Three players who featured on the Emerging Ireland tour have returned to the Connacht squad for Friday’s BKT United Rugby Championship match against the Scarlets at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm).
Cian Prendergast, who has been called up to the Ireland squad for the upcoming Bank of Ireland Nations Series, returns to provincial duty for his second start of the season.
Dylan Tierney-Martin and Cathal Forde, the other Emerging Ireland tourists, are listed among the replacements, with Forde having featured for Galway Corinthians in the Energia All-Ireland League last week.
Completing Connacht’s six personnel changes from the derby defeat to Leinster are Denis Buckley, Leva Fifita, Conor Oliver, Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O’Halloran.
Buckley joins forces with Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham in the front row, while Fifita packs down with Niall Murray, one of Connacht’s standout performers in round five, at lock. Paul Boyle completes the back row with Prendergast and Oliver.
Marmion, who is on the same appearances total for the province (213) as Buckley, forms an experienced half-back pairing with captain Jack Carty.
Byron Ralston and David Hawkshaw continue together in midfield, as do Mack Hansen and John Porch in the back-three. Hawkshaw is determined to drive Connacht back to winning ways.
“Scarlets will provide a different challenge and one we know we have to be ready for because this is just as big as the other five games we’ve played,” said the former Ireland Under-20 captain.
“They have a back-line that’s really dangerous. We know we need good results now. We believe in what we’re doing, it’s just we aren’t accurate enough at the moment when in the opposition 22.”
Targeting an improved performance and result, Connacht’s director of rugby Andy Friend said: “We’ve had a tough start to the season, but if we can pick up a couple of wins in these last two rounds before the November break, then we’ll put ourselves in a much better position heading into the next block.
“Scarlets are always a difficult team to face as they have quality players across the park. There’s nearly always one score separating the two sides at full-time, so it’ll no doubt be a tight affair.
“We need to ensure we bring the intent and physicality that we’ve shown in the last two matches, as well as improving our ability to finish the multiple opportunities that we’re creating.
“If we can do that, then we’ll put ourselves in a great position to obtain the result that we’re all chasing.”
CONNACHT (v Scarlets): Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Byron Ralston, David Hawkshaw, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty (capt), Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Leva Fifita, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Dylan Tierney-Martin, Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier, Oisin Dowling, Jarrad Butler, Colm Reilly, Cathal Forde, Alex Wootton.