Pat Lam has named his Connacht team to face Grenoble in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup at Stade des Alpes on Saturday (kick-off 9.05pm local time/8.05pm Irish time).
The head coach has made five personnel changes and several positional switches to the side that lined out against Ulster in the GUINNESS PRO12 seven days ago.
Kieran Marmion and Danie Poolman are drafted into the back-line with Matt Healy named at full-back for the second time this season. The former Ireland Under-20 scrum half, who is now a noted winger at provincial level, wore the number 15 shirt against Newcastle Falcons at the Sportsground back in December.
Healy’s move to full-back allows Ireland international Robbie Henshaw rekindle his centre partnership with February’s Player of the Month, Bundee Aki.
Shane O’Leary, who spent the 2013/14 season playing with Saturday’s French opponents, will make his third start for Connacht at out-half, having lined out against Ulster last week and in December’s pool game away to Newcastle.
Up front, recent Ireland debutants Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane start for the first time since their Six Nations involvement.
The back row is reshuffled and features three Galway-born players with Sean O’Brien from the Academy coming in at blindside flanker. Eoin McKeon once again moves to openside, while John Muldoon captains the province from number 8.
From the bench, prop JP Cooney could make his first European appearance of the current campaign, having recovered from the shoulder injury that has kept him sidelined for most of the season. Quinn Roux and Fionn Carr are also added to this week’s matchday squad.
Commenting on the team selection and the eagerly-awaited clash with Bernard Jackman’s men, Pat Lam said: “We have a few changes to the squad from last week but we are confident that we have a strong team to go over and execute our game-plan against Grenoble.
“While it was great to welcome Kieran back from injury this week, it was frustrating to lose Jake (Heenan) who we had initially named to start. He was really unlucky to roll his other ankle in training which has ruled him out again.
“But we have a lot of confidence in the ability of Academy players Sean O’Brien and James Connolly who have the experience of performing in the jersey already this season. Playing in these big-stage games is fantastic for the continued development of all our players going forward.
“We understand the challenge we face traveling to play a confident Grenoble side at their home ground. But this is knockout rugby and we are determined to bring a semi-final home to the Sportsground for our supporters.
“With two teams looking to play an attacking style of rugby, it will come down to the small margins in defence and who can take their opportunities. It’s set up to be a really entertaining game and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Connacht’s current list of injured/unavailable players comprises of Heenan, Nathan White, Ben Marshall, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Eoghan Masterson, Ian Porter, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Craig Ronaldson, AJ MacGinty, Dave McSharry, Rory Parata, Api Pewhairangi, Darragh Leader, Ciaran Gaffney and Tiernan O’Halloran.
CONNACHT (v Grenoble): Matt Healy; Niyi Adeolokun, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Danie Poolman; Shane O’Leary, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Andrew Browne, Sean O’Brien, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, JP Cooney, Quinn Roux, James Connolly, John Cooney, Peter Robb, Fionn Carr.