Ultan Dillane, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty and Tom Farrell have all been named in the Connacht starting team for tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 inter-conference clash with the Toyota Cheetahs at The Sportsground on Saturday.
The scrum half has not featured since undergoing an operation following the November internationals and it meant he missed Ireland’s opening two Six Nations fixtures against England and Scotland, with Ulster’s John Cooney deputising.
Connacht meanwhile have named captain Jarrad Butler at number 8 in a back row that includes flankers Eoin McKeon and Colby Fainga’a. Ultan Dillane, who impressed off the bench against Scotland in the Six Nations last week, is partnered in the second row by James Cannon. Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney and Finlay Bealham complete the pack in the front row.
In the backs Caolin Blade and Jack Carty renew their half-back partnership while Tom Daly starts alongside Tom Farrell in midfield. In the back three there’s a first Connacht start for loan signing Stephen Fitzgerald on the wing, with Cian Kelleher on the opposite wing and Darragh Leader at full-back.
Having beaten the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein before Christmas, Head Coach Andy Friend is under no illusions as to the challenge his side face to complete a double over their Conference rivals.
“Since we played them earlier in the season they have been improving steadily and have the results to show for it”,
Friend reflected. “They are real contenders in the conference now, so we know the important of this game in the context of the overall season”.
“They are a really hard team to play against and even trying to review them can be difficult. They seem to play so off the cuff that it can be difficult to predict what they are going to do next. We know the threat they pose in attack so we will face a huge challenge”.
CONNACHT TEAM & REPLACEMENTS (v Toyota Cheetahs, Guinness PRO14, The Sportsground, Saturday February 16th, kick-off 5.30pm):
15. Darragh Leader 14. Cian Kelleher 13. Tom Farrell 12. Tom Daly 11. Stephen Fitzgerald 10. Jack Carty 9. Caolin Blade 1. Denis Buckley 2. Tom McCartney 3. Finlay Bealham 4. Ultan Dillane 5. James Cannon 6. Eoin McKeon 7. Colby Fainga’a 8. Jarrad Butler (Capt)
Replacements: 16. Dave Heffernan 17. Peter McCabe 18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy 19. Cillian Gallagher 20. Paul Boyle 21. Kieran Marmion 22. Conor Fitzgerald 23. Kyle Godwin
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