Connacht v Cardiff Blues
PRO14, Round 20, April 13th.
Saturday @ 3pm, The Sportsground, Galway
Connacht and Cardiff face off in a game which, despite a myriad of other permutations, will basically decide which team will go into the quarter-final of the PRO 14 for 2019 and also secure Champions Cup rugby next season. Connacht sits four points ahead of Cardiff in the Conference A Standings, the Westerners are on 56 points with Cardiff on 52 points.
Andy Friend has made two changes to the side that squeezed past Zebre by a single point in a low scoring encounter in Parma last Saturday (5-6). Paul Boyle comes into the back row at number six for Eoin McKeon and Bundee Aki returns from a rest week to partner Tom Farrell at centre in place of Peter Robb.
Cardiff have made four changes from the blues side that lost 45-21 in Cork last Friday evening. Ethan Lewis comes in for Kristian Dacey at Hooker, while Seb Davies is replaced by George Earle in the second row. Shane Lewis-Hughes makes way for Sam Davies in the back row as Josh Turnbull moves from no.8 to no.6 to facilitate this switch. Jason Harries comes in for Aled Summerhill on the wing in the only change in the back division.
Speaking on the Craggy Rugby Podcast with William Davies Connacht coach Andy Friend said in regards to the game, when it was put to him that it was a season-defining game, he said “This is it’s a game that either promotes us or keeps Cardiff’s hopes alive”. Friend said that Connacht have the advantage as “we (Connacht) have got the 16th man, he said there won’t be much in it and they know exactly what is one the line. As we mentioned Connacht are 4 points ahead, this was put to Friend by the Craggy broadcasters to get the job done this weekend in which he replied “Yes that’s the intention, we have said the last five weeks if we keeping win we’ll be there, this weekend is no different we know we have got to be there and that is our intention”.
Asked if there was extra pressure on players Friend said: “Normally the bigger players stand up, the ones that got the international cap, you need those player to stand up”. Speaking about the Academy system on how it’s working with young players coming through he said “It’s a real compliment to Eric, Mossy and Ambrose that do the work, we need to have that indigenous player and academy player coming through. He continued “I call it the vegetable patch, you gotta have a healthy vegetable patch, cause there the blokes that are growing in behind, we integrate them into training every now and then to get a taste of what it’s like to be a pro player there are four players coming out of that next year to me it’s a sign of a healthy vegetable patch”.
Paul Boyle was also speaking on the podcast. He said speaking of the game ahead against Cardiff, “This is what we want, these are the games, the big games to get into the Champions Cup and quarterfinals which was our goal at the start of the season so we train Wednesday and Thursday and go hammer and thongs for Saturday can’t wait”. Boyle said that the side are taking it as another game, he said: “Most games I’ve been involved in are must-win games and if we didn’t win them we would be in a different place now”. The question was put to Boyle on what was the reaction following the Zebre game on Saturday (last Saturday) and if that will impact here he said “We have done our analysis, we came to conclusion that we weren’t slick enough, we just weren’t clinical enough in their 22 and that is what cost us, but saying that a 6-5 win doesn’t sound pretty but if that was offered to me for the Cardiff game I would take it”.
Boyle was asked what does he think Cardiff will bring to the game on Saturday? “Yeah, look they have a couple of big ball carriers up front and a few quick lightning lads out wide, they have a good variety to their game, we haven’t focused on one thing in particular, we are focused on ourselves and we feel if we get ourselves right we will put a good performance in on Saturday”. Boyle a graduate of the Connacht Academy was asked will he be able help the new players coming up from it next season he said “Yeah the good thing about the academy system here is if lads are performing they are getting the chance to train with the senior, so those boys are playing and training with the seniors already so they know what to expect”.
Linley McKenzie, Alan Deegan and William all spoke as to what Connacht needed to do to get the win to guarantee Champions Cup rugby and a place in the Pro 14 playoffs for the first time since 2016. Linley McKenzie said hopefully the historical factor won’t come in to play this weekend, she said what worries her is that Connacht have a history of making things difficult for themselves. She said Cardiff are a confident and arrogant side. She said Connacht could be home and hosed if they play to their potential.
William said that Connacht need to play with confidence or verve or something just to take the pressure off themselves. “That is where the leaders I’m looking to Jack Carty, Bundee Aki, Tiernan O’Halloran, it’s all about making the right decisions, they talk about the process and the systems, but it’s about doing the right things. They spoke about Connacht having to capitalise on Cardiff and that they can’t be 9 times in the Cardiff 22 and kick two penalties that’s not going to get the job done. Linley said “The approach Andy Friend is taking for this game is not to build it up so the players do become so tense and worried about it”, She added: “The mental strength of this team will show itself if all goes to plan, as well the development and support for the crowd will show itself and there will be a victory in the end”.
The Craggy Island trio then moved on to speak about Cardiff and spoke about Josh Navidi.