Ireland international Ultan Dillane could make his 100th Connacht appearance on Sunday after being named in the squad to face Zebre in Parma (kick-off 3.30pm local time/2.30pm Irish time).
Dillane is among the replacements for Andy Friend’s team, which shows six changes to the side that lost 20-14 to the Scarlets last weekend in the Guinness PRO14.
Sean O’Brien ends his long injury absence with his first start in nearly two years. The Galway native, who is back from serious shoulder and foot injuries, was last part of the starting XV in a Christmas 2018 interprovincial.
O’Brien is part of a freshened-up back row with Sean Masterson at openside flanker and captain Jarrad Butler switching to the number 8 position.
Masterson’s older brother Eoghan is drafted into the second row alongside Gavin Thornbury, while Denis Buckley and Jack Aungier rejoin hooker Shane Delahunt in the front row.
Academy youngster Colm Reilly and Jack Carty continue together at half-back, with Tom Farrell’s inclusion in midfield moving Sam Arnold to the right wing. John Porch and Alex Wootton complete the back-three.
Speaking ahead of the round 7 encounter, head coach Friend said: “While there was huge frustration and disappointment with last week’s result, we’ve parked that now and put all our focus and energy on picking up a win in Italy.
“Parma can be a tough place to go but first and foremost we need to return to the level performance I know we’re capable of.
“I’d like to congratulate Ultan on potentially making his 100th appearance for Connacht, and I’m also delighted to welcome Sean O’Brien back in the side after his long layoff.
“I’ve seen first-hand the efforts he’s made to get back to full fitness, so his return is a big boost for us.”
CONNACHT (v Zebre): John Porch; Sam Arnold, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Jack Carty, Colm Reilly; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Jack Aungier, Eoghan Masterson, Gavin Thornbury, Sean O’Brien, Sean Masterson, Jarrad Butler (capt).
Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Paddy McAllister, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Abraham Papali’i, Stephen Kerins, Conor Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan.