Bundee Aki and Conor Oliver have both been named in the starting XV to face Bristol Bears in Sunday’s pre-Christmas Heineken Champions Cup clash at The Sportsground (k/o 5.30pm).
 
Their inclusions are the only changes Andy Friend has made to the team that started in last Sunday’s losing bonus point defeat to Racing 92 in Paris. The squad features the same 23 players from that day, with Tom Daly and Jarrad Butler named among the replacements.
 
That means Paul Boyle again captains the side from the number 8 position, while Sean Masterson completes the back row with Boyle and Oliver. Sean’s brother Eoghan and Ultan Dillane again pair up in the second row, and Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham complete the pack.
 
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue at scrum-half and out-half respectively, while Aki is partnered by Sammy Arnold at outside-centre. The back three is again made up of Matt Healy, Alex Wootton and John Porch.
 
The Connacht management have kept faith with the same replacements that impressed off the bench in Paris, including the young trio of Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier and Cian Prendergast in the pack.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“While you’re never happy with a defeat, there was a huge amount to like about that performance in France last week. It makes sense for us to stick with those same group of players, so the key thing now is we bring that level of consistency to our game and produce it in week in week out. 14 of this squad of 23 came through the Connacht Academy which says it all about the trust we put in our systems at the club to play back-to-back Champions Cup games of this nature”.
 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
“European games under The Sportsground lights are always special occasions so no doubt we’ll miss our supporters again on Sunday. Both ourselves and Bristol know only a win will do if we want to reach the quarter-finals so it should be a great contest and hopefully we’ll come out the right side of the result.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS BRISTOL BEARS
Sunday 20th December, The Sportsground, k/o 5.30pm
 
Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (25)
14. Alex Wootton (8)
13. Sammy Arnold (8)
12. Bundee Aki (104)
11. Matt Healy (140)
10. Jack Carty (145)
9. Kieran Marmion (171)
1. Denis Buckley (186)
2. Dave Heffernan (133)
3. Finlay Bealham (145)
4. Eoghan Masterson (98)
5. Ultan Dillane (102)
6. Sean Masterson (6)
7. Conor Oliver (8)
8. Paul Boyle (46) (C)
Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (84)
17. Jordan Duggan (4)
18. Jack Aungier (8)
19. Cian Prendergast (3)
20. Jarrad Butler (63)
21. Caolin Blade (116)
22. Tom Daly (32)
23. Tiernan O’Halloran (185)

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