Papali’i one of three changes as Connacht welcome Bulls

Fifita in line to make debut off bench while Blade also returns to matchday 23

Abraham Papali’i in action at training as Connacht prepare to take on the Bulls on Friday night. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Abraham Papali’i in action at training as Connacht prepare to take on the Bulls on Friday night. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

United Rugby Championship: Connacht v Vodacom Bulls, Friday October 1st, The Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm, TG4).

Connacht play their first home fixture of the United Rugby Championship on Friday night as they welcome the Vodacom Bulls to the Sportsground.

The Bulls continue their mini tour of Ireland after losing out to champions Leinster last weekend, while Connacht too will be looking to bounce back from a defeat after falling away to Cardiff.

Facing a formidable Bulls pack, Connnacht head coach Andy Friend has added some power to his own front eight, with dynamic ball carrier Abraham Papali’i coming into the backrow for his first appearance of the season.

Captain Jarrad Butler moves to openside to accomodate the big number eight, meaning Conor Oliver drops to the bench.

Two more changes come into the pack as Dave Heffernan replaces Shane Delahunt at hooker, while Jordan Duggan comes in at loosehead for Matthew Burke.

Those are the only new faces in the starting XV as the backline that lined out against Cardiff remains unchanged.

Tiernan O’Halloran once again starts at fullback in a back three trio that includes John Porch and Mack Hansen, while the two Toms - Farrell and Daly - continue their midfield partnership.

Kieran Marmion keeps his place at scrumhalf after a two-try outing in round one, thoughthe return to fitness of fellow Irish international Caolin Blade ensures that such form will be necessary to keep hold of the starting jersey. Blade starts on the bench against the Bulls after overcoming an Achilles injury.

Elsewhere among the replacements, Jack Aungier replaces Dominic Robertson-McCoy as tighthead cover, while new signing Leva Fifita is in line to make his club debut as he comes in for Niall Murray. A finger problem prevented the former Grenoble man from making his first appearance in last week’s defeat.

It means that Friend has opted for a 6-2 forwards/backs split on the bench, reflecting the physical challenge of taking on a sizeable Bulls outfit who are captained by former Ulster man Marcell Coetzee.

“Bringing the likes of Papali’i and Fifita into our 23 gives us a lot of physicality, but we’ll need the throw the ball around a lot as well,” said Friend.

“Last week’s result was disappointing but we as a coaching group saw enough to firmly believe we’re on the right track. If we can be more clinical at the crucial times I know we’ll be tough to beat whoever we face, so we hope to see more of that tomorrow against a very formidable Bulls outfit.”

The Sportsground will operate at 50 per cent capacity on Friday night, nearly one year to the day that Connacht last played a competitive fixture in front of their fans in Galway.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Jordan Duggan, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Oisin Dowling, Ultan Dillane; Cian Prendergast, Jarrad Butler (capt), Abraham Papali’i.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier, Leva Fifita, Conor Oliver, Caolin Blade, Paul Boyle, Sammy Arnold.

Vodacom Bulls: Ruan Combrinck; Cornal Hendricks, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Stravino Jacobs; Johan Goosen, Zak Burger; Lizo Gqoboka, Joe van Zyl, Jacques van Rooyen; Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje; Marcell Coetzee (capt), Arno Botha, Elrigh Louw.

Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Simphiwe Matanzima, Mornay Smith, Janko Swanepoel, Jacques du Plessis, Embrose Papier, Chris Smith, Stedman Gans.

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