This weekend is an historic one for Connacht Rugby as the westerners send two teams into European rugby terrain.
While the senior squad are en route to Parma to take on Zebre in round 1 of the Heineken Cup, the Connacht Eagles will face Newport in their inaugural match in the British & Irish Cup.
This year, the British & Irish Cup has been expanded to 32 teams (from 24) and sees the first involvement of the western province.
Head coach Nigel Carolan has named his side that will travel to Rodney Parade in Wales for the opening encounter in Pool 4 (kick-off 2.30pm).
The Connacht Eagles team for this weekend contains some well-known names in the starting line-up. Conor Finn was part of the Ireland Under-20 team that finished fifth in the IRB Junior World Championship in June.
He is joined in the centre by Tadhg Leader who is in year 2 of the Connacht Academy. Matt Healy, who this season joined the province from Lansdowne, starts on the wing along with the 22-year-old James Loxton who played with the senior team in Glasgow last month in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Scrum half Marcus Walsh played with the Connacht Under-20s last season and was recently contracted to the Connacht Academy.
Flanker and former Munster Academy Player of the Year, Eoghan Grace, will captain the side. Grace joined Connacht last season from Exeter Chiefs and was a member of the Ireland Sevens side that travelled to the 2009 World Cup Sevens in Dubai.
The Eagles captain is joined in the back row by Dave Heffernan who is a former Ireland Under-20 International. Heffernan made his senior debut against the Scarlets last season.
The 20-year-old Jonathan Gardiner will start at number 8. Originally from Wales but with Irish parents, Gardiner joined the Connacht Academy during the summer.
Following this weekend’s pool opener, Connacht Eagles will welcome Newcastle Falcons to Dubarry Park on Friday week (October 19). Kick-off for that game is at 7.45pm and Connacht Rugby season ticket holders are granted access to all of the Eagles’ home British & Irish Cup fixtures.
CONNACHT EAGLES (v Newport): Shane Layden; James Loxton, Conor Finn, Tadhg Leader, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Marcus Walsh; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, JP Cooney, Michael Kearney, Daniel Qualter, Dave Heffernan, Eoghan Grace (capt), Jonathan Gardiner.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Peter Reilly, Ultan Dillane, Aaron Conneely, Mark Dolan, Darragh Leader, Steve Macauley.