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Bealham, Dillane And O’Brien Boost Connacht Pack

Bealham, Dillane And O’Brien Boost Connacht Pack

Connacht forwards Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane are pictured in action against Ulster at the Sportsground during the festive season ©INPHO/James Crombie

Connacht head coach Andy Friend has made four changes to the team for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 tussle with provincial rivals Munster at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm).

After last week’s historic win away to Leinster, Friend’s charges, who trail Munster by eight points at the top of Conference B, have been further boosted by the return of a number of Ireland internationals and others after injury absences.

The first change comes in the front row where Finlay Bealham is restored to tighthead prop, alongside Denis Buckley and Shane Delahunt.

Quinn Roux continues as captain and is rejoined in the second row by Ultan Dillane, while the westerners’ starting back row is made up of Conor Oliver, Sean Masterson and Sean O’Brien, who is back on board after a six-week injury lay-off.

Aiming to back up their stellar performances from round 10 are half-backs Jack Carty, who starred with a 25-point haul in Dublin, and Caolin Blade as well as centres Sam Arnold and Tom Daly.

Former Australian Sevens international Ben O’Donnell, who made his debut off the bench against Leinster, comes in for his first start on the right wing. He has John Porch and Alex Wootton for company in the back-three.

Connacht have confirmed that all professional players and management returned negative results in this week’s round of PCR testing. A number of players who have spent the last period in self-isolation will return to training next week.

Adding the returning Paul Boyle and Ireland international Dave Heffernan to the bench, Friend noted: “Last week’s win was a testament to the belief and determination that was still present in our squad despite a challenging few weeks.

“Now it’s all about backing that up and finding another win that will bring us right into contention for a Guinness PRO14 final spot.

“We’ve had a very positive week with no new Covid cases and a few players available to us again, but we will still have to be at our best to overcome a Munster side that is full of quality.”

CONNACHT (v Munster): John Porch; Ben O’Donnell, Sam Arnold, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux (capt), Sean O’Brien, Conor Oliver, Sean Masterson.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Kieran Marmion, Diarmuid Kilgallen, Peter Sullivan.