Connacht trio Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney and John Cooney have all returned from injury to take their places in the province’s team for Friday’s GUINNESS PRO12 clash with Cardiff Blues in Galway (kick-off 7.35pm).
Denis Buckley will run out at the Sportsground for his 100th Connacht appearance and his first game in two months, packing down with the returning Tom McCartney and tighthead Conor Carey.
James Cannon makes his first Connacht and PRO12 start alongside Ireland international Quinn Roux in the second row. The back row, with captain John Muldoon at number 8, remains unchanged from the last round with flankers Eoin McKeon and Jake Heenan both starting.
Less than two weeks after making his Ireland debut against Canada, winger Niyi Adeolokun is back on provincial duty in a pacey back-three with full-back Cian Kelleher and Stacey Ili. Craig Ronaldson partners Bundee Aki in midfield, while October Player of the Month and out-half Jack Carty is joined by John Cooney on his seasonal bow.
The most notable inclusion among the replacements is Marnitz Boshoff. The South African is in line to make his Connacht debut having arrived in Ireland last month following his commitments in the Currie Cup competition. Ronan Loughney and Nepia Fox-Matamua also return from injury to take their places in the matchday squad.
Commenting on the team selection and the round 9 visit of Cardiff, Connacht head coach Pat Lam said: “The break in games has been extremely beneficial as we have been able to get some players back from injury and work on improving our game.
“We really enjoy playing Cardiff as they are always a tough challenge. Our games always go right down to the wire. We will have to be on our game as their away form is very good this season.
“We know we have to improve on our last outing (against the Dragons) to get the points on offer, so being back at the Sportsground after a long break is a major boost. The atmosphere will once again be electric as it’s all set to be a full house, which is fantastic on an international weekend.”
CONNACHT (v Cardiff Blues): Cian Kelleher; Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Stacey Ili; Jack Carty, John Cooney; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, JP Cooney, Lewis Stevenson, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Caolin Blade, Marnitz Boshoff, Danie Poolman.