The inclusion of Caolin Blade is the only change to the starting XV for Connacht’s Heineken Champions Cup R16 2nd leg with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow (k/o 5.30pm).
 
The Monivea native is named at scrum-half with the remaining 14 players unchanged from the side that started the 1st leg at The Sportsground.
 
Kieran Marmion is named among the replacements while there’s two further changes on the bench, with the inclusion of Denis Buckley having returned from injury, and hooker Jonny Murphy. Conor Fitzgerald will make his 50th appearance for the province if called upon.
 
A win of 6 points or more would see Connacht qualify for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time in their history.
 
Commenting on the team announcement, Andy Friend says:
 
“While our performance last week was good overall, there was a very real sense of disappointment that we didn’t get the win. Having said that, I know this group can bring their performance on another level, which is essential if we’re to reach the last eight.
 
We’ve a good record in the Aviva over the last two years or so and it’s a pitch that suits our style of rugby. Coupled with a strong travelling support behind us it’s set to be another great occasion.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Friday 15th April, 17:30 @ Aviva Stadium
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (204)
14. John Porch (55)
13. Tom Farrell (76)
12. Bundee Aki (116)
11. Mack Hansen (11)
10. Jack Carty (176) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (147)
1. Matthew Burke (37)
2. Dave Heffernan (161)
3. Finlay Bealham (171)
4. Gavin Thornbury (60)
5. Leva Fifita (12)
6. Cian Prendergast (27)
7. Conor Oliver (38)
8. Jarrad Butler (92)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (20)
17. Denis Buckley (204)
18. Jack Aungier (28)
19. Oisín Dowling (22)
20. Abraham Papali’i (23)
21. Kieran Marmion (205)
22. Sammy Arnold (36)
23. Conor Fitzgerald (49)

Senior head coach Pete Wilkins says that Connacht need to remain diligent and confident in their game plan ahead of this Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16-second leg against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

 

The Western province go into the second installment of the tie trailing their eastern rivals 26-21 after a hard-fought encounter at the sell-out Sportsground last Friday.

 

However, despite the loss, Wilkins saw ample evidence that Connacht can cause problems for their opponents and he believes that consistently carrying out their game plan and trusting their processes will be the key to advancing to the quarter-finals.

 

“That first game shows that if we remain diligent in playing our way and taking three points when they come and kicking for field position when we need to and running the ball when we have opportunities, we can have that balance to our game, then actually we can stay with them on the scoreboard,” he said.

 

“It sets us very nicely for that second game and it will be interesting to see how both teams approach it.”

 

With almost a full deck of players to choose from with several injuries having cleared up in recent weeks, Connacht have the ability to make changes to their matchday squad.

 

Wilkins, however, loves having such options to choose from and says that it is an indicator of the depth in the squad, with many quality players not even making the matchday 23 for previous games but keeping the intensity and standard of training high.

 

“It is certainly something that is considered,” the former Queensland Reds coach said when asked whether there will be rotation in the team and squad to face Leinster.

 

“You want to reward the performance of the guys who did well last week. Equally, there were guys who have been banging the doors down who were unlucky to miss out on that 23 last week. There’s a balance to be had in there. Equally, we can’t go around thinking we can roll out exactly the same thing in exactly the same way.

 

“So, whilst we won’t change the fundamentals of how we are trying to play the game in any respect, we can’t just deliver the same thing and hope it will be good enough, we need to go up a level. There has been some really interesting conversations in the selection meetings I have been involved in, in terms of different connotations and pluses and minuses weighed up for different players and different combinations.

 

“The 23 that we have, either way, will be chomping at the bit come Friday.”

 

Meanwhile, tight-head prop Finlay Bealham says that he is excited for the second leg after describing the first game as being a “test match” quality and physicality.

 

Ireland international Bealham is looking forward to locking horns with his fellow national team colleagues in the Leinster front row.

 

And while the 30-year-old is disappointed with the loss last Friday, he says that he – and the squad as a whole – know that it is only the midway point of the tie and that they are only five points in arrears and are confident in their capability of overturning the deficit.

 

“It felt like a proper test match on Friday, with the physicality and the pace of the game. No doubt there were a lot of sore bodies on Saturday and Sunday morning. But we get to go at it Friday night again at the Aviva and it will be exciting. It is great to be part of it all,” the Connacht academy graduate said.

 

“Losing on Friday was obviously tough to take.”

 

“But then you have to remember it’s half time in it, and we’re only five points down and we’re still in the sheds, and we’re ready to go for round two on Friday. But it was a tremendous effort from both teams last Friday, and we played some really lovely rugby.

 

“We’ve had a good look back at the game over the weekend and done our reviews and everyone is raring to go Friday and hopefully it will be another belter.”

 

Bealham says that playing against top European teams, the likes of Leinster, is the level the Connacht players want to compete at and it makes them lift their performances even further.

 

“Yeah, it was a massive game Friday and obviously the team Leinster sent down was stacked with internationals and a wealth of experience in there as well,” he said.

 

“So we knew all week that we had to be at our very best. Look, obviously, we didn’t win the game and there are areas we were very good in, but there were certain things we were poor at and we definitely need to tidy up come Friday.

 

“But we obviously we took a lot of positives. We had some nice attacking stuff and some good defensive sets, but I suppose – and it’s pretty cliche – it’s about putting it together for 80 minutes and in those big games like that against a Leinster side with loads of experience and internationals, you literally have to be on it every phase or they just find a way to score if you switch off.

 

“We have analyzed the game very thoroughly and looked back at what we could have been better at and lads are buzzing and having those conversations to make sure we’re better and we can bring our game to another level on Friday.”

The Connacht Rugby side to face Gallagher Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Champions Cup on Sunday has been named (k/o 1pm).
 
In total there are six changes from the side that met Stade Francais last week, with every returning player an Irish international.
 
Bundee Aki starts his first game for Connacht in over 2 months, returning from injury to partner Sammy Arnold at centre. Tiernan O’Halloran is also included, starting at full-back with Alex Wootton and John Porch named on the wings.
 
After coming off the bench last week, Kieran Marmion comes in at scrum-half alongside captain Jack Carty.
 
Three further internationals – hooker Dave Heffernan, prop Finlay Bealham and lock Ultan Dillane – are also drafted into the pack. Matthew Burke and Niall Murray make up the rest of the tight five, while the back row is unchanged with flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver, and number 8 Jarrad Butler.
 
A powerful looking bench includes the likes of Tietie Tuimauga, who could make his debut if called upon, as well as Leva Fifita and Abraham Papali’i.
 
Commenting on the selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We’re under no illusions we face one of the biggest challenges in European rugby on Sunday, but it’s also very exciting and exactly the kind of occasion you want to play in.
 
We’ve brought in a lot of experience which will stand to us for a game like this, and there’s some powerful options on the bench as well. Tietie Tuimauga has settled in very well so Sunday will be a great stage for him to make his debut if called upon.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEICESTER TIGERS
Sunday 19th December, 13:00 @ Mattioli Woods Welford Road
 
Number/Name/Caps ( * denotes uncapped)
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (195)
14. John Porch (45)
13. Sammy Arnold (24)
12. Bundee Aki (112)
11. Alex Wootton (25)
10. Jack Carty (167) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (194)
1. Mattthew Burke (31)
2. Dave Heffernan (152)
3. Finlay Bealham (166)
4. Ultan Dillane (121)
5. Niall Murray (23)
6. Cian Prendergast (16)
7. Conor Oliver (28)
8. Jarrad Butler (81)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (108)
17. Tietie Tuimauga *
18. Jack Aungier (21)
19. Leva Fifita (3)
20. Abraham Papali’i (16)
21. Caolin Blade (138)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (42)
23. Diarmuid Kilgallen (4)

Connacht have made three changes to their starting XV for Friday’s URC interpro away to Leinster at the RDS Arena (k/o 7.45pm)
 
Having all come off the bench last week, Oisín Dowling, Eoghan Masterson and Peter Robb are named to start in the second row, blindside flanker and inside centre respectively.
 
The rest of the team is the same that ran in seven tries against Ospreys, meaning Robb is partnered by Sammy Arnold with a back three of wingers Mack Hansen and Alex Wootton and full-back Oran McNulty. Kieran Marmion and captain Jack Carty continue at 9 and 10 respectively.
 
The front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged for the fifth straight game, while Ultan Dillane partners Dowling in the second row.
 
Masterson’s inclusion means Jarrad Butler moves to number 8 while Conor Oliver completes the line-up from openside.
 
The replacements include Cian Prendergast and Tom Farrell who both return to the matchday 23 having recovered from injuries.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says: “Last week was pleasing not just to pick up 5 points but to continue our recent level of performances, even with a substantial break in the middle. The challenge for all of us now is to raise our game even more, away to one of the best sides in Europe.
 
We’ll take confidence from our win at the RDS last January, and our travelling supporters will be a big help as always. This game will tell a lot about where we are right now so we’re really looking forward to it.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Friday 3rd December, RDS Arena @ 19:45
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. Oran McNulty (3)
14. Alex Wootton (23)
13. Sammy Arnold (21)
12. Peter Robb (48)
11. Mack Hansen (6)
10. Jack Carty (165) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (192)
1. Matthew Burke (29)
2. Dave Heffernan (150)
3. Finlay Bealham (165)
4. Oisín Dowling (12)
5. Ultan Dillane (120)
6. Eoghan Masterson (114)
7. Conor Oliver (26)
8. Jarrad Butler (79)

16. Shane Delahunt (106)
17. Jordan Duggan (18)
18. Jack Aungier (19)
19. Leva Fifita (2)
20. Cian Prendergast (14)
21. Caolin Blade (136)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (40)
23. Tom Farrell (65)

Attack coach Pete Wilkins is happy with the balance Connacht have struck in attack this season ahead of Friday night’s United Rugby Championship interprovincial away to Leinster, kick-off 7:45 PM. 

 

In the Westerners’ last outing, they played some superb attacking rugby — both from set plays and unstructured play — in their 46-18 win over the Ospreys. 

 

The English coach says that the coaching staff endeavor for the squad to play with an attacking blueprint, but to strike the right balance between prescriptive play and off the cuff decision making. 

 

“I suppose we’re trying to find that balance between playing in an unstructured environment and bringing as much unstructured chaos to the game — and I mean that in a positive sense — as possible but still give the players a framework that enables us to have some cohesion and all be on the same page decision making wise within that framework,” Wilkins explained. 

 

“We’re trying to find a sweet spot somewhere in there. What it means is letting go a little bit the strictness in terms of the attacking shape and judging ourselves by where the pieces on the chessboard are and focus more so on what they are doing within the play in those small moments, in terms of their movement and their link play together and the cohesion of those running lines together. 

 

“So, I guess it’s trying to destructure the environment but at the same time getting us all on the same page within that. What it looks like in practice is that we should get a real flow to our attack and we should see a lot of motion, a lot of movement, but, ultimately, generate and regenerate that momentum within games. 

 

“Obviously, defences have a pretty strong say in how much they allow you to do that, but that’s our intent to get that flow and that unstructured environment and to empower the players to be able to thrive within that.”

 

Interprovincial clashes are invariably physical affairs and Wilkins believes that — mirroring Connacht’s win at the RDS last season and Ulster’s last weekend — the Westerners will have to be at their physical best to topple the defending champions. 

 

The away teams focus will be on themselves and the facets of their game that they can control, the senior attack coach confirmed. 

 

“I think what Ulster did well was they brought an enormous amount of physicality and energy to everything that they did. 

 

“I think when there were positive moments in the game for Ulster, they built on those with more positive moments. When they had their own speed bumps in the game, when Leinster had their moments — which you fully expect them to, especially at home — then find a way to bounce from that quickly and let go of that negative phase and reassert yourself on the game and regenerate your own momentum. So, I think from that point of view, that physicality and energy that Ulster brought enabled them to do those things pretty well.

 

“For us, one thing we know we’re never lacking in any interpro — but especially Leinster — is that energy and excitement about the occasion. The determination to do well in those games — whether that’s in terms of provincial identity and rivalries, whether it’s to do with international selection and everything that’s at stake there different guys coming up against players in their position — there’s no shortage of motivation or incentive in the game. 

 

“I think the important bit for us is to focus on what we can control and what we can do well.”

 

Elsewhere, forward Eoghan Masterson says the mood in the Connacht camp is buoyant ahead of the Westerners’ trip to face Leinster on Friday evening. 

 

Last weekend’s big victory over the Ospreys in the Sportsground men’s first game back after the international break was a welcome result and performance, but — despite this — Masterson says the atmosphere in the changing room has been positive for weeks. 

 

“I think the mood has generally been good for a few weeks,” the former Irish underage international said. 

 

“Obviously we finished up the block with that big win in the Aviva against Ulster, which was a great day out and a really good experience and then going into a few weeks off it was a good time to celebrate that win with everyone.

 

‘Then, we had a couple of days and everyone came back in a great mood. Then the training after that point was really good. The big challenge for us was the consistency, could we back up a good performance with another good performance. I thought the lads were outstanding on Friday night, particularly in the first half into the wind. 

 

“I’m not sure if everyone watching on TV could understand how bad the conditions were. It was absolutely freezing, howling wind, really cold, wet weather. Some of the handling that particularly the backs showed was really good and really encouraging that the hard stuff and the key principles that Andy(Friend) and Pete(Wilkins) are talking about were implemented. So, yeah, I think the mood is generally really good.”

 

Heading into Friday night’s interprovincial, Masterson expects a typically attacking game — given both teams’  style of play — with Leinster smarting after losing last weekend at home to Ulster. 

 

Statistically, the Eastern province lead the way in a lot of attacking metrics in the URC while Connacht also play an enterprising, pacey style of Rugby.

 

“Yeah, on paper from the outside looking in as a neutral, it should be a cracking game. We looked at Leinster statistics this season and they are number one for tries, number one for line breaks, points scored and run metres. 

 

“We’re well aware of the challenge in front of us. We’re trying ourselves to be an attacking team that leads the way for line breaks and for tries scored and to be an exciting team to watch. Hopefully we can apply the stuff we’re working on and getting better and use it to our advantage,” the Laois native said. 

The Connacht management team have picked a fully loaded side as they go in search of a win in tomorrow’s European Challenge Cup Round of 16 clash with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road (k/o 8pm).
 
In the absence of the suspended Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle captains the side in the number 8 jersey where he’s joined by flankers Eoghan Masterson and Conor Oliver.
 
There’s a wealth of experience in the tight five, with a front row of Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Ultan Dillane partners the in-form Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
 
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue their long-standing half-back partnership, while Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien start together at centre for the third straight game.
 
Another centurion Matt Healy is named on the wing, forming a back three combo with the exciting Alex Wootton and John Porch.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
 
“We had difficult decisions to make across the park with our starting XV. It’s a testament to our squad that we’ve got a really strong bench while others will miss out entirely, and that’s what you want going into knock-out European rugby.
 
“It’s no secret that the Connacht record in Europe needs to improve, but this is a group of players that know how to break hoodoos on the road. Leicester Tigers in Welford Road is one of the great challenges in European rugby and I have full confidence in the squad to get the win and really put us in the mix for silverware at the end of the season”.

 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS LEICESTER TIGERS
Saturday 3rd April, Welford Road, kick-off 8.00pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. John Porch (35)
14. Alex Wootton (18)
13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (6)
12. Tom Daly (43)
11. Matt Healy (147)
10. Jack Carty (154)
9. Kieran Marmion (181)
1. Denis Buckley (196)
2. Dave Heffernan (139)
3. Finlay Bealham (154)
4. Ultan Dillane (109)
5. Gavin Thornbury (55)
6. Eoghan Masterson (106)
7. Conor Oliver (16)
8. Paul Boyle (54) (C)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (95)
17. Jordan Duggan (10)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (62)
19. Oisin Dowling (4)
20. Abraham Papali’i (9)
21. Caolin Blade (126)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (31)
23. Peter Sullivan (11)

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to stick to their own game plan and processes in Saturday’s European Challenge Cup last 16 clash away to Leicester Tigers. 

 

The Tigers are known for their physical approach and boast a massive set of forwards and — with former England forwards coach Steve Borthwick at their coaching helm — possess a strong and consistent set-piece. 

 

Friend, however, is confident that playing with their trademark speed and creativity is the Westerners’ best course of tactical action while warning that the team will need to be disciplined in order to limit the hosts attacking options. 

 

“Work rate is going to be really important, we’re going to have to put move them,” the Australian said of Connacht’s game plan.

 

“Not too dissimilar to what you saw when we beat Leinster at the RDS, we outworked them and we outworked them early and we got some scores on the board and then they had to chase.

