Connacht head coach Andy Friend has made three changes to the starting line-up for the visit of Benetton Rugby to the Sportsground on Saturday night (kick-off 7.35pm).
Darragh Leader, Peter Robb and Paul Boyle all come into the side as the westerners look to bounce back from last week’s frustrating 18-10 defeat away to the Scarlets on the opening day of the new GUINNESS PRO14 campaign.
Leader’s inclusion on the right wing sees him come into a back-three with Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back, while powerful 25-year-old Dubliner Robb will form the centre partnership with Kyle Godwin.
Conor Fitzgerald, who is set for his third PRO14 start in the number 10 jersey, and Caolin Blade will combine again at half-back with Kieran Marmion having an impact role off the bench. Paul Boyle, at the base of the scrum, is the only change among the forwards.
The back row is completed by captain Jarrad Butler and fellow flanker Eoghan Masterson whose younger brother Sean, the 21-year-old Academy forward, is in line to make his senior debut as a replacement having impressed for Connacht Eagles in their five wins during the Celtic Cup competition.
The province’s tight five remains unchanged with Paddy McAllister retained after his debut performance against the Scarlets, packing down alongside hooker Tom McCartney and tighthead Finlay Bealham who will have scrummaging support from Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux in the engine room.
Speaking ahead of the second round fixture in Galway, Friend said: “While we were disappointed with the result last weekend, there is huge anticipation among the squad for our first home game of the season. We have set some really ambitious targets for the season ahead, particularly around our home form.
“A packed Sportsground is a very difficult place for away teams to come and I expect a great atmosphere when we face Benetton. We have made three changes from last weekend. Some of those were down to one or two injuries we picked up and some are down to the depth we have in the squad.
“We are prepared for a long season where we’ll need a large squad of players to compete in the PRO14 and European competitions. This week we have named Sean Masterson among the replacements. He is an excellent young back row who has impressed already for the Eagles side. I’m confident that he is ready for that step up to PRO14 rugby this weekend.”
CONNACHT (v Benetton Rugby): Tiernan O’Halloran; Darragh Leader, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy; Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade; Paddy McAllister, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (capt), Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Sean Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell, Stephen Fitzgerald.