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Connacht Bring In Ireland Trio For Cardiff Clash

Connacht Bring In Ireland Trio For Cardiff Clash

Ireland centre Bundee Aki is set to make his first start for Connacht since before Christmas ©INPHO/James Crombie

Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan will all start for Connacht in Saturday’s crucial Guinness PRO14 Conference B duel with Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm).

With six points separating second-placed Connacht from the Blues, in third, the province’s management team have drafted the Ireland trio straight into the starting XV.

Jarrad Butler returns to captain the side from openside flanker, with Eoghan Masterson and stand-in skipper Paul Boyle completing the back row.

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Dillane is partnered by Gavin Thornbury at lock, while Heffernan is joined by props Jordan Duggan and Finlay Bealham in the front row. It is Newbridge man Duggan’s first senior start for Connacht.

Jack Carty and Caolin Blade fill the half-back positions, while the returning Aki combines with Tom Daly in an exciting centre pairing.

Australians speedster John Porch continues his run of starting every game this season, forming a back-three with wingers Matt Healy and Alex Wootton.

Tiernan O’Halloran, who picked up some game-time for the Connacht Eagles against Munster ‘A’ last week, is named among the replacements having last played against Ulster during the Christmas period.

Commenting on the team selection and Saturday’s opponents, head coach Andy Friend said: “It’s great to welcome Dave, Ultan and Bundee back into the fold, and they’re rejoining an already healthy group of players.

“We had tough (injury) news for Quinn Roux and Peter Robb this week, but overall we’re in a good spot and that’s allowed us to pick a squad based on form.

“Tomorrow marks the start of a block of games that will ultimately define our season. We have a great opportunity to keep the pressure on Munster at the top while opening some daylight between ourselves and the chasing pack.

“We know our home form isn’t where it should be so this is our opportunity to put that right.”

CONNACHT (v Cardiff Blues): John Porch; Alex Wootton, Tom Daly, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Jordan Duggan, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (capt), Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Jack Aungier, Oisin Dowling, Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien, Tiernan O’Halloran.