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Connacht Make Three Changes For Visit Of Bulls

Connacht Make Three Changes For Visit Of Bulls

Tongan international Leva Fifita is pictured training during the build-up to Connacht's opening home game in the United Rugby Championship ©INPHO/James Crombie

Connacht have made three changes to their team for Friday’s United Rugby Championship clash with Vodacom Bulls at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm).

Jordan Duggan, Dave Heffernan and Abraham Papali’i are all drafted into the starting line-up, with the strong-carrying Papali’i making his first appearance of the season.

Duggan and Heffernan join Finlay Bealham in the front row, while the second row of young Dubliner Oisin Dowling and Ultan Dillane is unchanged from last week’s disappointing defeat in Cardiff.

Papali’i comes in at number 8, with captain Jarrad Butler moving to openside flanker and Cian Prendergast retaining his spot on the opposite flank.

The half-back partnership of Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion, who bagged two tries in the Welsh capital, is unchanged, as is the centre pairing of Tom Farrell and Tom Daly.

Mack Hansen, on his home debut, and John Porch combine again with full-back Tiernan O’Halloran in the westerners’ back-three.

Among the replacements is recent signing Leva Fifita who is in line for his Connacht debut, and Ireland international Caolin Blade who has returned from injury.

The Sportsground will operate at 50% capacity for the second round fixture, nearly one year to the day since the last competitive professional match at the ground in front of supporters.

Looking forward to righting the wrongs of the performance against Cardiff, head coach Andy Friend said: “Last week’s result was disappointing but we, as a coaching group, saw enough to firmly believe we’re on the right track.

“If we can be more clinical at the crucial times I know we’ll be tough to beat whoever we face, so we hope to see more of that tomorrow against a very formidable Bulls outfit.

“Bringing the likes of Papali’i and Fifita into our 23 gives us a lot of physicality, but we’ll need to throw the ball around a lot as well. With the Connacht supporters back behind us in full voice, I know we can give them something to cheer about.”

CONNACHT (v Vodacom Bulls): Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Jordan Duggan, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Oisin Dowling, Ultan Dillane, Cian Prendergast, Jarrad Butler (capt), Abraham Papali’i.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier, Leva Fifita, Conor Oliver, Caolin Blade, Paul Boyle, Sam Arnold.