Hooker Tom McCartney is set to captain Connacht as they travel to Llanelli to take on the defending champions, the Scarlets, in the GUINNESS PRO14 on Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm).
Tom McCartney takes his place in the front row alongside Denis Buckley and Conor Carey, while Jake Heenan and Eoin McKeon come into the back row for their second and first starts of the season respectively.
Connacht are also boosted by the return of Tiernan O’Halloran from injury and he takes his place on the right wing with Darragh Leader, one of the province’s try scorers against Cardiff Blues, retained at full-back.
After impressing off the bench against Cardiff last Saturday, Tom Farrell pairs up with Bundee Aki in midfield, and Caolin Blade gets his second start of the 2017/18 campaign alongside Jack Carty at half-back.
The westerners face a huge challenge against last season’s champions, a fact that their Kiwi head coach Kieran Keane was fully aware of when he spoke to journalists ahead of the game.
“The Scarlets are very expansive, very well skilled and a well drilled team. We are going over to beat them obviously. We have put in place a plan that we think could trouble them, but they are a quality side and you don’t become champions for nothing,” he said.
“Decision-making has really been a focal point for us. We have hard workers, we have good players, and we have structures they are coming to grips with that will create opportunities, which we haven’t been able to exploit yet. So, putting a little bit of polish on the rough diamond is what we are looking to achieve.”
CONNACHT (v Scarlets): Darragh Leader, Tiernan O’Halloran, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Cian Kelleher; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney (capt), Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Jake Heenan, Jarrad Butler, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Coulson, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Steve Crosbie, Eoin Griffin.