Gavin Thornbury will captain Connacht for the first time in Saturday’s BKT United Rugby Championship opener against provincial rivals Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm).
The 28-year-old lock will make his 64th appearance for the westerners in a squad that includes three debutants and two more potential new caps on the replacements bench.
Peter Dooley, Josh Murphy and Byron Ralston will all make their competitive bows for Connacht, with Shamus Hurley-Langton and David Hawkshaw, another of their signings from Leinster, standing by to join them.
Offaly man Dooley is named in a front row with Jack Aungier and hooker Dave Heffernan, while Tongan international Leva Fifita partners Thornbury in the second row. The pack is completed by flanker Conor Oliver and number 8 Paul Boyle.
Conor Fitzgerald and Kieran Marmion are paired together at half-back, the two Toms – Farrell and Daly – start at centre. The Irish-qualified Ralston’s first game will be on the right wing, with John Porch on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
The bench options include young front rowers Dylan Tierney-Martin and Sam Illo, who are two of the five Connacht players selected for the Emerging Ireland squad’s upcoming trip to South Africa.
Speaking ahead of the eagerly-awaited first interprovincial derby of the new campaign, Connacht direct of rugby Andy Friend said: “We’ve had a very positive pre-season and there’s now a huge sense of excitement among the group.
“There’s a genuine belief and optimism about what we can achieve in this first block of games, which all starts in Belfast tomorrow night.
“Ulster are a quality side and our battles against them are always hard fought. We’re really looking forward going head-to-head with them in what should be a great season opener for us both.”
CONNACHT (v Ulster): Tiernan O’Halloran; Byron Ralston, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, John Porch; Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion; Peter Dooley, Dave Heffernan, Jack Aungier, Gavin Thornbury (capt), Leva Fifita, Josh Murphy, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Dylan Tierney-Martin, Denis Buckley, Sam Illo, Niall Murray, Shamus Hurley-Langton, Caolin Blade, David Hawkshaw, Oran McNulty.