like heading for another defeat as hosts Cardiff led 13-0 with half-time approaching thanks to Gareth Anscombe’s boot and a Nick Williams try.
But just before the break Matt Healy went over for the visitors and the boot of John Cooney levelled matters just after the hour mark.
Connacht then had two opportunities to seal the win only for Niyi Adeolokun and Healy to fluff their lines with the tryline in sight, but O’Halloran held his nerve with two minutes left before Craig Ronaldson added a penalty to silence their hosts.
Cooney had the first chance to trouble the scoreboard after Blues’ Georgian prop Anton Peikrishvili failed to roll away, but the scrum-half’s third-minute penalty was blown wide by the wind howling around BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.
But Anscombe made no mistake with his three-pointer after 11 minutes, and he doubles the home side’s lead midway through the first half from 45m after Connacht flanker Jake Heenan was caught off-side at a ruck.
Both teams were looking to keep ball in hand but as the half progressed Cardiff Blues began to press home the advantage and bagged the game’s opening try on 28 minutes.
Centre Willis Halaholo, who was only starting following the late withdrawal of Steve Shingler, weaved his way through the Connacht defence and the Blues kept probing until No.8 Williams forced his way over, Anscombe adding the extras.
But two minutes before half-time the visitors got back in the game after several phases left wing Healy ran over with Cooney making the tough conversion out wide.
That meant Connacht trailed by just six points heading into half-time and five minutes after the break they reduced the deficit further as Cooney split the uprights following an Anscombe effort that rebounded off a post.
And Connacht’s comeback was complete on 64 minutes as the hosts were pinged just inside their half and Cooney nailed the lengthy penalty, with defences having dominated much of the second period.
It could have been so much better moments later as full-back O’Halloran surged towards the Cardiff tryline, but right wing Adeolokun couldn’t gather his pass.
And lightning struck twice with five minutes remaining as Healy was in space on the left wing only to drop the pass with the tryline in sight.
With two minutes to go Carty missed with a drop-goal attempt but O’Halloran showed him how it was done moments later before Ronaldson held his nerve from the tee to snatch victory for Connacht.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final