Ireland second row Quinn Roux will take the captaincy reins for Connacht’s Guinness PRO14 derby encounter with Leinster at the RDS on Saturday (kick-off 7.35pm).
Having recovered from a serious knee injury, there is a possible debut for Australian recruit Ben O’Donnell, a former World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year nominee who joined the province last summer.
O’Donnell is on the bench for Connacht’s opening game of 2021, with head coach Andy Friend making five changes to the team that lost 32-19 to Ulster in Galway last weekend.
Roux steps up at captain, alongside the returning Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while New Zealander Dominic Robertson-McCoy links up with Denis Buckley and hooker Shane Delahunt in the first line of the scrum.
The selected back row features both Masterson brothers, with Sean at number 8 and Eoghan, Connacht’s latest centurion, on the blindside. Conor Oliver continues at openside flanker.
The final change comes in the back-three as 22-year-old talent Peter Sullivan gets the nod on the right wing. John Porch, Alex Wootton, Sam Arnold, Tom Daly and half-backs Jack Carty and Caolin Blade are all retained in the back-line.
Meanwhile, Connacht Rugby have confirmed that a number of players tested positive for Covid-19 this week. This follows the weekly round of PCR testing, and separate tests conducted at the start of the week after a small number of players presented minor symptoms.
These players, along with a number of others identified as close contacts, are self-isolating in accordance with public health guidelines.
In total, 68 Connacht players and staff tested negative this week and, following full engagement with public health authorities and PRO14 Rugby, they are satisfied that Saturday’s interprovincial game can proceed as scheduled.
Commenting on the selected team, Friend said: “While we have had to deal with a few cases in the squad this week, we have still been able to name a strong team thanks to the depth we have been building these past few months.
“It’s also really pleasing to be able to include Ben O’Donnell in our 23 for the first time. Even though there’s a lot of frustration about our last few results, the overall mood in the squad is good.
“We can’t wait to head to Dublin and test ourselves against what’s clearly a very strong Leinster side.”
CONNACHT (v Leinster): John Porch; Peter Sullivan, Sam Arnold, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux (capt), Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver, Sean Masterson.
Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Matthew Burke, Conor Kenny, Ultan Dillane, Cian Prendergast, Kieran Marmion, Diarmuid Kilgallen, Ben O’Donnell.