The Connacht squad has been named for tomorrow’s historic Heineken Champions Cup games against Leinster at the Sportsground.
Friday’s game will be Connacht first ever appearance in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup, and a massive home crowd is expected for the game.
In another welcome boost alongside the home supporters, Head Coach Andy Friend has the benefit of a number of players returning to action.
British & Irish Lion Bundee Aki returns for his first appearance since before the Six Nations.
There’s also a first start of the season for Gavin Thornbury after an impressive cameo off the bench last weekend following an 11 month absence.
The third and final change is the inclusion of club captain Jarrad Butler after missing the win over Benetton through injury.
He forms a back row with flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver, while Leva Fifita partners Thornbury.
The front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged.
Match captain Jack Carty starts at 10 beside Kieran Marmion, while Aki will have Tom Farrell for company at outside centre.
A back three of full-back Tiernan O’Halloran and wingers Mack Hansen and John Porch completes the side.
Connacht will need to do better than their recent home ground defeat by Leinster in the URC two weeks ago.
Despite having the home field advantage, Connacht finished with a disappointing 45 – 8 loss, after playing most of the game down a man.
Commenting on the coming game, Andy Friend said that there is a huge feeling of excitement among the players and management.
“These are the type of games you want to be involved in, and with a capacity crowd behind us it’s going to be a great occasion and one we firmly believe we can win.”
“We have over 45 players training between our Pros and integrated Academy players so that’s a great place to be at this stage of the season, and it’s given the coaches some headaches for our squad selection as well.”
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Friday 8th April, 20:00 @ The Sportsground
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (203)
14. John Porch (54)
13. Tom Farrell (75)
12. Bundee Aki (115)
11. Mack Hansen (10)
10. Jack Carty (175) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (204)
1. Matthew Burke (36)
2. Dave Heffernan (160)
3. Finlay Bealham (170)
4. Gavin Thornbury (59)
5. Leva Fifita (11)
6. Cian Prendergast (26)
7. Conor Oliver (37)
8. Jarrad Butler (91)
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (2)
17. Tietie Tuimauga (9)
18. Jack Aungier (27)
19. Oisín Dowling (21)
20. Abraham Papali’i (22)
21. Caolin Blade (146)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (48)
23. Sammy Arnold (35)