The Connacht team to face Ulster in the first interprovincial clash of the season has been named. Head coach Pat Lam has had to make six changes to the team that secured a bonus point victory over Edinburgh a week ago.
Cian Kelleher, one of last week’s try scorers, will start on the left wing in place of the injured Matt Healy. Peter Robb and Kieran Marmion failed late fitness tests prior to the Captain’s Run today having picked up knocks in the last round.
At inside centre, Craig Ronaldson will now make his first appearance of the season following his return from long-term injury and Caolin Blade starts at scrum half.
Up front, hooker Dave Heffernan has been handed his first start of the season in the absence of the injured Tom McCartney. With Denis Buckley ruled out, returning Ireland international Finlay Bealham comes in at loosehead while Conor Carey remains at tighthead after his impressive debut performance against Edinburgh.
Galway man Andrew Browne returns from injury to make his maiden appearance of the campaign, partnering Ultan Dillane in the second row. Quinn Roux is unavailable having picked up a knock while training with Ireland earlier in the week.
Changes to the replacements bench see Shane Delahunt in line to make his seasonal debut, while uncapped Academy scrum half Stephen Kerins and recently-arrived utility back Stacey Ili have been named in their first matchday squads.
The 20-year-old Kerins, who hails from Sligo, has been training with the senior squad since pre-season having impressed with the Ireland Under-20s during June’s World Rugby U-20 Championship in Manchester.
Commenting on the team selection for the derby clash with the GUINNESS PRO12 leaders, Pat Lam said: “We’ve been hit with a good few injuries to our senior squad this week, and have had to make changes to the side as late as this morning. Despite all the different disruptions, we are all really excited by the challenge we face at home against Ulster.
“Ulster are a well-coached side with quality players across the park. We know they will come here full of confidence after the start that they’ve had and will be targeting this game to continue their impressive run.
“As long as we continue our day-to-day improvement in team performance, we will give ourselves a chance to get the points on offer.”
CONNACHT (v Ulster): Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Cian Kelleher; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Finlay Bealham, Dave Heffernan, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Andrew Browne, Eoin McKeon, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Ronan Loughney, JP Cooney, Lewis Stevenson, James Connolly, Stephen Kerins, Shane O’Leary, Stacey Ili.