Connacht Academy out-half Conor Dean is set to make his debut for the province in their GUINNESS PRO14 derby clash with Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday (kick-off 7.35pm).
The 21-year-old Dean, son of former Ireland international and current national team manager Paul Dean, is in his first year in the Academy. He becomes the seventh player from Connacht’s Academy system to be handed a start this season by head coach Andy Friend.
The St. Mary’s College youngster will form a new half-back partnership with Ireland scrum half Kieran Marmion. The back-line has further international experience with the midfield partnership of Bundee Aki and former Ireland Sevens captain Tom Daly, whose permanent contract at the Sportsground was recently announced.
In the back-three, Limerick native Stephen Fitzgerald returns to Thomond Park to face his former team-mates as he is named on the left wing, with Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite flanker and the experienced Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
Tighthead Finlay Bealham has returned from a hand injury to take his place in the front row alongside Tom McCartney and Ballinrobe native Matthew Burke. James Cannon starts alongside Joe Maksymiw in the engine room, while former Munster back rower Robin Copeland features at number 8 in a back row completed by Eoin McKeon and captain Jarrad Butler.
With Connacht already qualified for a PRO14 quarter-final trip to Ulster next weekend, Friend says there is still much to play for, stating: “Munster are an outstanding side. We saw that when we played them at home earlier in the season and they have been even better since. There is still a huge incentive for our players.
“We know that these interpro fixtures always bring out the best in our boys and we know that going to Thomond Park is a massive challenge. With a quarter-final next weekend, we have huge competition in the squad and that is exactly what we need at this stage of the season. This is a big opportunity for everyone involved.”
CONNACHT (v Munster): Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald; Conor Dean, Kieran Marmion; Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler (capt), Robin Copleand.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader.