Opportunity knocks for provinces to make up vital ground
Wedged in the gap between the glamour of Six Nations fixtures, Connacht go to Cardiff in search of something, and Leinster head to Treviso looking for a bit more. If last season is anything to go by then this will be a bountiful period for both, with each of them recording four wins from four in the international window. How Connacht would love that.
Slightly different vibe for them this season, however. And for Leinster too, for whom the return - on the bench - of Joey Carbery is the most significant of a raft of changes. Clearly that has implications for Ireland, and it will be interesting to see if Jamison Gibson-Park is still on the field by the time Carbery gets a run. The Kiwi's selection ahead of Luke McGrath will be ascribed to rotation, but if you were McGrath you'd be concerned.
For two front-rowers it's also a big deal. Richardt Strauss captains the side for the first time, and featuring at some point at tighthead will be Mike Ross, who gets his first run since tearing a hamstring in early November.
Having lost just one of 13 meetings between the teams, it's unlikely Leo Cullen sees that stat taking a turn for the worse, despite the absence of his marquee names. He can still put out an all Ireland back-row as part of a pack with five Test players; and another three behind the scrum, including Dave Kearney who is back after a four-month absence with an ankle injury.
For Connacht, it's an altogether tougher trip. Cardiff, despite Welsh distractions, have a decent side out, though they will be under huge pressure to close the gap on the top six, and have targeted this Six Nations block of games to do something about it. Connacht could identify with that, and have a good enough spread of players across to start on the right note.
Cardiff: M Morgan; B Scully, R Ley-Lo, S Shingler, R Williams; G Anscombe, L Williams; R Gill, K Dacey, A Peikrishvili, J Hoeata, J Down, M Cook, N Williams, J Navidi. Replacements: M Rees, M Thomas, S Andrews, S Davies, S Bennett; T Williams, W Halaholo, T James.
Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, S Ili, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, J Cooney; D Buckley, T McCartney, JP Cooney, Q Roux, J Cannon, S O'Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt). Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, J Andress, N Dawai, N Fox-Matamua; C Blade, T Farrell, D Poolman
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)
TV: S4C, 1.05pm
Treviso: D Odiete; A Pratichetti, T Iannone, A Sgarbi, L Sperandio; I McKinley, T Tebaldi; F Zani, L Bigi, T Pasquali, F Geraso, F Paulo, M Lazzaroni, R Barbieri, D Budd
Replacements: D Giazzon, N Quaglio, M Zanusso, F Minto, G Zanini; E Francescato, M Tagicakibau, A Buondonno
Leinster: Z Kirchner; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, N Reid, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, R Strauss (capt), M Bent, M Kearney, I Nagle, D Ryan, J Conan, D Leavy. Replacements: B Byrne, A Porter, M Ross, R Molony, P Timmins; L McGrath, J Carbery, B Daly
Referee: D Jones (Wales)
Kick off: 1.30pm. TV: not available live
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