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Academy Trio Included For Connacht’s Return Match Against Perpignan

Academy Trio Included For Connacht’s Return Match Against Perpignan

Connacht head coach Andy Friend has named Academy players Conor Fitzgerald and Kieran Joyce in his starting line-up and Matthew Burke on the bench for the trip to Perpignan in the European Challenge Cup on Friday (kick-off 8pm local time/7pm Irish time).

Kieran Joyce is retained in midfield following his debut in the home win over Perpignan last Saturday, while Conor Fitzgerald is also set for his second start having previously worn the number 10 jersey against Sale Sharks in October.

Joyce and Fitzgerald feature in a back-line that has a blend of youth and experience, with Joyce partnering David Horwitz as the Australian switches from out-half to inside centre. Darragh Leader is retained at full-back with Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher continuing on the wings.

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Hooker Dave Heffernan captains the side again with the Ballina native joined by props Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy in the front row. James Cannon comes into the side in the engine room as does the impressive Gavin Thornbury.

Wexford man Robin Copeland returns from injury to start at number 8, alongside Sean O’Brien and James Connolly. The latter, who has lined out recently with Naas in the All-Ireland League, played the full 80 minutes at the Sportsground last weekend and switches to openside for the game in France.

Eager to keep up Connacht’s winning form heading into the festive derbies, head coach Andy Friend said: “We have gained some real momentum with four wins in a row that included our back-to-back victories in South Africa. It was important to get the win over Perpignan last weekend to keep our interest alive in this competition, but we know that the return fixture will be a completely different game.

“Perpignan are in search of a win and the longer they go without that win, the more dangerous they are. They are a different proposition when they are playing at home and we will need a huge performance to challenge them.

“We have selected a blend of youth and experience in our side. We are seeing strong competition within the squad and that is hugely important as we head into the second half of the season.

“There are a few Academy players in our matchday squad again this weekend and that has been a feature of our selections this season. Conor, Kieran and Matthew have performed well when called on so far and that is why we have selected them again.”

CONNACHT (v Perpignan): Darragh Leader; Cian Kelleher, Kieran Joyce, David Horwitz, Matt Healy; Conor Fitzgerald, James Mitchell; Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan (capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Gavin Thornbury, Sean O’Brien, James Connolly, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Tom McCartney, Matthew Burke, Conor Carey, Joe Maksymiw, Eoghan Masterson, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Kyle Godwin.