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First Connacht Starts For O’Leary And O’Donnell

First Connacht Starts For O’Leary And O’Donnell

Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named 22 players, including the nine fit and available backs, for Sunday’s European Challenge Cup round 4 clash with Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park (kick-off 3pm).

There are seven personnel changes and four positional switches to the starting side that defeated the Aviva Premiership club 25-10 in Galway seven days ago.

Young out-half Shane O’Leary (22) will get his first start in a Connacht jersey this weekend, while Caolin Blade is retained at scrum half. Craig Ronaldson returns to the back-line to join Peter Robb in another new centre partnership, while Rory Parata shifts out to the right wing.

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Danie Poolman, who scored a late try in the round 3 game, becomes the fifth player to wear the number 15 shirt this season, moving from his more regular position on the wing.

Up front, 19-year-old Academy prop Conan O’Donnell has been handed his first senior start, having made seven appearances from the bench this season. The Sligo youngster is joined in the front row by Rodney Ah You and hooker Jason Harris-Wright who makes his 50th Connacht appearance.

Daniel Qualter will also start for the first time this season and is joined in the second row by Galway man Andrew Browne on his return from injury.

Eoghan Masterson is another welcome returnee and starts in a back row with Sean O’Brien and the experienced George Naoupu who will captain the province on Sunday.

Academy tighthead prop Saba Meunargia, who was added to the European Challenge Cup squad this week, is named among the front row replacements. The Georgian native and Athlone-raised 21-year-old was brought on from the bench in Connacht’s Challenge Cup win away to Bayonne 12 months ago.

Commenting on the team selection and the trip to Newcastle, Pat Lam said: “This is another big game for us and one we’re looking forward to. We want to cement our position at the top of Pool 1 before we switch back into a busy schedule in the PRO12.

“Personally, I’m really looking forward to going back to Kingston Park where I know it’s going to be tough, especially with the fantastic supporters who always lift the team and add to the atmosphere. There is no doubt that Newcastle will feel they should have got more from our game last week and they will present a real challenge for us on their 4G pitch.

“Initially we had 23 players named for this weekend with eight front rowers included but unfortunately we lost Ronan Loughney at training today when he pulled up with a minor back injury.

“So, although we are down to just nine fit backs in our European squad, we have 22 players traveling who have brought a real intensity to training this week. They understand our team work and work ethic will give us the best chance to stay unbeaten in the competition.”

CONNACHT (v Newcastle Falcons): Danie Poolman; Rory Parata, Peter Robb, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun; Shane O’Leary, Caolin Blade; Conan O’Donnell, Jason Harris-Wright, Rodney Ah You, Daniel Qualter, Andrew Browne, Sean O’Brien, Eoghan Masterson, George Naoupu (capt).

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Saba Meunargia, Aly Muldowney, Dave Heffernan, Ian Porter, Jack Carty.