Connacht's depth to be tested against dangerous Cardiff
Whatever about the other three provinces, it's boom time for Connacht too.
They held their end up last weekend with a stunning win in Bordeaux to guarantee a record representation for Irish provinces in the quarter-finals of European competition. For now, they reside in the second tier of Europe's elite; they do not want to stay there.
They have two routes to ensure their return to the highest level; by winning the Challenge Cup or seeking entry via this competition.
The traffic remains clogged in both; a quarter-final clash away awaits in Europe - they will send a stronger side but were beaten by Sale in the pool stages - and the Six Nations schedule in the league could have been more forgiving as they seek to gain further traction domestically.
Connacht have also become victims of their own resurgent success, losing six players to Camp Ireland which means their welcome reliance on their fringe players will be severely tested in the next couple of months.
This evening's trip to a Cardiff side who, although also shorn of key individuals, remain rather formidable in their back yard, will be a key litmus test for Connacht while their main stars are away.
"We've found ourselves in that funny state of flux where we've been successful on the pitch," explains assistant coach Nigel Carolan.
"What we want is as many guys getting international recognition as we can - that's part of our own grassroots to green shirts vision - and when those guys get that recognition, they're taken from us for a period of time, where they need to be managed.
"One of the factors that's contributed to the success that we've had is very much the competition that we've had in the squad and our ability to rotate the squad. Young guys are getting the opportunity.
"We feel that when someone is away, we've built up good depth across a number of positions and we feel very comfortable that whoever plays they can slot into the game plan quite seamlessly."
This is a real 10-pointer, as Cardiff coach John Mulvihill insists.
"This is our first chance to have a real crack at them," he says.
"If we win this week it puts us in touch with third place. If we lose it's like an eight to 10-point turnaround for us, so it's important we get off to a good start and put them under a lot of pressure.
"They're missing a few key players and so are we, but our depth is quite good in those areas so we'll be able to put out a good team."
With Gavin Thornbury absent with shoulder trouble, lock Ciaran Gallagher, from Sligo, is one of 10 changes made by Connacht coach Andy Friend.
"We have won eight of our last 10 games so we go into the game with confidence but we know what a tough team Cardiff are to play, especially when they are at home," says Friend.
"These inter-conference games have a huge bearing on the overall standings in the PRO14 so we are fully aware of the importance of the fixture.
Cardiff's only league loss at home was a slim defeat to champions Leinster; Connacht have lost their last five in Wales.
Cardiff Blues - M Morgan; O Lane, H Millard, R Lee-Lo, A Summerhill; S Shingler, L Williams; B Thyer, K Dacey (capt), D Arhip; G Earle, R Thornton; S Lewis-Hughes, O Robinson, N Williams. Reps: L Belcher, R Carré, S Andrews, M Cook, J Botham, L Jones, D Fish, W Halaholo.
Connacht - T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, K Godwin, T Daly, M Healy; D Horwitz, J Mitchell; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; J Cannon, C Gallagherl; E McKeon, C Fainga'a, J Butler (capt). Reps: T McCartney, M Burke, D Robertson-McCoy, J Maksymiw, P Boyle, A Lloyd, C Fitzgerald, S Fitzgerald.
Ref - Mike Adamson (SRU).
Cardiff Blues v Connacht,
Cardiff Arms Park, 5.15pm, TG4
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