Andy Friend’s side are bidding to get their Challenge Cup campaign back on track in Galway tomorrow.

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend has opted for a blend of international experience and youth for the province’s Challenge Cup clash with Perpignan at the Sportsground on Saturday afternoon [KO 3pm].

Friend has made wholesale changes following the two-game tour to South Africa, but Connacht are boosted by the return of Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham and Quinn Roux to the starting XV. 

Bundee Aki
Bundee Aki: Back in Connacht colours.


Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Aki is set for his first Connacht appearance since October after helping Ireland to a November clean sweep, and partners 22-year-old academy centre Kieran Joyce in midfield, who will make his full senior debut.

Bealham’s return to the front row sees him line up alongside hooker Dave Heffernan who captains the side and Peter McCabe, while second row Joe Maksymiw comes in for his first start beside the experienced Roux.

There is also a welcome return for Eoghan Masterson from injury as he is named at blindside, in the back row with Colby Fainga’a — who impressed in the back-to-back Pro14 wins in South Africa — and number eight Robin Copeland.

Behind the scrum, there is a new half-back pairing in the form of David Horwitz and James Mitchell, while Darragh Leader comes in at fullback to join Matt Healy and Cian Kelleher in the back three.

Connacht go into Saturday’s Pool 3 encounter in Galway off the back of three straight wins, and victory against Perpignan is a requirement if they are to get their European campaign back on track after defeat to Sale Sharks in round two.

Friend is pleased with the balance of the side he has been able to name at the start of another crunch block of fixtures.

“It is great to have three of our internationals back in the side,” he said. “Bundee, Finlay and Quinn are hugely experienced, and it is important to have them back. But we also have a few new faces who are getting their chance to shine.

“Joe Maksymiw has made a few appearances off the bench and comes in for his first start and Kieran Joyce from our academy partners Bundee in midfield.

“They have proven in training that they are ready for the step up and I have every confidence in them.” 

Meanwhile, Paddy Jackson has, as expected, been left out of Perpignan’s travelling squad for the trip to Galway with the Top 14 strugglers naming a much-changed side for the round three game.

Connacht:

15. Darragh Leader
14. Cian Kelleher
13. Kieran Joyce
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. David Horwitz
9. James Mitchell

1. Peter McCabe
2. Dave Heffernan (captain)
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Joe Maksymiw
5. Quinn Roux
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Robin Copeland.

Replacements:

16. Shane Delahunt
17. Matthew Burke
18. Dominic Robertson McCoy
19. Gavin Thornbury
20. James Connolly
21. Caolin Blade
22. Conor Fitzgerald
23. Kyle Godwin. 

Perpignan:

15. Jonathan Bousquet (captain)
14. Tima Fainga’anuku
13. Pierre Lucas
12. Paul Marty
11. Eroni Sau
10. Enzo Selponi
9. Sadek Degmache

1. Quentin Walcker
2. Raphael Carbou
3. Nicolas Lemaire
4. Yoann Vivalda
5. Berend Botha
6. Johan Van Heerden
7. Pierre Reynaud
8. Michael Faleafa

Replacements:

16. Manu Leiataua
17. Kevin Tougne
18. Sylvain Charlet
19. Alban Roussel
20. Edoardo Iachizzi
21. Tom Ecochard
22. Afusipa Taumoepeau
23. Julien Farnoux.

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