Connacht big guns to miss Cardiff battle

None of Connacht’s new big-name signings feature in today’s opening RaboDirect Pro 12 clash against Cardiff at the Galway Sportsground (5pm).

Despite coach Eric Elwood having delayed naming his squad to give players time to recover from injuries, high-profile out-half Dan Parks, prop Nathan White, and South African Danie Poolman all failed to make the starting line-up. Flanker Willie Faloon is fit for the match-day squad, and is on the bench, with Galway native Johnny O’Connor named in a familiar back row alongside John Muldoon and George Naoupu. However, there are new faces in the squad — most notably Ireland’s Junior World Cup scrum-half Kieran Marmion and Sligo club recruit Mata Fifita, who starts in the centre alongside Eoin Griffin while Robbie Henshaw, who won a Connacht Schools Cup with Marist Athlone six months ago, is on the bench.

After a best-place finish in last season’s Pro 12, greater expectation surrounds Connacht’s new campaign, but Elwood believes it will be difficult to repeat.

“We’d like to think that, with the experience and stability in our squad, we can turn over some of those narrow defeats we had last year. Any team is only as good as its strength in depth, so whether Dan Parks is playing or Miah Nikora, we have better options in each position than last year. I’m hoping with that competitiveness, it will drive our standards up, our style, accuracy, and execution, and get us to where we want to be.” Cardiff finished seventh last season, one place ahead of Connacht, but 13 points clear. They lost a host of familiar names, and miss their internationals today.

CONNACHT: G Duffy (cpt), T O’Halloran, E Griffin M Fifita, F Vainikolo, M Nikora, K Marmion, D Buckley, E Reynecke, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, J O’Connor, G Naoupu. Replacements, A Flavin, R Ah You, F Bealham, D Gannon, W Faloon, D Moore, M Jarvis, R Henshaw.

CARDIFF BLUES: D Fish, H Robinson, G Evans, G Davies, T James, C Sweeney, L Jones, T Davies, A Kyriacou, T Filise, R Copeland, J Down, R Watts, J Navidi, A Pretorius (cpt). Replacements, R Williams, B Borrust, N Trevett, L Reed, L Hamilton, L Williams, C Allen, T Williams, O Williams.

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