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Guinness Pro14, Round 13 – preview & team news
Connacht v Cardiff
Saturday, February 20th 2021
The Sportsground, Galway @ 7:35 pm
Saturday night’s game at the Sportsground sees the home side looking to rediscover their home form. After four home defeats in a row, Andy Friend’s side will be looking to consolidate second-place in Conference B against the side immediately below them in the table.
Last time out
Connacht’s away from is in stark contrast to their recent troubles at home. A bonus point 20-30 win over the Dragons saw them take 5 points from their visit to Rodney Parade. Two tries in each half from Matt Healy, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade and Tom Daly highlighted Connacht’s undoubted attacking threat. However, the concession of a hat-trick of tries to Dragons hooker Richard Hibbard will be a cause of concern for the Connacht defence. All three tries were a carbon copy of each other. For each of the scores, the Dragons set up a driving maul off a lineout and powered over. The legalities of the attacking side’s bind may have been questionable, but it was effective and the ease with which the Connacht defence was driven back will be of huge concern to the coaching staff.
Dai Young’s Cardiff enjoyed a narrow 10-13 win away to Scarlets last time out. However, that game was played on January 22nd, so this will be their first game in almost a month. They are likely to be without their contingent of Welsh national team players. This includes the impressive Willis Halaholo. The centre who has featured 76 times for the blues signed a new contract with the club yesterday.
Despite the probable changes in personnel due to Six Nations action, this is an important game for both coaches. It’s second v third in Conference B. Munster are on top of the pile after 11 rounds on 42 points, with Connacht (32 points) looking to close the gap. Both sides have a game in hand over third-placed Cardiff (26), while Scarlets have a return of 25 points from 12 matches in the fourth European qualification spot.
Connacht were dealt a blow during the week when it was announced that Quinn Roux will need shoulder surgery. The South African born, Irish international is likely to be out of action for three months. Centre Peter Robb is also set for a spell on the sidelines. He will go under the knife this week due to an abdomen injury sustained against the Dragons last time out. Sean O’Brien and Conor Dean are also ruled out after picking up knocks while in action for the Connacht Eagles against Munster ‘A’ at the Sportsground last Friday. Ben O’Donnell is continuing return to play protocols after a HIA against Dragons.
Long-term absentees Sammy Arnold, Tom Farrell, Stephen Fitzgerald and Cillian Gallagher continue to work their way back to fitness.
Cardiff ran out convincing 29-7 winners when the sides last met in round 2, back in October. Their last meeting at the Sportsground was just over a year ago. Connacht blitzed their opponents 29-0 in a one-sided game on the 15th February 2020.
The reduction of Andy Farrell Irish to 24 saw Bundee Aki, Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane back to the Connacht training squad. Aki and Heffernan both trained on Monday and Dillane joined the group on Tuesday. As a result, all three have been named to start Saturday’s game. Dillane’s release back to Connacht is particularly timely given Quinn Roux’s long term injury. The Tralee man will partner Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
In the back row team captain, Jarrad Butler returns to the starting line-up alongside Eoghan Masterson and Paul Boyle. The pack is rounded out by a front row of Jordan Duggan, Heffernan and Finlay Bealham.
Caolin Blade and Jack Carty continue their half-back pairing. Expect Kieran Marmion to feature off the bench from about the 50-minute mark. Bundee Aki slots in alongside the in-form Tom Daly in the centre pairing. While Matt Healy. Alex Wootton and John Porch round out the backs.
Cardiff are strengthened by the release of prop Rhys Carre and scrum-half Lloyd Williams from the Welsh squad. While in the back row, Ellis Jenkins is set for his first start in over two years after a prolonged spell on the sidelines. Dai Young has handed a debut to 18-year-old centre Mason Grady.