Andy Friend names strong Connacht XV for trip to Montpellier

Province out but Bundee Aki starts and Kieran Marmion returns to action in France

Champions Cup Pool Five: Montpellier v Connacht, Sunday January 19th, GGL Stadium (kick-off 3.15pm, BT Sports)

Connacht's European journey might be over for another year but Andy Friend has named a strong side for their final Champions Cup clash away to Montpellier on Sunday.

Ireland scrumhalf Kieran Marmion returns to the fold after recovering from a back injury, and is set to make his first appearance since November. He missed out on a place in Andy Farrell's Six Nations squad this week.

Tiernan O'Halloran is named at fullback, with John Porch and Matt Healy on the wings. Bundee Aki starts in midfield alongside Kyle Godwin while Jack Carty joins Marmion in the halfbacks.

Hooker Dave Heffernan did make Farrell’s squad and he starts in the frontrow inbetween Paddy McAllister and Dominic Robertson McCoy.

Joe Maksymiw and Gavin Thornbury are selected in the secondrow, with Eoghan Masterson and Colby Fainga’a at flanker and captain Jarrad Butler at number eight.

Ahead of Connacht's trip to France, Friend said: "We had a great win over Montpellier in the opening round but we are under no illusion that the return leg will be a huge challenge. We have picked a strong side and are aiming to win the game and regain some momentum ahead of an important block of games coming in the Pro14.

“We are delighted to see Kieran Marmion back from injury. He has been out since November and has worked really hard to get back on the field. His experience alongside Jack Carty, will be a boost to us on Sunday”.

Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran; John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga'a, Jarrad Butler (capt). Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Denis Buckley, Conor Kenny, Niall Murray, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly.

Montpellier: Johan Goosen; Gabriel N'gandebe, Arthur Vincent, Jan Serfontein, Yvan Reilhac; Handré Pollard, Benoit Paillaugue; Usha Tcheisvhili, Bismarck Du Plessis, Levan Chilachava, Nico Janse van Rensburg, Paul Willemse, Kelian Galletier (capt), Yacouba Camara, Jacques Du Plessis. Replacements: Vincent Giudicelli, Mikheil Nariashvili, Mohamed Haouas, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Kahn Fotuali'i, Anthony Bouthier, Thomas Darmon, Konstantine Mikautadze.