Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has named two Academy players on the bench for his side’s opening Challenge Cup game of the season against Bordeaux Bégles at the Sportsground on Saturday (kick off 3pm). Out half Conor Fitzgerald and Connemara man Colm De Buitlear, who has featured across the back three, are named among the Connacht replacements.
In the starting XV the front row of props Peter McCabe and Conor Carey along with hooker Shane Delahunt are all set for their first starts of the season.
In the second row there is one change from the side that defeated Ulster last weekend, with James Cannon starting alongside Quinn Roux. Captain Jarrad Butler at blindside, Colby Fainga’a at openside and number 8 Robin Copeland complete the pack.
Caolin Blade comes back in at scrum-half for the injured Kieran Marmion where he partners Jack Carty, who has been in outstanding form this season. Elsewhere in the back line the experienced Eoin Griffin joins Bundee Aki in midfield. Kyle Godwin is named on the wing with Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing, and Cian Kelleher at full-back making up the back three.
On the bench lock Joe Maksymiw looks set to make his Connacht debut while there is also plenty of experience to draw on with Tom McCartney, Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham also included in the match day 23.
Speaking ahead of the first European fixture of the season, Head Coach Andy Friend says he went for a blend of youth and experience in his selection; “We are really looking forward to our opening game of our Challenge Cup campaign. This is a competition that Connacht have a proud tradition in and we hope to make a big impact in this season. We are coming off six tough PRO14 games, so it is only natural that there is some rotation of the squad, but we are have a good blend of youth and experience among the squad. We have included Conor Fitzgerald and Colm De Buitléar, two promising Academy players, among our replacements. We hope that they will get a chance to make their debuts at some stage during the eighty minutes. It is a big opportunity to be involved in a European fixture especially in front of the home fans in the Sportsground. We also have plenty of experience on that bench to call on if needed,” Friend said.
“It has been a big week for the club with the announcement of our stadium plans all coming off a good win against Ulster last weekend. We know that Bordeaux will come with a big physical side and we are expecting a massive challenge. But it will be a big occasion in the Sportsground. Our fans have been huge for us this season and they will be on a high again tomorrow I’m sure”, Friend added.
(15-9) Cian Kelleher, Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Bundee Aki, Kyle Godwin, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Peter McCabe, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Quinn Roux, Jarrad Butler (c), Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Conán O’Donnell, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Connolly, Conor McKeon, Conor Fitzgerald, Colm De Buitléar.