Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made a host of changes to the side that lost to Sale Sharks in the European Challenge Cup Quarter Final last weekend. His side travel to Zebre for a vital Guinness PRO14 clash on Saturday (Kick Off 5:30pm Irish time) - the result of which will have a huge bearing on Connacht’s hopes of reaching the knock out stages of the competition and ultimately qualifying for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
Among those recalled is Captain Jarrad Butler at number 8, who comes into a back row alongside Eoin McKeon and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively.
Ireland international lock Ultan Dillane comes back into the second row alongside Gavin Thornbury, while in the front row, props Denis Buckley and Dominic Robertson-McCoy are selected alongside hooker Dave Heffernan.
Jack Carty and Caolin Blade form the half-back pairing, with Carty shaking off an arm injury that caused him to be withdrawn last weekend.
In the midfield, Peter Robb comes in for his third start of the season alongside the impressive Tom Farrell.
In the back three Tiernan O’Halloran is named at full-back with Matt Healy and Darragh Leader on the wings.
Ahead of the game, the Connacht Head Coach says that a win this weekend is vital as his side fight it out for a PRO14 playoff spot; “We have picked a strong side and a side capable of going to Zebre and winning the game. We are fully aware of the dangers that Zebre can present, particularly when they are at home. There are a number of our boys who were not involved in Europe last weekend, so they are coming back in fresh after that break and that brings more energy to the group”, Friend said.
On Connacht’s overall performance this season, Friend added; “We said all along that we want to be in the knockout stages of the PRO14 and with three games to go, our destiny is still in our own hands. If we keep winning we will be in that playoff spot so that is our sole focus away to Zebre on Saturday”.
Kick-off 5:30pm (Irish Time)
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher.