The Connacht team to face Zebre in round 2 of the European Champions Cup at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Sunday (kick-off 4.15pm local time/3.15pm Irish time) has been named. Ahead of the trip to Italy, Pat Lam has made seven personnel changes to the side that defeated Toulouse six days ago.
In the injury-enforced absence of Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher starts at full-back for the second time this season. New signing Stacey Ili is handed his first start having made two recent appearances from the bench.
Returning from injury, Peter Robb joins up with Craig Ronaldson in midfield while Ireland international Kieran Marmion – an influential second half replacement against Toulouse – will don the number 9 shirt.
Hooker Shane Delahunt starts for the first time this season and packs down in the front row with the incoming JP Cooney and Finlay Bealham who shifts over to the tighthead side.
Quinn Roux is once again named to start in the second row having had to withdraw late before the game last weekend. The province’s back row is also changed with blindside flanker Sean O’Brien earning his first start of the current campaign.
Following his return from injury, the 21-year-old O’Brien, a former Ireland Under-20 captain, turned in an impressive cameo performance from the bench against Toulouse.
Commenting on the team selection, Pat Lam said: “The best thing about our improved performances individually and collectively as a team is that it has brought back good competition for places in the squad. With that in mind, and obviously some niggles and injuries, we’ve made some changes for our trip to Italy.
“With Zebre’s target of winning their first Champions Cup game, we are fully expecting to see the real Zebre front up at home. Our whole week has been focused on our continued improvement in team performance which will give us the best chance to face their challenge head on.”
The players currently on Connacht’s injured/unavailable list are Tom McCartney, Denis Buckley, Ronan Loughney, Ivan Soroka, Conan O’Donnell, Ben Marshall, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Eoghan Masterson, Rory Moloney, John Cooney, Marnitz Boshoff, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy, O’Halloran, Josh Rowland, Darragh Leader, Ciaran Gaffney and Cormac Brennan.
CONNACHT (v Zebre): Cian Kelleher; Niyi Adeolokun, Peter Robb, Craig Ronaldson, Stacey Ili; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; JP Cooney, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, Andrew Browne, Sean O’Brien, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Shane O’Leary, Bundee Aki.