Connacht head coach Andy Friend has made three changes to the starting XV for Friday’s Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup clash with Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm).
Two changes come in the back-line where Caolin Blade is promoted to the number 9 jersey and Ben O’Donnell is named on the right wing. Jordan Duggan also slots in at loosehead prop.
Otherwise the team is as selected against Leicester Tigers in the European Challenge Cup, with the experienced duo of Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham joining Duggan in the front row.
Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury combine again in the engine room, while for the trip to Belfast the westerners will field a back row of Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver and Paul Boyle, the captain at number 8.
Jack Carty partners Blade at half-back, Academy ace Sean O’Brien and Tom Daly continue their centre partnership, and winger Matt Healy and full-back John Porch form a potent back-three with O’Donnell.
Commenting on the team selection for the new tournament’s opening derby game, Friend said: “There is still huge disappointment with our Challenge Cup exit and our last few performances, so this is a game where I’m fully expecting a reaction from the players.
“This is a new competition for us but as with competition we play in, we’re going out to win it.
“Our team selection reflects that and if we play the way I know we can, we’ll give ourselves a great chance of making a positive start to the Rainbow Cup.”
CONNACHT (v Ulster): John Porch; Ben O’Donnell, Sean O’Brien, Tom Daly, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Jordan Duggan, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (capt).
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion, Conor Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan.