Irish-qualified back rower Sean Jansen will make his Connacht debut against the Vodacom Bulls, as head coach Pete Wilkins makes six changes to the team that edge out the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban last weekend.
At the opposite end of the scale is Jack Carty who comes in to make his 199th appearance for the province. He also takes over the captaincy for Saturday’s BKT United Rugby Championship clash at Loftus Versfeld (kick-off 5pm local time/3pm Irish time).
22-year-old lock Darragh Murray joins Joe Joyce in the engine room as the only change to the tight five. Denis Buckley, Tadgh McElroy and Ireland international Finlay Bealham pack down together again in the front row.
The westerners will field a brand new back row consisting of Oisin Dowling, who switches from the second row to blindside flanker, and New Zealand-born duo Shamus Hurley-Langton and Jansen. The latter signed from Leicester Tigers in March.
Carty returns to pair up with Ballinasloe native Colm Reilly at half-back, and the two other changes in the back-line see Diarmuid Kilgallen, the scorer of three tries in his last two games, and David Hawkshaw start on the left wing and at outside centre respectively.
Byron Ralston, Tiernan O’Halloran and Cathal Forde complete the westerners’ starting XV, with Wilkins admitting: “To play the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld is one of the great experiences in world rugby, and although it shapes to be a big challenge our entire squad is excited and ready to go.
“I’m pleased with the momentum we have built in this early part of the URC season. Our previous performance against the Sharks, whilst not perfect, was another significant step in the development of our team, demonstrating that we can find a way to win in tough and unfamiliar environments away from home.
“The selection changes we have made reflect the importance of taking some fresh legs to Pretoria, whilst also building on some of the combinations that have served us well in recent weeks.
“Both Sean Jansen and David Hawkshaw deserve their first opportunities in the starting line-up and will no doubt make significant contributions to what will need to be a relentless and physical 23-man performance.”
CONNACHT (v Vodacom Bulls): Tiernan O’Halloran; Byron Ralston, David Hawkshaw, Cathal Forde, Diarmuid Kilgallen; Jack Carty (capt), Colm Reilly; Denis Buckley, Tadgh McElroy, Finlay Bealham, Darragh Murray, Joe Joyce, Oisin Dowling, Shamus Hurley-Langton, Sean Jansen.
Replacements: Dylan Tierney-Martin, Peter Dooley, Sam Illo, Niall Murray, Sean O’Brien, Caolin Blade, JJ Hanrahan, Conor Oliver.