Bundee Aki has been named in the starting lineup for Connacht’s Challenge Cup quarter-final clash with Gallagher Premiership side the Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday evening.
Aki will make his first start for the western province since before Six Nations where he played in every game for Joe Schmidt’s side.
Both Connacht and Sale have already faced off with one another in the pool stage of this competition with both sides recording one win apiece.
Connacht’s last visit to the AJ Bell Stadium resulted in defeat so they know a much-improved performance will be required to progress to the semi-finals.
Joining Aki, fellow Ireland internationals Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty are named in the halfbacks while Aki will partner Kyle Godwin at 12 and the back-three is made up of Niyi Adeolokun, Cian Kelleher and Darragh Leader who is named at fullback.
Up front, Tom McCartney captains the side at hooker in what will be his 100th appearance for the province and he will be joined in the front-row by Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy.
Gavin Thornbury and James Cannon will pack down in the second-row while the back-row is made up of Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly and Paul Boyle.
“We said at the start of the season that we wanted to be in the business end of both the Challenge Cup and the Pro14,” head coach Andy Friend said.
“We face a tough challenge away to Sale in the Quarter Final on Friday night, but this is knock out rugby and we have picked a side to go and win the game.
“I am happy with how the squad has been performing over the past few weeks. We are seeing strong competition for places. There is a real intensity to our training, and we are seeing that in our performances on the pitch. We have played Sale twice this season, with both teams winning a game apiece, so I expect Friday night to be another tight affair.”
Connacht: Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Cian Kelleher, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Peter McCabe, Tom McCartney (Capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, Robin Copeland, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald.