Sligo native and Connacht Academy player Cillian Gallagher is set to make his first start for Connacht in the Challenge Cup clash away to Brive on Saturday (K.O. 8pm). Gallagher who made his debut off the bench in the Challenge Cup win over Worcester in October, starts at blindside in a back row that includes Eoghan Masterson at openside and Captain John Muldoon at number 8.

 

The Connacht starting XV also sees the new centre partnership of new signing Pita Ahki and Ireland international Bundee Aki, who returns to the side after his involvement in the November internationals.

 

In the pack Shane Delahunt is retained at Hooker where he is flanked by Denis Buckley at loose head and Finlay Bealham at tight head.

 

Connacht have got off to a good start so far in the Challenge Cup and sit on top of Pool 5 in the competition with 9 points after two rounds. The back to back fixtures against their French opponents are likely to have a huge bearing on who qualifies for the knock out stages of the competition.

 

Speaking ahead of the game, Connacht Forwards Coach Jimmy Duffy is under no illusion of the battle they face against the Top14 side: “We are expecting a huge physical battle against Brive on Saturday. They will have a big strong pack and will look to maul at every opportunity. We will need to match that physicality and we have been really focusing on in training during the week.”

 

#BRIvCON

Kick-off 8:00pm (Irish Time):

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Pita Ahki, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion,
(1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Cillian Gallagher, Eoghan Masterson, John Muldoon (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, James Cannon, James Connolly, James Mitchell, Tom Farrell, Darragh Leader.

 

Brive v Connacht

 

 

Match Preview from pro14rugby.org

Another crucial Conference A clash. This time we face Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi for the first time this season. We currently sit fifth with Zebre sixth in Conference A.

 

TV: TG4 from 1.10pm.
Twitter: Follow our live commentary from Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Twitter at #ZEBvCON
Match centre:
Follow in game stats through our match centre.

 

What’s at stake? Zebre’s comeback victory over Ulster in Round Five was the highlight in an otherwise tricky season, losing their last four league matches.

But a victory would trim the gap to Connacht who are six points ahead of the Italians in the standings.

Similarly, Connacht’s season has been marred by inconsistency but they have won two of their last three matches including impressive victories over Munster and the Toyota Cheetahs.

A win for Connacht could see them leapfrog Cardiff Blues in the table and trim the gap to third-placed Cheetahs

 

Team news (Zebre): The return of nine internationals to the Zebre squad should give them the boost they need to take on the Irish province.

There is also good news on the injury front with David Sisi and George Biagi return to the squad. Baigi will captain the side against Connacht.

 

Team news (Connacht): Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has included new signing Pita Ahki among his starting XV for the first time.

Keane has also going for a new half back pairing with Steve Crosbie lining up alongside Kieran Marmion at scrum half following his return from international duty. In the pack Shane Delahunt, who scored two tries against Cardiff, starts at hooker where he is flanked by Denis Buckley at loosehead and Finlay Bealham at tighthead.

 

Talking points: Head coach Kieran Keane said: “While we were disappointed not to beat Cardiff last week, I was proud of the boys and the way they battled to take two points from the game. In this competition it is really important to do well against teams in our conference.”
“We will face a big challenge against Zebre on Saturday. They have made it difficult against a lot of teams so far this season particularly when they are at home. We will need to be at our best to beat them.”

 

Key Battle: Giulio Bisegni v Tom Farrell

Giulio Bisegni has been a rock for the Zebre side so far this season and was impressive again in the defeat to Munster.

The centre dotted down in the 35th minute but couldn’t prevent a 36-19 defeat. However with internationals returning around him, Bisegni could be a key cog in the Zebre machine.

Tom Farrell has enjoyed a consistent run in the Connacht line up and has been impressive throughout the season.
The 24-year-old has more offloads than anyone else in the league and has also made 329 metres so far in this campaign.
Did you know? Zebre secured one of only three wins last season when they beat Connacht 25-22 the last time the Irish province travelled to Parma.

 

Key Stat: No player has more offloads in the Guinness PRO14 so far this season than Thomas Farrell (23).

 

Zebre: Matteo Minozzi, Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, Giovanb, attista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi, Andrea Lovotti, Oliviero Fabiani, Dario Chistolini, Leonard Krumov, George Biagi, Maxime Mbandà, Johan Meyer, Renato Giammarioli
Replacements: Luhandre Luus, Cruze Ah-Nau, Eduardo Bello, David Sisi, Jacopo Sarto, Guglielmo Palazzani, Serafin Bordoli, Ciaran Gaffney

 

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Pita Ahki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Steve Crosbie, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, John Muldoon
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Cillian Gallagher, Naulia Dawai, James Mitchell, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin.

 

Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
AR1: Sean Gallagher (IRFU) AR2: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR) TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)

 

We return to European action next weekend away to Brive followed by a return leg at home in the Sportsground.

 

 

 

Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has included new signing Pita Ahki among his starting XV to face Zebre on Saturday (K.O. 1:15pm Live on TG4). Ahki who came off the bench to make his debut against Cardiff last week, will make his first start for the province as they travel to Italy for the PRO14 clash.

 

The Connacht side features a new half back pairing with Steve Crosbie starting at out-half and Kieran Marmion back at scrum half following his return from international duty. In the pack Shane Delahunt, who scored two tries against Cardiff starts at hooker where he is flanked by Denis Buckley at loosehead and Finlay Bealham at tighthead.

 

Academy player and Sligo native Cillian Gallagher, who made his debut against Worcester in October, is named among the replacements. Ahead of the clash, Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane, spoke about the importance of getting a result against the Italians: “While we were disappointed not to beat Cardiff last week, I was proud of the boys and the way they battled to take 2 points from the game. In this competition it is really important to do well against teams in our conference.”

“We will face a big challenge against Zebre on Saturday. They have made it difficult against a lot of teams so far this season particularly when they are at home. We will need to be at our best to beat them” added Keane.

 

 

#ZEBvCON

Kick-off 1.15pm (Irish Time):

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Pita Ahki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Steve Crosbie, Kieran Marmion,

(1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, John Muldoon (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Cillian Gallagher, Naulia Dawai, James Mitchell, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin.

 

 

 

 

Connacht Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to announce the signing of centre Pita Ahki. The 25-year-old signs from Mitre 10 Cup side Waikato having previously played Super Rugby with the Blues and the Hurricanes.

Playing for the All Blacks Sevens team Ahki won a World Cup Sevens medal in 2013 and helped New Zealand to a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He is also a graduate of the Junior World Championships having played for Tonga Under 20s in 2011 and New Zealand Under 20s in 2012.

Commenting on the new signing, Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane said: “Pita is a highly-rated young player who has played Super Rugby for the Blues and the Hurricanes. He is a strong pacey player who will add to our attacking options. I think he will fit in well at Connacht and I am delighted to be welcoming him to the province.”

Speaking on his move to the Sportsground, Pita Ahki said: “I am really excited about my move to Connacht. I am looking forward to the prospect of playing European and PRO14 rugby. Connacht have developed a huge reputation as a proud club with community central to everything they do. I can’t wait to join up with the squad and meet the Sportsground crowd.”

 

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