Tongan Rugby World Cup winger Fetu’u Vainikolo will make his debut for Connacht when they welcome the Cardiff Blues to the Sportsground on Saturday night (kick-off 6pm).
Fetu’u Vainikolo played twice for the Tongan team during the tournament in New Zealand, scoring a try in their 31-18 pool victory over Japan.
The 26-year-old slots in on the right wing for Connacht and joins captain Gavin Duffy and the returning Tiernan O’Halloran in the back-three.
Samoan international centre Henry Fa’afili renews his exciting partnership with Eoin Griffin who comes back into the team after missing the recent Leinster match with a late injury. The half-back pairing sees Frank Murphy combine again with Niall O’Connor.
There are two changes in the front row with Adrian Flavin coming in at hooker and Rodney Ah You selected on the tighthead side of the scrum.
They join Ireland Wolfhound Brett Wilkinson who starts at loosehead. Michael Swift and Mike McCarthy join forces in a second row pairing that has boasts over 300 provincial caps.
There is more experience in the back row where centurions John Muldoon and Johnny O’Connor are joined by Ray Ofisa who is winning his 96th cap for the westerners.
The pack has a total of 948 caps and they will call on all of their experience as they look to extend their 100% home record this season.
There is more good news for Connacht amongst the replacements with George Naoupu returning after picking up an injury away to Edinburgh and Miah Nikora making his first appearance in the matchday panel this season.
The Kiwi out-half came off the bench in the ‘A’ game against Munster last Friday and is sure to get a rapturous welcome from the Connacht fans if he takes to the pitch.
CONNACHT (v Cardiff Blues): Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Eoin Griffin, Henry Fa’afili, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor, Ray Ofisa.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Dylan Rogers, David Gannon, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, Brian Tuohy.