Prop Paddy McAllister will make his first competitive start in a Connacht jersey when the westerners travel to the Scarlets for the opening round of the GUINNESS PRO14 on Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm).
McAllister, who signed from English Premiership side Gloucester in the summer, made his debut in Connacht’s action-packed 40-31 pre-season win over provincial rivals Munster at the Sportsground last Saturday.
The Lisburn-born 30-year-old joins an experienced front row that includes Finlay Bealham and hooker Tom McCartney. Behind them will be Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux, both of whom impressed during Connacht’s three pre-season victories over Oyonnax, Russia and Munster.
Jarrad Butler, who enters his second season as Connacht’s captain, will don the number 8 jersey with Eoghan Masterson and Colby Fainga’a filling the blindside and openside flanker berths respectively.
With Jack Carty away on Rugby World Cup duty, impressive youngster Conor Fitzgerald features at half-back alongside Caolin Blade. Elsewhere in the back-line, Kyle Godwin and Tom Daly team up together in midfield, while Matt Healy and Stephen Fitzgerald join experienced full-back Tiernan O’Halloran in the back-three.
Ahead of the season opener, Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “We used fifty players last season and we expect to use a similar number this time around. We’ve come through a really good pre-season where we have won three games from three and, more importantly, we have got to do a lot of work on the training field.
“I think we are definitely further along as a squad compared to where we were this time last season. We’re expecting a hugely competitive game (from Scarlets). While they are missing players away on World Cup duty, they also have real depth in their squad. Both sides will be targeting a win, so I think we are in for quality game.”
CONNACHT (v Scarlets): Tiernan O’Halloran; Stephen Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, Matt Healy; Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade; Paddy McAllister, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (capt).
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Eoin McKeon, Kieran Marmion, Peter Robb, Darragh Leader.