Landmark night for Connacht Rugby talisman John Muldoon

John Muldoon becomes the first player to make 200 appearances in the Guinness Pro12 when he leads Connacht against Cardiff at Arms Park this evening (7.05pm).

Landmark night for Connacht Rugby talisman John Muldoon

While proud of the achievement, the Portumna native, who turned 33 this week, says taking the four points over Cardiff and maintaining their pole position in the Pro12 is the only priority.

“I have been around long enough to understand that things can come and go quickly, but it’s to try to keep everyone focused because we are in control of our destiny and we are in control what we do at the moment.”

Muldoon first joined Connacht as a Colt player under Steph Nel in 2001 — the first year of the Celtic competition, which saw Connacht overcome Cardiff by 6-3, thanks to two Eric Elwood penalties. While games between the two sides have always been close, Connacht have only taken the spoils once in the Welsh capital since that first season.

However this is the first time Connacht have travelled to Arms Park as league leaders, following last weekend’s first win over Munster in Thomond Park in 29 years.

“We have a few players coming back from injuries and that fresh injection will be good for us,” says Muldoon. “They are more upset having missed the game against Munster, so they are keeping us grounded. “We have a couple of big games in the next couple of weeks and they want to be part of it, so they have been the driving force this week.”

Connacht coach Pat Lam has made eight changes for this evening’s fixture - some enforced once again by continuing injuries.

Last week’s try-scorer Tiernan O’Halloran moves to full-back in the absence of the injured Robbie Henshaw, with Darragh Leader making his 50th appearance, named on the right wing. Jack Carty returns to out-half with AJ MacGinty now sidelined for a month with a knee tear, while Ian Porter makes his first Pro12 start of the season at scrum-half. Up front Ronan Loughney, Dave Heffernan and Rodney Ah You form a new front row, while Quinn Roux returns from injury to partner Aly Muldowney in the second row. No 8 Eoin McKeon is also back from injury, joint Academy flanker James Connolly who won his first senior cap against Munster, and Muldoon.

Lam says Cardiff has been a difficult fixture in the past few seasons.

“They are very tough to beat at home. They have some quality, experienced players in their squad and they will view this game as a chance to get back to winning ways.

“We know we will have to be at our best and fully focused as a team. I’d also like to give a special mention to our skipper and warrior Mul [John Muldoon] who consistently epitomises what we’re about and leads his province into battle for the record-breaking 200th time in the Pro12.”

Cardiff, despite languishing in 10th place with just one win, but four losing bonus points, have named a strong side, which boasts some 12 international starters. Alex Cuthbert is back on the wing, with Rhys Patchell at full-back, while up front New Zealander Jarrad Hoeata teams up with Lou Reed in the second row.

CONNACHT RUGBY:

T O’Halloran, D Leader, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy, J Carty, I Porter, R Loughney, D Heffernan, R Ah You, Q Roux, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt), J Connolly, E McKeon. Replacements, J Harris-Wright, C O’Donnell, F Bealham, G Naoupu, S O’Brien, K Marmion, P Robb, R Parata.

CARDIFF BLUES:

R Patchell, A Cuthbert, R Lee-Lo, G Evans, T James, J Evans, L Williams, G Jenkins (cpt), E Lewis, T Filise, J Hoeata, L Reed, M Cook, J Turnbull, M Vosawai. Replacements, K Dacey, S Hobbs, C Mitchell, J Down, C Dolan, T Knoyle, G Smith, D Fish.

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