Connacht head coach Andy Friend has given 21-year-old Sligo man Cillian Gallagher his first start of the season as the province prepare to face Conference A rivals Cardiff Blues in the GUINNESS PRO14 on Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm).
Cillian Gallagher is one of ten changes to the Connacht side that secured their Challenge Cup quarter-final place last weekend, with six players away on international duty and Gavin Thornbury picking up a shoulder injury in training during the week.
Finlay Bealham is rejoined by Denis Buckley and Dave Heffernan in the front row, with hooker Heffernan having signed a contract extension this week. Gallagher partners James Cannon in the engine room, while captain Jarrad Butler and Colby Fainga’a return in the back row with Eoin McKeon reverting to the blindside berth.
David Horwitz backs up from Bordeaux, featuring at half-back alongside James Mitchell, and Cian Kelleher replaces Darragh Leader in an otherwise unchanged back-three. On-loan centre Tom Daly starts his second game of the season alongside Kyle Godwin.
With Connacht sitting five points ahead of Cardiff in the Conference A table, Andy Friend says that this is a hugely important fixture in their season, noting: “We have won eight of our last ten games so we go into the game with confidence but we know what a tough team Cardiff are to play, especially when they are at home.
“These inter-conference games have a huge bearing on the overall standings in the PRO14 so we’re fully aware of the importance of the fixture. We have made a few changes to our matchday squad with players away on international duty and a few injuries to contend with, but we have picked a team that we have full confidence in to go to Cardiff and get a result.”
CONNACHT (v Cardiff Blues): Tiernan O’Halloran; Cian Kelleher, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, Matt Healy; David Horwitz, James Mitchell; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, James Cannon, Cillian Gallagher, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (capt).
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Angus Lloyd, Conor Fitzgerald, Stephen Fitzgerald.