Pat Lam rings the changes for Connacht clash with Zebre

Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O’Halloran all named on champions’ bench

John Cooney and Bundee Aki both start for Connacht against Zebre on Friday night. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Connacht v Zebre, Friday March 3rd, Sportsground, 7.35ko (TG4)

Outgoing Connacht boss Pat Lam has made 12 changes to his side for Friday night’s Pro 12 fixture against Zebre at the Sportsground.

And among the three players who have been retained from the starting XV which beat Treviso 34-19 last weekend is the talismanic Bundee Aki.

Meanwhile Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O’Halloran have all been released from Joe Schmidt’s 36-man Ireland squad and start on the bench.


There is also a welcome return to action for Eoghan Masterson, who starts at number eight after 12 months out following a serious knee injury.

Lam has named a youthful side, with 24-year-old outhalf Steven Crosbie making his Connacht debut, while John Muldoon - who has started all but one game this season - is rested and starts on the bench.

Ahead of the visit of the Italians, Lam said: ““With a five-day turnaround on the back of our trip to Italy, we had always planned to make changes to the side. This will be a great opportunity for others in the squad to show what they can do.

“I’m delighted to see Eoghan (Masterson) and Andrew (Browne) make their return to match action at home tomorrow night. The team are buzzing for them and we’re really looking forward to being back at the Sportsground.

“Having faced Zebre three times already this season, we know that we can expect a tough, physical challenge. It’s vital that we give them the respect they deserve through our preparation and execution of our own game plan.”

Connacht: Danie Poolman, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Stacey Ili, Steve Crosbie, John Cooney, Ronan Loughney, Tom McCartney (captain), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Lewis Stevenson, Andrew Browne, Eoin McKeon, Naulia Dawai, Eoghan Masterson. Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon, Kieran Marmion, Craig Ronaldson, Tiernan O'Halloran.