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Connacht Bring In Aki For First Interpro Battle

Connacht Bring In Aki For First Interpro Battle

Bundee Aki is pictured during a Connacht training session at the Sportsground earlier this week ©INPHO/Brian Reilly-Troy

2021 British & Irish Lion Bundee Aki will make his first appearance of the season for Connacht when they take on Munster in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship derby at Thomond Park (kick-off 7.35pm).

He comes straight into the starting XV for the first interprovincial clash of the campaign, and his inclusion is one of five changes from last week’s team that played the Dragons.

Aki forms a new-look centre partnership with Sam Arnold, while John Porch is drafted into the back three alongside fellow Australian winger Mack Hansen and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.

Jack Carty and Caolin Blade are retained at half-back, with Athlone man Carty named as captain for the game as Jarrad Butler is benched.

The front row of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged, while Niall Murray makes his 20th Connacht appearance, combining with Ultan Dillane at lock.

The final switch sees Conor Oliver slot back in at openside flanker, with the 21-year-old Cian Prendergast on the opposite flank and Paul Boyle at number 8.

Head coach Andy Friend has opted for a six-two split on the bench, with back rowers Abraham Papali’i and Butler both included as well as Kieran Marmion.

Summer arrival Greg McGrath, who has been playing for Lansdowne in the Energia All-Ireland League, is in line for his Connacht debut after being named as the replacement loosehead prop.

Speaking ahead of the trip to Limerick, Friend said: “There’s no getting away from the fact last week wasn’t good enough, so now it’s up to us all to put in the type of performance we know they’re capable of.

“Training this week has been good, and Bundee’s return is a boost as he’ll give us his typical energy that is needed for an interpro.

“Both games in Limerick last season ended with a single score between the two sides, so we know it’ll be a tight game.

“The team that is most consistent for the full 80 minutes and is clinical with the chances they create will be the team that wins it.”

CONNACHT (v Munster): Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Sam Arnold, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty (capt), Caolin Blade; Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Ultan Dillane, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Greg McGrath, Jack Aungier, Eoghan Masterson, Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion, Jarrad Butler, Tom Daly.