Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has named Academy players Conor Fitzgerald and Kieran Joyce in his starting team and Matthew Burke on the bench for the trip to Perpignan in the European Challenge Cup on Friday (k/o 7pm Irish time).
 
Joyce is retained in the midfield following his debut in the win over Perpignan last weekend while Fitzgerald is also set for his second start having been previously handed the number 10 jersey against Sale Sharks in October.
Joyce and Fitzgerald come into a back line that shows a blend of youth and experience. Joyce will partner David Horwitz in the midfield as the Australian makes a positional switch from out-half where he played last week.
 
In the back three, Darragh Leader is retained at full back, as are wingers Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher.
 
In the pack, hooker Dave Heffernan captains the side again with the Ballina native joined by props Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy in the front row. In the second row, James Cannon comes into the side as does the impressive Gavin Thornbury
In the back row, Robin Copeland returns from injury to start at number 8, alongside Sean O’Brien and James Connolly who played the full 80 minutes in the win in the Sportsground last week.
 
Connacht go into the game against Perpignan with four wins in a row in all competitions, and Head Coach Andy Friend says it is important to keep that momentum as Connacht face into the Christmas interpro series; “We have gained some real momentum with four wins in a row that included our back to back victories in South Africa. It was important to get the win over Perpignan last weekend to keep our interest alive in this competition, but we know that the return fixture will be a completely different game. Perpignan are in search of a win and the longer they go without that win, the more dangerous they are. They are a different proposition when they are playing at home and we will need a huge performance to challenge them”, Friend said.
 
Commenting on his team selection Friend added: “We have selected a blend of youth and experience in our side. We are seeing strong competition within the squad and that is hugely important as we head into the second half of the season. There are a few academy players in our match day squad again this weekend and that has been a feature of our selections this season. Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Joyce and Matthew Burke have performed well when called on so far and that is why we have selected them again”.
 
#PERvCON
 
Kick-off 7pm (Irish Time):
(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Kieran Joyce, David Horwitz, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, James Mitchell, (1-8) Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan (Capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Gavin Thornbury, Sean O’Brien, James Connolly, Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Matthew Burke, Conor Carey, Joe Maksymiw, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Kyle Godwin.

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