 

“Our intent, both with and without the football, we’ll be able to see that. If we don’t have the footy, our desire is to go up and shut down their time and space. When we do have the ball, we’ll have to win those collisions, but if we do we’ll have to be brave enough to play as well. 

 

Friend maintains that the Challenge Cup, which he describes as chapter two of the Westerners campaign, provides Connacht with the opportunity to win silverware this season and fulfill their ambition of winning a trophy, a goal they set at the beginning of the rugby year. 

 

“This is chapter two of our season, chapter one is finished,” the former Australian sevens coach said. 

 

“We didn’t make that final(PRO14), and it was disappointing. We keep talking about it as a squad, winning silverware, and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re in the top 16 and if you win five games you win silverware. That would be the intention — certainly, it is my intention — and I know as a group of coaches and players that is our collective intention. We want to go and win it. 

 

“So, there is pressure on the game. We know that Connacht’s form against English sides hasn’t been great over the course of history, so we get an opportunity to go and correct that. We know we’re up against a very formidable side, so it’s no mean feat but we’re going there — and I want us to put pressure on ourselves — to perform because this is the mark of sides that can show the growth that I believe is taking place here.”

 

Meanwhile, back-row forward Paul Boyle says that Connacht have put a huge focus on their defence heading into the European showdown against Leicester. 

 

In the Westerners last outing — a 41-36 defeat at the Scarlets — Boyle felt their defence let the team down, but the former Irish international said that the players are keen to apply the lessons they’ve learned from that game at Welford Road at 8 pm on Saturday evening. 

 

“I would be very confident to say it’s not going to happen again,” the Gorey native said of Connacht’s defensive prospects against the Premiership team. 

 

“We put a huge focus on it this week and we have trained really well. We’re looking forward to going after them this week defensively.”

 

Boyle — who represented Ireland at under 20’s level — said that the remaining games, both in Europe and the Rainbow Cup, will be a shop window for Connacht players to put their hands up for international selection.

 

“That is obviously one of my main goals at the moment(earning Irish selection),” the 24-year-old said. 

 

“It comes off the back of playing well enough and I am always a big advocate of ‘if you’re playing well enough for your province you’re going to get picked’. I’m working hard and I’m just trying to play my best every week and those games are a good showpiece for yourself and a good showpiece for the team to try and get those international honours.”

 

Bundee Aki and Jarrad Butler — two of the Westerners’ most experienced players — will miss the Tigers fixture through suspension, but Boyle says that their presence in training is beneficial to the team. 

 

“Those guys have been brilliant in training. Those guys have been on team two and they’re brilliant players when they’re defending and when they’re attacking and they’re really challenging us. Even in the chats we’ve had, they’re giving us really good insight and they’re really helping us this week. 

 

“They have been brilliant since they’ve come back. Obviously they’re disappointed that they can’t play but they have been really good for the team.”

Ben O’Donnell is in line to make his Connacht debut in tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 interpro with Leinster at the RDS Arena (k/o 7.35pm).

The former World Sevens Player of the Year nominee joined the province last summer but has been forced to wait for his first appearance after recovering from a serious knee injury.

The back three player is named among the replacements and there are five changes to the starting XV that lined out against Ulster last weekend.

Dominic Robertson-McCoy comes into the front row alongside Denis Buckley and Shane Delahunt, while Gavin Thornbury returns in the second row beside Quinn Roux who is named as captain.

The back row features both Masterson brothers, with Sean at number 8 and Eoghan at blindside flanker, while Conor Oliver completes the pack from the opposite flank.

Caolin Blade and Jack Carty continue to partner-up at 9 and 10 respectively, as do Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold at centre. The final change comes in the back three with Peter Sullivan starting on the wing, with Alex Wootton and John Porch completing the side.

Connacht Rugby can confirm a number of players tested positive for COVID-19 this week. This follows the weekly round of PCR testing, and separate tests conducted at the start of the week after a small number of players presented minor symptoms. These players along with a number of others identified as close contacts are self-isolating in accordance with public health guidelines.
In total 68 Connacht players and staff tested negative this week and, following full engagement with public health authorities and PRO14 Rugby, they are satisfied the game can proceed as scheduled.

