Sunday 23 July 2017

Young confident Cardiff's 'extra quality' can see off Elwood's Connacht

Hugh Farrelly

CARDIFF BLUES coach Dai Young believes the "extra quality" in his side should garner victory when they take on Connacht at the Cardiff City Stadium tonight (7.05).

Young has been impressed by Connacht's performances this season -- which have produced two victories, a draw and a losing bonus point from four outings -- but thinks Cardiff have the better players.

"We've got to manage and match their desire, commitment and work rate and if we can do that, I like to think we've got a bit of extra quality in our squad and we can come away with a win," said Young.

Connacht taking on the Blues is a big test at the best of times, but playing them in Cardiff -- after a four-day turnaround while based 70km away in Swansea -- is daunting in the extreme.

The Swansea scenario has come about because of the Ryder Cup accommodation crisis in Cardiff, but the bigger problem for Connacht coach Eric Elwood has been the lack of recovery time after Saturday's bruising 15-15 draw with Ulster at the Sportsground.

Connacht have stuck largely to the same 15 for their first four Magners League outings, with considerable success, and Elwood has gone to the well once more with 13 of the players who ran out against Ulster in the starting line-up.

Sean Cronin is rested at hooker under the IRFU's Player Welfare Programme, with Adrian Flavin coming in at No 2 and academy graduate Dermot Murphy on the bench.

In the second-row, Andrew Browne comes in for Bernie Upton, who drops to the bench, while there is a welcome return to the squad for Johnny O'Connor, taking over from Shane Conneely as back-row back-up.

Young welcomes back influential Kiwi centre Casey Laulala and gives a first start of the season to scrum-half Gareth Cooper.

Although without experienced flankers Martyn Williams (shoulder) and Maama Molitika (groin), Young can still name a powerful back-row containing in-form flankers Michael Paterson and Sam Warburton, either side of captain Xavier Rush at No 8.

Gethin Jenkins is on the bench having battled the 'flu all week, which means John Yapp starts at loose-head next to Rhys Williams at hooker. Alongside Jenkins, Young has vast experience on his bench in the form of Paul Tito, Ceri Sweeney and Tom Shanklin.

Cardiff have never lost to Connacht at home, with the Westerners' only wins in this fixture coming in Galway in 2005 and 2009. Connacht narrowly lost in Llanelli to the Scarlets in their second-round game and won their last away game in Glasgow, but they have to go back to 2004/05 for the last time they won successive league matches away from the Sportsground.

However, their displays this season have propelled them to fifth place in the table -- two points behind third-placed Cardiff -- and Young is wary of the visitors' attacking threat.

"They've played some great stuff this year," said the Cardiff coach. "They're probably only 30 seconds away form being unbeaten coming into this game, so I'm a little bit worried about this match."

The Blues are coming into this clash on the back of a solid victory in Treviso and their only defeat so far was in the RDS against Leinster. They have strength in every row of their team plus the benefit of home advantage and an extra day's recovery.

All things considered, a losing bonus point would be a worthwhile return for Elwood's men.

Verdict: Cardiff

CARDIFF -- B Blair; L Halfpenny, C Laulala, D Hewitt, C Czekaj; D Parks, G Cooper; J Yapp, R Williams, T Filise; B Davies, D Jones; M Paterson, S Warburton, X Rush (Capt). Reps: K Dacey, G Jenkins, S Andrews, P Tito, A Pretorius, K Baller, C Sweeney, T Shanklin.

CONNACHT -- G Duffy; T Nathan, N Ta'auso, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy (Capt); B Wilkinson; A Flavin, J Hagan; M Swift, A Browne; M McCarthy, R Ofisa, M McComish, Reps: D Murphy, R Loughney, R Sweeney, B Upton, J O'Connor, C Willis, M Nikora, D Fanning

REF -- A Macpherson (Scotland)

Cardiff Blues v Connacht,

Live, RTE 2, 7.05

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