Roscommon-born prop Denis Buckley is set to make his 150th appearance for Connacht in Saturday’s GUINNESS PRO14 derby against Munster at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm).
Tickets for the much-anticipated interprovincial derby in Galway have completely sold out as Andy Friend’s side head into the New Year on the back of six wins in their last seven games.
Denis Buckley is named in a front row led by hooker Dave Heffernan who takes over the captaincy from Jarrad Butler who picked up a knock during last weekend’s win over Ulster. Quinn Roux and Gavin Thornbury continue as the province’s starting locks with Ultan Dillane on the bench.
Paul Boyle and Eoghan Masterson join Heffernan and tighthead Dominic Robertson-McCoy as the four changes up front, while debutant Tom Daly, who joined Connacht on loan from Leinster last month, pairs up with Tom Farrell in midfield.
Matt Healy, the province’s record try scorer, makes a welcome return from injury on the left wing, with Jack Carty and Caolin Blade, who is named in a Connacht matchday squad for the 16th match in a row, marshalling an otherwise unchanged back-line.
Expecting another huge challenge from Munster, the westerners’ head coach Andy Friend said: “This block of three interpros is a tough series of fixtures and has a huge bearing on the overall context of the season. We were disappointed to lose narrowly to Leinster in Dublin but we showed great character to bounce back and beat a really tough Ulster side last weekend.
“This clash with Munster is a big game and we’ll have to put in a huge performance to get a result on Saturday. As always though we will focus on our game. That’s where our focus has been all week and that’s where it has been all season.”
The Australian added: “Dave Heffernan takes over the captaincy from Jarrad this week as he is carrying a knock. It’s also a huge occasion for Denis Buckley and his family as he will play his 150th game in a Connacht jersey.
“We’re looking forward to another huge occasion in the Sportsground and we can see the people of the province have voted with their feet again with the game completely sold out since early in the week. They’ve been huge for us this season both home and away and we will be looking to feed off them again on Saturday night.”
CONNACHT (v Munster): Darragh Leader; Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan (capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Eoghan Masterson.
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Cillian Gallagher, Angus Lloyd, David Horwitz, Colm de Buitlear.