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Ireland Internationals Return For Connacht’s Crunch Clash With Toulouse

Ireland Internationals Return For Connacht’s Crunch Clash With Toulouse

Andy Friend's Connacht side are currently third in Pool 5, a point behind Gloucester. They trail leaders Toulouse by 10 points ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Connacht head coach Andy Friend has recalled a number of Ireland internationals for Saturday’s crucial Heineken Champions Cup round 5 showdown with Toulouse at the Sportsground (kick-off 3.15pm).

Jack Carty and Bundee Aki are named at out-half and outside centre respectively after sitting out the last two weeks, while there are also returns to the starting XV for fellow internationals Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and Matt Healy.

There is further good news up front as captain Jarrad Butler and Colby Fainga’a have both recovered from injury, linking up with blindside flanker Paul Boyle to form a strong back row unit.

Dillane will be partnered by Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while Paddy McAllister, who has been cleared to play following a clash of heads with Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee, and Tom McCartney join Bealham in the front row.

Sligo youngster Stephen Kerins is handed his first Champions Cup start at half-back alongside Carty. Ever-influential scrum half Caolin Blade drops to the bench having started Connacht’s last nine matches.

The rest of the westerners’ back-line sees Ireland star Aki partnered by Peter Robb in the centre, and their experienced back-three is made up of full-back Tiernan O’Halloran with Healy and Niyi Adeolokun on either wing.

Ahead of the visit of the French giants, Friend said: “It’s been a difficult Christmas period for everyone, but we’ve a lot of returning players which is exactly what we need. With Jarrad back in the side and players like Jack and Bundee returning from their break, I believe this is a squad full of quality and experience that can win this game.

“This game is exactly what we need. We’ve got a great opportunity to come up against the French champions and challenge them in our own backyard. We know it’s a must-win tie to keep our quarter-final hopes alive, and with our home crowd behind us I know the players will relish the occasion.”

CONNACHT (v Toulouse): Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Stephen Kerins; Paddy McAllister, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (capt).

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, David Horwitz, John Porch.