Connacht head coach Andy Friend has named two Academy players on the bench for the province’s European Challenge Cup opener against Bordeaux-Bégles at the Sportsground on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
Out half Conor Fitzgerald and Connemara youngster Colm de Buitléar, who has featured across the back-three for Connacht Eagles, are named among the westerners’ replacements. Tickets for the opening Pool 3 clash with the French side are available to buy online here.
The front row of props Peter McCabe and Conor Carey, along with hooker Shane Delahunt, are all set for their first starts of the season. James Cannon returns to the second row alongside Quinn Roux, while captain Jarrad Butler, Colby Fainga’a and number 8 Robin Copeland complete the pack.
Caolin Blade comes back in at scrum half for ankle injury victim Kieran Marmion where he partners the in-form Jack Carty. The experienced Eoin Griffin joins Bundee Aki in midfield, and Australian Kyle Godwin will make his Challenge Cup bow on the left wing, combining with Niyi Adeolokun and Cian Kelleher in the back-three.
Irish-qualified lock Joe Maksymiw is set for his Connacht debut off the bench, while there is also plenty of experience to draw on with Tom McCartney, Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham backing up the starting front row trio.
Speaking ahead of the first European fixture of the season, Andy Friend said: “We are really looking forward to our opening game of our Challenge Cup campaign. This is a competition that Connacht have a proud tradition in and we hope to make a big impact in this season.
“We are coming off six tough PRO14 games, so it is only natural that there is some rotation of the squad, but we are have a good blend of youth and experience among the squad. We have included Conor Fitzgerald and Colm de Buitléar, two promising Academy players, among our replacements. We hope that they’ll get a chance to make their debuts at some stage.
“It is a big opportunity to be involved in a European fixture especially in front of the home fans in the Sportsground. We also have plenty of experience on that bench to call on if needed. It’s been a big week for Connacht Rugby with the announcement of our stadium plans all coming off a good win against Ulster last weekend.
“We know that Bordeaux will come with a big physical side and we are expecting a massive challenge. But it will be a big occasion in the Sportsground. Our fans have been huge for us this season and they will be on a high again tomorrow, I’m sure.”
CONNACHT (v Bordeaux-Bégles): Cian Kelleher; Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Bundee Aki, Kyle Godwin; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Peter McCabe, Shane Delahunt, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Quinn Roux, Jarrad Butler (capt), Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Conan O’Donnell, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Connolly, Conor McKeon, Conor Fitzgerald, Colm de Buitléar.