All change for Connacht

Connacht head to Bayonne for tonight’s return leg (Stade Jean-Dauger, 7.45pm) of the back-to-back Challenge Cup fixtures with a new starting side featuring five debutants.

All change for Connacht

Coach Pat Lam has opted to rest all of last weekend’s starters in preparation for the forthcoming interprovincial Guinness Pro 12 matches over the Christmas period.

Outhalf Miah Nikora will captain the side after last weekend’s 42-19 victory over Bayonne in Galway.

Darragh Leader is restored to full-back having taken a back seat to Mils Muliaina for the past three games, while Fionn Carr and Niyi Adeolokun are named on the wings. The starting XV is marked by a number of players making their first competitive starts — centre Conor Finn, academy scrum-half Caolin Blade, prop Finlay Bealham, academy flanker James Connolly and Number 8 Danny Qualter.

Lam says his selection is dictated by the 38 players registered and the heavy Christmas schedule. “With an extremely busy period ahead and a number of guys injured or unavailable, there are a lot of players getting a chance this weekend. We are going there to win and we believe we have a game plan that can win this game. The key is preparation as a team, and for individuals to ensure they go out and play as a team — that is when we play our best. Our squad of 40, including some academy boys, have been training in our systems and everyone is busting for the chance to play. I look forward to seeing how our squad perform in a pressurised environment,” says Lam.

Connacht, just a point behind front-runners and pool 2 favourites Exeter, who are expected to trounce La Rochelle at Sandy Park, could be looking at possible qualification as a best runner-up. Bayonne, expected to be tougher at home, have made five changes to their starting XV. This is a game in which Lam is prepared to rest his frontline players for the more important Pro 12.

CONNACHT: D Leader, N Adeolokun, C Finn, C Ronaldson, F Carr, M Nikora (cpt), C Blade, R Loughney, D Heffernan, F Bealham, M Swift, A Muldowney, J Connolly, W Faloon, D Qualter.

Replacement: S Delahunt, D Buckley, S Meunargia, G Naoupu, E McKeon, K Marmion, D McSharry, M Healy.

BAYONNE; J Elissalde, S Vaka, L Foketi, M Ugalde, P Sayerse, C Otazo, C Loustalot (cpt), JC Van Rensburg, D Roumieu, F Lapeyrade, P Taele, L Fa’aoso, B Chouzenoux, C Ancely, T Visensang.

Replacements: S Labouyrie, A Iguiniz, G Muller, M Chisholm, B Duhalde, G Rouet, G Loyobalavu, J Monribot.

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