Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has named his team and replacements to face the Scarlets in Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 tie in Llanelli (kick-off 7.30pm).
There are a number of personnel changes to the starting team with Brett Wilkinson and Mike McCarthy unavailable due to their involvement with Ireland’s Six Nations squad.
This gives Peter Borlase his first taste of action for Connacht at tighthead prop and Ronan Loughney, earning his 100th cap for the province, moves back to the loosehead side of the scrum.
There is a first cap for Academy back rower Dave Heffernan. The 6ft 1in, 104kg former Ireland Under-20 international has played in all of the Connacht ‘A’ side’s games this season and has impressed with outstanding performances for Buccaneers in the Ulster Bank League.
The Ballina-born 20-year-old joined the Connacht Academy this season having transferred his studies from UCD to NUIG and is known for his ferocious ball-carrying and workrate across the pitch.
Heffernan joins fellow year one Academy player Michael Kearney in the forwards. He has featured in nine of Connacht’s matches so far and the versatile Irish Colleges second row has certainly made an impression this season with big performances against the likes of Leinster and the Ospreys.
Eoin Griffin and David McSharry renew the centre partnership last seen in action in Connacht’s Heineken Cup match against Gloucester, while Miah Nikora replaces this injured Niall O’Connor at out-half.
Speaking about the inclusion in the squad of three Academy players (Heffernan, Kearney and Denis Buckley), Academy Manager Nigel Carolan said: “It’s great to see the guys getting the reward for their hard work and dedication.
“Eric (Elwood) has always said that if players are good enough and patient enough they’ll get their chances, so it’s great to see these opportunities open up for them.”
CONNACHT (v Scarlets): Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Tiernan O’Halloran; Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy; Ronan Loughney, Adrian Flavin, Peter Borlase, Michael Swift, Michael Kearney, David Heffernan, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Stewart Maguire, John Muldoon, Eoghan Grace, David Moore, Matthew Jarvis, Kyle Tonetti.