Connacht are boosted by the return of Irish internationals Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham and Quinn Roux for the European Challenge Cup clash with Perpignan in The Sportsground on Saturday (kick-off 3pm). Aki forms a midfield partnership with 22 year old Academy player Kieran Joyce who is set to make his Connacht debut.
Bealham’s return to the front row sees him line up alongside hooker Dave Heffernan who captains the side and loosehead Peter McCabe. With three appearances off the bench so far this season,lock Joe Maksymiw comes in for his first start alongside the experienced Quinn Roux.
In the back row, Eoghan Masterson has returned from an injury which has kept him out of action so far this season and is named at blindside. Colby Fainga’a starts at openside having impressed in the back-to-back wins on the tour to South Africa.
There is a new half-back pairing as David Horwitz is named at out-half alongside James Mitchell at scrum-half.
In the back three, Darragh Leader comes in at full-back while Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher occupy the wings.
Head Coach Andy Friend feels he has the right balance of youth and experience to challenge the Top14 side; “It is great to have three of our internationals back in the side. Bundee, Finlay and Quinn are hugely experienced, and it is important to have them back. But we also have a few new faces who are getting their chance to shine. Joe Maksymiw has made a few appearances off the bench and comes in for his first start and Kieran Joyce from our Academy partners Bundee in midfield. They have proven in training that they are ready for the step up and I have every confidence in them”, Friend said.
Friend also says that these back-to-back clashes against Perpignan will have a huge say in Connacht’s progress in the Challenge Cup; “These two games will tell a lot. We have won one and lost one so far so these back-to-back games will have a huge say in where we stand in this competition. The mood in the squad is hugely positive. We are seeing some really strong competition developing for places and that is important. We want to take our good form into the Challenge Cup especially in front of our home crowd.
(15-9) Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Kieran Joyce, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, David Horwitz, James Mitchell, (1-8)Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan (Capt), Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, James Connolly, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin.