Connacht head coach Andy Friend has made a total of ten changes to the team that won away to Perpignan in the Challenge Cup last weekend, as the westerners prepare to take on Leinster at the RDS on Saturday (kick-off 7.45pm).
Included in the starting XV are experienced forwards Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane, and fellow Ireland international Bundee Aki is named among the replacements. Bealham comes back into a front row that sees Denis Buckley return at loosehead prop and Tom McCartney retained at hooker.
Dillane will pair up with former Leinster Academy lock Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while captain Jarrad Butler resumes in the back row, featuring at blindside flanker alongside openside Colby Fainga’a and number 8 Paul Boyle, the former Ireland Under-20 captain.
Jack Carty and Caolin Blade renew their half-back partnership, the selected back-three sees Darragh Leader come in for Matt Healy, who picked up a knock in training this week, with Cian Kelleher named on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
Speaking ahead of the interprovincial derby in the capital, Andy Friend said: “We have gone through a really good run with five wins in row, with real competition emerging in the squad. The win away in France last weekend keeps the confidence levels up and keeps that momentum going in the squad and throughout the organisation.
“We face a big challenge away to Leinster on Saturday. We know the depth Leinster have and the quality in their squad so we’ll need a huge performance to challenge them especially when they are at home. Everyone wants to play against the top sides and see how they perform.
“We will play our game and implement our game-plan and we will know where we are as we go into the New Year. We have a huge series of games, with three interpros over the festive period so these three fixtures will be a huge test for our squad.”
CONNACHT (v Leinster): Tiernan O’Halloran; Cian Kelleher, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Darragh Leader; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Jarrad Butler (capt), Colby Fainga’a, Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Mitchell, David Horwitz, Bundee Aki.