Bundee Aki returns for Connacht against Perpignan
Quinn Roux and Finlay Bealham also back in Andy Friend’s XV for Challenge Cup clash
Bundee Aki returns to the Connacht XV for Saturday’s Challenge Cup clash with Perpignan. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Challenge Cup Pool Three, Connacht v Perpignan, Saturday December 8th, The Sportsground (kick-off 3.0pm)
Bundee Aki returns to the Connacht midfield for their Challenge Cup clash with Perpignan in Galway on Saturday.
Darragh Leader starts at 15 for the province, with Cian Kelleher and Matt Healy on the wings.
Aki is joined in the centre by 22-year-old academy graduate and debutant Kieran Joyce, with David Horwtiz at 10 and James Mitchell at nine.
Up front Bealham returns at tighthead with Peter McCabe at loosehead and Dave Hefernan at hooker. Joe Maksymiw comes in for his first start alongside Roux at lock.
Eoghan Masterson returns from injury to start in the backrow, alongside Colby Fainga’a and Robin Copeland.
Ahead of Saturday’s clash at the Sportsground, Friend said: “It is great to have three of our internationals back in the side. 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.
“These two games will tell a lot. We have won one and lost one so far so these back-to-back games will have a huge say in where we stand in this competition.”
Perpignan are without a win in 11 league fixtures this season, and travel to Galway without former Ireland outhalf Paddy Jackson.
Connacht: Darragh Leader; Cian Kelleher, Kieran Joyce, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; David Horwitz, James Mitchell; Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan (Capt), Finlay Bealham; Joe Maksymiw, Quinn Roux; Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland. Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, James Connolly, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin.