Ultan Dillane has returned to the Connacht team to face Montpellier in the opening round of the Heineken Champions Cup at the Sportsground on Sunday (kick-off 1pm). Tickets are available to buy online here.
Fellow Ireland international Bundee Aki is also set for his first start since the Rugby World Cup, following his appearance off the bench against Leinster last weekend.
The return of Aki and Dillane comes as a boost to Andy Friend and his coaching team as Connacht return to Champions Cup action after a two-year absence. Dillane comes into the second row alongside Sligo man and former Ireland Under-20 international Cillian Gallagher.
In the front row, the inclusion of Dominic Robertson-McCoy is the only change from last week’s interprovincial clash. The tighthead prop lines up alongside experienced hooker Tom McCartney and Denis Buckley at loosehead.
In the back row, Colby Fainga’a comes in at blindside flanker with captain Jarrad Butler at openside and Gorey youngster Paul Boyle in his now familiar number 8 jersey.
Jack Carty and Caolin Blade continue their half-back partnership and with Ireland international Kieran Marmion on the province’s injury list, Stephen Kerins is named as the replacement scrum half for the second game in a row.
Aki will partner Kyle Godwin in midfield while the westerners’ back-three is made up of Darragh Leader at full-back with the in-form Niyi Adeolokun and the fit-again Matt Healy on the wings.
Ahead of his European bow as Connacht head coach, Friend said: “We have received a boost this week with Ultan and Matt returning from injury and Bundee back in the starting side. They bring a huge amount of experience at this level and that will be invaluable to us.
“We are looking forward to the game on Sunday and we know the importance of getting off to a good start in this competition, especially at home.
“We’ve had incredible support so far this season in the Sportsground and we are expecting a huge occasion again on Sunday afternoon. Everyone associated with Connacht Rugby is excited about our return to the Champions Cup and our focus now is on delivering a win against Montpellier.”
CONNACHT (v Montpellier): Darragh Leader; Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Cillian Gallagher, Ultan Dillane, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (capt), Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke, Conor Kenny, Eoghan Masterson, Robin Copeland, Stephen Kerins, Tom Daly, John Porch.