Connacht head coach Kieran Keane has included new signing Pita Ahki in the team to face Zebre on Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm local time/1.15pm Irish time). Ahki, who came off the bench to make his debut against Cardiff Blues last week, will make his first start for the province as they travel to Parma for the GUINNESS PRO14 clash.
The Connacht side features a new half-back pairing with Steve Crosbie starting at out-half and Kieran Marmion, who has made 101 Championship appearances to date, back at scrum half following his return from Ireland duty.
Up front, Shane Delahunt, who scored two tries from mauls against Cardiff, starts at hooker where he is flanked by Denis Buckley at loosehead and Finlay Bealham at tighthead. Academy player and Sligo native Cillian Gallagher, who made his debut against Worcester Warriors in October, is named among the replacements.
Ahead of the round 10 encounter in Italy, Kieran Keane spoke about the importance of getting a result against Michael Bradley’s men, stating: “While we were disappointed not to beat Cardiff last week, I was proud of the boys and the way they battled to take two points from the game. In this competition it is really important to do well against teams in our conference.
“We will face a big challenge against Zebre on Saturday afternoon. They have made it difficult against a lot of teams so far this season, particularly when they are at home. We will need to be at our best to beat them.”
CONNACHT (v Zebre): Tiernan O’Halloran; Cian Kelleher, Pita Ahki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy; Steve Crosbie, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Cillian Gallagher, Naulia Dawai, James Mitchell, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin.