Six Connacht players have been handed their first starts of the season for Sunday’s Guinness PRO14 trip to BT Murrayfield to face Edinburgh (kick-off 7.35pm).
International call-ups and a number of injuries have meant there is a reshuffle of Andy Friend’s side from the opening two games, with two players potentially making their debuts off the bench.
There is a freshened-up half-back pairing of Conor Fitzgerald and Caolin Blade, while centre Tom Daly comes in for his first start of the campaign alongside Tom Farrell. John Porch, Sam Arnold and Alex Wootton feature in the back-three.
Continuing at loosehead, Denis Buckley is joined in the front row by Shane Delahunt and Jack Aungier. Some long-term injuries in the second row mean Eoghan Masterson switches to lock where he partners Gavin Thornbury.
Powerful New Zealander Abraham Papali’i slots in at number 8, linking up with Paul Boyle and captain Jarrad Butler in the back row. It is Papali’i’s first appearance since his debut against Munster in August was marred by a red card.
The westerners’ replacement includes scrum half Colm Reilly, a 2019 Grand Slam winner with the Ireland Under-20s, and Academy lock Cian Prendergast who are both poised to earn their first Connacht caps.
Commenting on the team selection and this weekend’s opposition, head coach Friend said: “Having seven players away on international duty is a great situation for Connacht Rugby, and it also provides an opportunity for others to step up and look to fill those vacancies over the next period of time.
“We’ve still got a core group of experienced players to select from within the squad, so I’m really happy with the depth that we’re building. Edinburgh have been one of the form teams in the competition for the last year and have quality all over the pitch.
“That said, we learned a lot from our game in Cardiff and we’re expecting this to be a similar type of encounter, so I’m confident we can build on that and put in a performance capable of getting a win.”
CONNACHT (v Edinburgh): John Porch; Sam Arnold, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Jack Aungier, Eoghan Masterson, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler (capt), Abraham Papali’i.
Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Paddy McAllister, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Colm Reilly, Peter Robb, Tiernan O’Halloran.