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Nikora Captains Much-Changed Connacht Team

Nikora Captains Much-Changed Connacht Team

Head coach Pat Lam has named his side for Connacht’s European Challenge Cup round 4 match away to Bayonne at the Stade Jean Dauger on Saturday (kick-off 8.45pm local time/7.45pm Irish time).

There are wholesale changes to the team that defeated the French side 42-19 at the Sportsground last weekend.

Out-half Miah Nikora has been handed the captaincy and is partnered at half-back by Academy scrum half Caolin Blade, who will make his first senior start for the province.

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Conor Finn, the 22-year-old Galway man, will also earn his first competitive start in a centre partnership with versatile back Craig Ronaldson.

Darragh Leader is installed at full-back in a back three with Connacht centurion Fionn Carr and Niyi Adeolokun on his return from injury.

Up front, Finlay Bealham starts for the first time in a reshuffled pack with Ronan Loughney, Dave Heffernan, Michael Swift and Willie Faloon also promoted from the bench. After featuring for Connacht Eagles last Saturday following a six-week absence, lock Aly Muldowney is back in action for the senior side this weekend.

Academy forward James Connolly will make his Connacht debut in Bayonne. The 21-year-old from Naas will feature in a back row with Faloon and Athlone man Daniel Qualter, who is at number 8 for his own first start.

Named on the bench, Academy prop Saba Meunargia (pictured below) could also make his Connacht debut on Saturday night. The 20-year-old Georgian-born prop attended Marist College and has represented Ireland at Under-18 (Clubs and Schools) and Under-19 level. Last season the Buccaneers clubman was called into the Ireland U-20 squad.

Commenting on the team selection and the round 4 encounter, Pat Lam said: “With an extremely busy period ahead and a number of guys injured or unavailable to us, there are a lot of players getting an opportunity to wear the Connacht jersey this weekend.

“It’s an exciting time for them and this week has been all about ensuring that they have clarity in their role and the game-plan to execute our Connacht systems with confidence. I look forward to seeing how they perform in a pressurised environment.

“Saturday night presents a very different task to the one at the Sportsground last week. Like all French teams, Bayonne at home will be a totally different proposition. But a very good training week has given us the confidence and the belief that we have the game-plan, and the players, to perform.”

The players listed on the province’s unavailable/injured list, at present, are: Jason Harris-Wright, Sean Henry, Nathan White, Rodney Ah You, JP Cooney, Mick Kearney, Andrew Browne, Jake Heenan, Robbie Henshaw, Tiernan O’Halloran, Bundee Aki, Danie Poolman, Ian Porter, John Cooney and Shane Layden.
CONNACHT (v Bayonne): Darragh Leader; Niyi Adeolokun, Conor Finn, Craig Ronaldson, Fionn Carr; Miah Nikora (capt), Caolin Blade; Ronan Loughney, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Michael Swift, Aly Muldowney, James Connolly, Willie Faloon, Daniel Qualter.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Saba Meunargia, George Naoupu, Eoin McKeon, Kieran Marmion, Dave McSharry, Matt Healy.