Connacht’s decline after winning the PRO 12 title in 2016 started immediately in the first game of the defence of the crown when they fell to a record 41-5 loss to Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground.
The Kieran Keane era kicked off this time last year, with the westerners going down 18-12 at home to Glasgow. Now, the Scots are back in town for the third year in a row and after a pre-season campaign which has seen a smile back on players’ faces and a buzz about the squad not seen since Pat Lam led them to their historic success, new coach Andy Friend is anxious to make a winning start to their PRO14 campaign.
Those pre-season wins away to Brive and Bristol and at home to Wasps have given a badly needed injection of optimism to Connacht.
There can be a big difference between trials and when there are competition points on offer but we are pleased with the way our preparations went and we think we are ready,” said Friend.
New signing Kyle Godwin starts in the centre with the impressive Tom Farrell in the absence of Bundee Aki, with Caolin Blade at scrum-half as Kieran Marmion is also unavailable due to the player welfare programme. But as Connacht bid for what would be their 13th opening day win in the 18 years of the competition, perhaps the most notable inclusion in the side is flanker Paul Boyle.
The former Irish U20 from Gorey, who got 22 minutes off the bench against Munster earlier this year, has been super in pre-season and could be a bolter for Connacht this campaign.
T O’Halloran; C Kelleher, K Godwin, T Farrell, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham, U Dillane, J Cannon, P Boyle, J Butler, E McKeon.
S Delahunt, P McCabe, C Carey, Q Roux, C Gallagher, J Mitchell, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun.
S Hogg; T Seymour, N Grigg, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe; A Hastings, G Horne; O Kebble, G Turner, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, J Gray, R Harley, C Gibbins, R Wilson.
F Brown, A Allan, D Rae, A Ashe, C Fusaro, N Frisby, A Dunbar, N Matawalu.
Ian Davies (WRU).