Mayo native Dave Heffernan will captain Connacht when they host Leinster in the first interprovincial match of the season at the Sportsground on Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm).
Dave Heffernan takes over the captaincy from Jarrad Butler who is ruled out this week through injury. Heffernan’s inclusion at hooker sees him continue as part of a front row trio that also includes Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham.
Butler’s replacement at openside flanker, Colby Fainga’a, makes his first start for Connacht, while lock Ultan Dillane is the only other change to the team that beat Scarlets 33-20 last Saturday. Fainga’a joins Sean O’Brien and Robin Copeland, a debutant last time out, in the back row, with Dillane renewing his familiar second row partnership with Quinn Roux.
The in-form duo of Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion continue at half-back, as do Tom Farrell and Bundee Aki in midfield where the latter produced a man-of-the-match display against the Scarlets. Wingers Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher, who has scored six tries between pre-season and the GUINNESS PRO14’s opening rounds, are also retained along with Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
Speaking ahead of his first interpro derby, Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “We were really happy with the win against the Scarlets last weekend and that needs to become our baseline and the standard that we have to meet consistently.
“Leinster are an outstanding side and deserving European and PRO14 champions so it’s a huge challenge. We will need to raise our standards another notch if we are to compete with them. So that’s the challenge and we are really looking forward to it.
“This is obviously a massive occasion for our supporters. They have been fantastic so far this season and the players have really responded to their support. The Sportsground will be packed and even with our additional terracing it will be a sell-out. That is hugely encouraging. The people of the province are behind us and we want to deliver a performance for them on Saturday.”
CONNACHT (v Leinster): Tiernan O’Halloran; Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan (capt), Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun.