Friend names Connacht team for season-defining Cardiff showdown

Saturday’s clash at the Sportsground is a sell-out as the province bid to secure a Pro14 play-off berth.

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend has made two changes for Saturday’s crucial Guinness Pro14 clash against Cardiff Blues in Galway, with Bundee Aki and Paul Boyle returning to the starting XV.

Aki resumes his midfield partnership with Tom Farrell after sitting out last weekend’s victory over Zebre, while Boyle comes into the back row in place of Eoin McKeon.

Bundee Aki Bundee Aki starts for Connacht against Cardiff tomorrow. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Connacht, sitting in third place in Conference A, can secure a Pro14 play-off berth, and a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup, with victory over the Blues at the Sportsground [KO 3pm, TG4/Premier Sports].

The province this morning confirmed tomorrow’s round 20 showdown is now officially a sell-out, as Friend’s men bid to progress through to the knockout stages for the first time since they won the Pro14 title in 2016.  

While Quinn Roux is unavailable through illness and Finlay Bealham is sidelined with a finger injury, Connacht are otherwise at full-strength for a season-defining game. 

There is a familiar look to the backline with Tiernan O’Halloran named at fullback, Darragh Leader and Matt Healy selected on the wings, and Jack Carty and Caolin Blade continuing their half-back partnership. 

Kieran Marmion has to settle for a place on the bench.

Boyle’s selection at blindside sees him come into a back row with openside Colby Fainga’a and captain Jarrad Butler at number eight, while the front five remain unchanged from last week.

Props Denis Buckley and Dominic Robertson-McCoy line up in the front row alongside hooker Dave Heffernan, while Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury continue in the second row.  

Marmion is joined on the bench by, among others, Robin Copeland, Tom Daly and Cian Kelleher as Connacht look to get the job done and book their place at the top table of European rugby again next season.

“The stakes are really high but our destiny remains in our own hands,” Friend said.

“If we perform on Saturday and can win the game we can secure that play-off on Saturday night 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 get don’t give them easy yardage.”

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15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Darragh Leader
13. Tom Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Caolin Blade

1. Denis Buckley
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Paul Boyle
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Jarrad Butler (captain).


16. Shane Delahunt
17. Matthew Burke
18. Conor Carey
19. James Cannon
20. Robin Copeland
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Tom Daly
23. Cian Kelleher. 

Cardiff Blues:

15. Matthew Morgan
14. Owen Lane
13. Rey Lee-Lo
12. Willis Halaholo
11. Jason Harries
10. Gareth Anscombe (captain)
9. Tomos Williams

1. Rhys Gill
2. Ethan Lewis
3. Dillon Lewis
4. George Earle
5. Rory Thornton
6. Josh Turnbull
7. Olly Robinson
8. Seb Davies.


16. Liam Belcher
17. Rhys Carre
18. Dmitri Arhip
19. Shane Lewis-Hughes
20. James Botham
21. Lloyd Williams
22. Jarrod Evans
23. Garyn Smith. 

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Bernard Jackman to discuss Izzy Folau’s impending sacking by Australia and all the week’s news on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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