Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named his squad for the opening GUINNESS PRO12 match against the Newport Gwent Dragons at the Sportsground on Saturday (kick-off 5pm).
In making their competitive Connacht debuts in round 1, lock Quinn Roux, scrum half Ian Porter and winger Niyi Adeolokun all start.
Jack Carty has been handed the reins at out-half for the game against the Welsh region, while Shane Layden from Carrick-on-Shannon has been named at full-back.
Layden, a 21-year-old Academy back, made an appearance off the bench against Leinster in October 2011 but has battled with injuries in recent years. The former Roscommon minor footballer has trained with the senior squad all summer to earn his place in Saturday’s starting line-up.
Up front, John Muldoon will captain the westerners from blindside flanker alongside fellow Galway man Eoin McKeon and New Zealander Jake Heenan, who makes a welcome return following surgery back in February.
From the bench, 21-year-old Academy graduate Conor Finn from Ballinasloe is also in line to earn his first competitive cap.
Commenting on the team selection and the PRO12 opener, head coach Pat Lam said: “Selecting the first team to go out was a really tough process. Despite some of the injuries we have, the competitiveness shown by the squad has made it difficult for the coaches but at the end of the day, that’s what we want from the players.
“The team that is lining out tomorrow is based on the hard work that has been done over the last nine weeks.
“It’s a very young side throughout but having the experience of leaders John Muldoon and Nathan White on the field will be invaluable.
“We have some Connacht debutants with both Ian Porter and Quinn Roux slotting in after a good pre-season. It’s also very pleasing to see young Niyi Adeolokun earning his first ever professional cap.
“Since Niyi has come in, he’s ticked every single box. He’s impressed his team-mates and coaches with his work ethic and the speed at which he’s adapted to the professional set-up. He deserves this start and it’s very exciting for both him and his family.
“After a long battle with injuries, Shane Layden is back fighting fit and starting at full-back tomorrow. His determination and focus to get back to this position is a credit to him.
“Without scrum half John Cooney available to us just yet, the IRFU have been very flexible to us in allowing Ireland international Kieran Marmion to take a place on the bench in order to cover number 9.
“We have prepared well but we know the Dragons will be no pushover. They have recruited well in the summer and are coming here on the back of a huge win last week against the Northampton Saints, the current Premiership champions who had their full squad out.
“That shows exactly where they are at and they’ll be tough opponents for a lot of teams this year including us tomorrow.
“But we are still confident of getting off to a winning start at the Sportsground. Having a good home record is vital to us so the key thing is to channel all our excitement, effort, fight and desire to win at home into the process of winning the game.”
Tickets for Connacht v Dragons are selling fast with the Clan Stand already sold out. The remaining tickets are available on tickets.ie, in Centra & SuperValu stores province-wide and from the Connacht Rugby offices at the Sportsground. Adult tickets start at €;20 while it is €;5 for all juniors (17 years and under).
CONNACHT (v Newport Gwent Dragons): Shane Layden; Niyi Adeolokun, Darragh Leader, David McSharry, Danie Poolman; Jack Carty, Ian Porter; Denis Buckley, David Heffernan, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon (capt), Jake Heenan, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Sean Henry, Finlay Bealham, Rodney Ah You, George Naoupu, Willie Faloon, Kieran Marmion, Miah Nikora, Conor Finn.