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Aki And Oliver Added To Connacht Team

Aki And Oliver Added To Connacht Team

Conor Oliver will start for Connacht on the back of his try-scoring performance away to Racing 92 last Sunday ©INPHO/James Crombie

Bundee Aki and Conor Oliver have both been named in the team to face Bristol Bears in Sunday’s pre-Christmas Heineken Champions Cup clash at the Sportsground (kick-off 5.30pm).

Their inclusions are the only changes Andy Friend has made to the team that started in last weekend’s exciting 26-22 bonus point defeat to Racing 92.

The squad features the same 23 players from that day, with Tom Daly and Jarrad Butler dropping back to the bench. That means Paul Boyle again captains the side from number 8.

The Masterson brothers feature once more, with Sean complete the back row and older sibling Eoghan retained in the second row alongside Ireland international Ultan Dillane.

Denis Buckley has international duo Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham for company in the front row, while Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion are tasked with getting the best out of a potent back-line.

Aki joins Sam Arnold in a powerful centre combination, and full-back John Porch anchors a back-three that includes Alex Wootton and Matt Healy, two of the try scorers in Paris, out wide.

The young trio of Jordan Duggan (22), Jack Aungier (22) and Cian Prendergast (20) are hoping to gain more European experience as replacements. They all made their Champions Cup debuts last Sunday.

Looking forward to the second round fixture in Galway, head coach Friend said: “While you’re never happy with a defeat, there was a huge amount to like about that performance in France last week.

“It makes sense for us to stick with those same group of players, so the key thing now is we bring that level of consistency to our game and produce it in week in week out.

“14 of this squad of 23 came through the Connacht Academy which says it all about the trust we put in our systems at the province to play back-to-back Champions Cup games of this nature.

“European games under the Sportsground lights are always special occasions so no doubt we’ll miss our supporters again on Sunday.

“Both ourselves and Bristol know only a win will do if we want to reach the quarter-finals so it should be a great contest and hopefully we’ll come out the right side of the result.”

CONNACHT (v Bristol): John Porch; Alex Wootton, Sam Arnold, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Eoghan Masterson, Ultan Dillane, Sean Masterson, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (capt).

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier, Cian Prendergast, Jarrad Butler, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Tiernan O’Halloran.