The Connacht team to face Zebre at the Sportsground on Friday (kick-off 7.35pm) has been named. The selected side features just three players that started in Treviso last Sunday – Danie Poolman, Niyi Adeolokun and Bundee Aki.
Danie Poolman, who started on the wing for the bonus point win over Benetton Treviso, shifts to full-back for Friday’s round 17 fixture.
24-year-old out-half Steve Crosbie will make his Connacht debut, starting in a new half-back partnership with John Cooney. Tom Farrell and Stacey Ili come in to complete a youthful back-line.
There are wholesale changes to the pack and Tom McCartney is handed the captaincy while John Muldoon, who has started all but one game so far this season, drops down to the replacements bench.
Ronan Loughney and Dominic Robertson-McCoy will pack down in the front row with McCartney, and Lewis Stevenson and Andrew Browne, who returns for the first time this year, make up the second row partnership.
After 12 months away from the game to overcome a serious knee injury, Eoghan Masterson makes a very welcome return to professional rugby this week. The 23-year-old, who has played with Connacht Eagles and Galwegians in recent weeks, starts at number 8 in an all-new back row with Eoin McKeon and Naulia Dawai.
Commenting on the team selection and the westerners’ Italian opponents, head coach Pat Lam said: “With a five-day turnaround on the back of our trip to Italy, we had always planned to make changes to the side. This will be a great opportunity for others in the squad to show what they can do.
“I’m delighted to see Eoghan and Andrew make their return to match action at home tomorrow night. The team are buzzing for them and we’re really looking forward to being back at the Sportsground.
“Having faced Zebre three times already this season, we know that we can expect a tough, physical challenge. It’s vital that we give them the respect they deserve through our preparation and execution of our own game-plan.”
CONNACHT (v Zebre): Danie Poolman; Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Stacey Ili; Steve Crosbie, John Cooney; Ronan Loughney, Tom McCartney (capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Lewis Stevenson, Andrew Browne, Eoin McKeon, Naulia Dawai, Eoghan Masterson.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon, Kieran Marmion, Craig Ronaldson, Tiernan O’Halloran.