Commenting on his selected team, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“While we have had to deal with a few cases in the squad this week, we have still been able to name a strong team thanks to the depth we have been building these past few months. It’s also really pleasing to be able to include Ben O’Donnell in our 23 for the first time.
Even though there’s a lot of frustration about our last few results, the overall mood in the squad is good. We can’t wait to head to Dublin and test ourselves against what’s clearly a very strong Leinster side.”

CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS LEINSTER RUGBY
Saturday 2nd January, RDS Arena, k/o 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. John Porch (27)
14. Peter Sullivan (5)
13. Sammy Arnold (10)
12. Tom Daly (34)
11. Alex Wootton (9)
10. Jack Carty (147)
9. Caolin Blade (118)
1. Denis Buckley (188)
2. Shane Delahunt (86)
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (58)
4. Gavin Thornbury (46)
5. Quinn Roux (104) (C)
6. Eoghan Masterson (100)
7. Conor Oliver (10)
8. Sean Masterson (7)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (10)
17. Matthew Burke (16)
18. Conor Kenny (8)
19. Ultan Dillane (104)
20. Cian Prendergast (4)
21. Kieran Marmion (173)
22. Diarmuid Kilgallen (1)
23. Ben O’Donnell *

PRO14 Rugby have confirmed the dates and kick-off times for Connacht’s Christmas interpros, as well as the rescheduled clash with Benetton.
 
Andy Friend’s side welcome Benetton to The Sportsground on Friday 4th December, the first of three home games during the month.
 
Then at Christmas, Ulster make the trip to The Sportsground on Sunday 27th December, before we head to the RDS to face Leinster on Saturday 2nd January. The festive fixtures are completed on Saturday 9th January when we host Munster.
 
All games kick-off at 7.35pm.

Second row Niall Murray is set to make his first start for Connacht as they face Leinster in the Pro14 in the RDS on Saturday (Kick off 5:30pm). The 20 year old Roscommon man came off the bench in Connacht’s recent Champions Cup win over Gloucester, but this will be a first start for his home province.

In a boost to Connacht, Gavin Thornbury has returned from injury to partner Murray in the second row. Thornbury has been out of action since he picked up an arm injury against the Cheetahs at the end of October.

In the front row, prop Denis Buckley also returns to the starting team where he lines up alongside hooker Shane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson McCoy at tighthead. While in the backrow, Eoghan Masterson is included at blindside with his brother and Academy player Sean, named among the replacements.

Scrum half Caolin Blade captains the side in the absence of Jarrad Butler through injury. Blade continues his half back partnership with Conor Fitzgerald.

There is a new look back three for Connacht with Stephen Fitzgerald named at full back and Niyi Adeolokun and John Porch on the wings. While Tom Daly and the versatile Kyle Godwin make up the midfield.

Commenting ahead of the game, Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend said: “We are fully aware of the challenge we face away to Leinster in the RDS. They have been impressing week in week out in the Pro14 and the Champions Cup and have set the standard so far this season. We really challenged them in the corresponding fixture last season and the lesson from that game is that to beat them you need to deliver a top class performance over eighty minutes, or they will punish you. That is exactly what we are asking of our boys, a consistent performance over the eighty minutes”.

“I am delighted for Niall Murray who gets his first start in a Connacht jersey and there is no bigger challenge for him than going to the RDS to face Leinster. He has really developed his game and is an exciting prospect for the future. He has a good group of experienced heads around him so that is always a help when you’re making your first start”.

Connacht Matchday Squad V Leinster (Sat 5:30pm)

(15-9): Stephen Fitzgerald, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt) (1-8): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Tom McCartney, Paddy McAllister, Conor Kenny, Joe Maksymiw, Sean Masterson, Stephen Kerins, David Horwitz, Tiernan O’Halloran

Related

Andy Friend explains new coaching setup

REPORT: Sharks 41-21 Connacht
CBlade

REPORT: Sharks 41-21 Connacht

5 months ago
Caolin Blade to earn 150th cap as Connacht aim for SA clean sweep against Sharks
CBlade

Caolin Blade to earn 150th cap as Connacht aim for SA clean sweep against Sharks

5 months ago
PREVIEW: Leinster V Connacht
FBealham

PREVIEW: Leinster V Connacht

6 months ago