Heffernan takes over the captaincy from Jarrad Butler who is ruled out through injury. Heffernan’s inclusion at hooker sees him continue as part of a front trio that includes props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham.
Butler’s replacement at openside Colby Fainga’a makes his first start for Connacht who, along with lock Ultan Dillane, are the only changes to the team that beat Scarlets last weekend. Fainga’a comes into a back row alongside blindside Sean O’Brien and Robin Copeland at number 8.
In the second row Dillane’s inclusion sees him form a familiar partnership with Quinn Roux.
Among the backs, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue the half-back partnership, as do Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell in midfield.
Wingers Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher are also retained, as is Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We were really happy with the win against Scarlets last weekend and that needs to become our baseline and the standard that we have to meet consistently. Leinster are an outstanding side and deserving European and PRO14 champions so it’s a huge challenge. We will need to raise our standards another notch if we are to compete with them. So that’s the challenge and we are really looking forward to it”, Friend said.
“This is obviously a massive occasion for our supporters. They have been fantastic so far this season and the players have really responded to their support. The Sportsground will be packed and even with our additional terracing it will be a sell-out. That is hugely encouraging. The people of the province are behind us and we want to deliver a performance for them on Saturday", he added.
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8)Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan (C), Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun.