PRO 14 Rugby – Connacht and Munster name teams for Saturday clashes against Cardiff and Edinburgh.
The Munster team has been named for Saturday night’s Guinness PRO14 clash against Edinburgh at Murrayfield (7.35pm).
There are nine changes to the side that defeated Benetton last time out as Billy Holland captains the team on his 240th appearance for the province.
Holland joins Ronan O’Gara on 240 Munster appearances and is now joint-second on the all-time list behind record-holder Donncha O’Callaghan (268 appearances).
Five of the players who signed contract extensions with the province this week are among the 23-man squad.
Andrew Conway returns to the side for his first appearance since December and is one of four players returning from Ireland camp in the starting backline along with Craig Casey, Shane Daly and Chris Farrell.
Mike Haley is named at full-back with Conway and Daly on either flank.
Damian de Allende is partnered by Farrell in the centres with JJ Hanrahan in the half-backs with Casey.
James Cronin, Niall Scannell and John Ryan pack down in the front row with Jean Kleyn and Holland in the engine room.
Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete and Gavin Coombes form the back row.
Rory Scannell, who has made 138 appearances for the province, is in line to make his 100th PRO14 appearance off the bench.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan, Craig Casey; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland (C); Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Sullivan, Nick McCarthy, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell.
Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan will all start for Connacht in tomorrow’s crucial inter-conference clash with Cardiff Blues at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm).
With 6 points separating the two sides between 2nd and 3rd in Conference B, the Connacht management team have drafted the trio straight into the starting team for tomorrow’s clash.
Jarrad Butler returns to captain the side from openside flanker, with Eoghan Masterson and Paul Boyle forming the rest of the back row. Dillane is partnered by Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while Heffernan is joined by props Jordan Duggan and Finlay Bealham to complete the pack.
Duggan will make his first start for the province with his 7 previous appearances coming off the bench.
Caolin Blade and Jack Carty start at 9 and 10 respectively, while Bundee Aki forms an exciting centre partnership with Tom Daly. John Porch continues his run of starting every game this season, forming a back three with wingers Matt Healy and Alex Wootton.
Tiernan O’Halloran, who picked up some game-time for the Eagles last week, is named among the replacements having last played against Ulster during the Christmas interpros.
This week all Connacht players and management returned negative results in the latest round of PCR testing.
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“It’s great to welcome Dave, Ultan and Bundee back into the fold, and they’re re-joining an already healthy group of players. We had tough news for Quinn Roux and Peter Robb this week but overall we’re in a good spot and that’s allowed us to pick a squad based on form.”
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
“Tomorrow marks the start of a block of games that will ultimately define our season. We have a great opportunity to keep the pressure on Munster at the top while opening some daylight between ourselves and the chasing pack. We know our home form isn’t where it should be so this is our opportunity to put that right”.
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS CARDIFF BLUES
Saturday 20th February, The Sportsground, k/o 7.35pm
15. John Porch (31)
14. Alex Wootton (13)
13. Tom Daly (38)
12. Bundee Aki (106)
11. Matt Healy (144)
10. Jack Carty (150)
9. Caolin Blade (122)
1. Jordan Duggan (7)
2. Dave Heffernan (137)
3. Finlay Bealham (150)
4. Ultan Dillane (107)
5. Gavin Thornbury (50)
6. Eoghan Masterson (102)
7. Jarrad Butler (66) (C)
8. Paul Boyle (50)
16. Shane Delahunt (90)
17. Denis Buckley (192)
18. Jack Aungier (10)
19. Oisin Dowling (1)
20. Abraham Papali’i (6)
21. Kieran Marmion (176)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (3)
23. Tiernan O’Halloran (187)