Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made four personnel change to his starting XV for Saturday’s Champions Cup clash with Wasps in Galway.
With Stacey Ili sidelined through injury, 22-year-old Rory Parata is named in the centre for his first Champions Cup start while Ireland international Matt Healy comes on to the left wing for the injured Cian Kelleher.
Up front, international prop Finlay Bealham packs down with Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney. The back row is reshuffled with the introduction of Eoin McKeon at blindside flanker while Nepia Fox-Matamua shifts to openside in the absence of the injured Jake Heenan.
From the bench, Fijian international Naulia Dawai is in line to make his Connacht debut having arrived at the club last month. The 29-year-old is one of six forwards named among the replacements with Caolin Blade and Danie Poolman the only two remaining backs available for selection from the EPCR-registered squad.
Commenting on the team selection and upcoming game, Lam said: “With only nine fit backs available to us this week, it’s forced me to name a 6-2 split on the bench for the first time with Caolin Blade having to cover the outhalf position.
“So with those injuries as well as the short turnaround, it’s been a fairly light week in terms of physical preparation out on the pitch. We’ve put a big emphasis on our mental prep and ensuring that we are all crystal clear in terms of what we need to do tomorrow afternoon. Without a doubt this game is massively important in the context of our European ambitions. Win and we’re back at the top of the pool and in a really good place after four rounds. That’s the outcome we all want, but it’s all about the performance first and foremost.”
Meanwhile, Wasps director of rugby Dai Young has some changes to his run-on side after their win at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry last weekend.
The squad features a new look half back and midfield combination, with scrum-half Joe Simpson starting alongside Jimmy Gopperth at 10 and outside centre Brendan Macken partnering Kurtley Beale at 12, both of whom impressed in last Sunday’s home win against the PRO 12 champions.
Kyle Eastmond and Danny Cipriani remain side-lined by chest and calf injuries respectively.
In the front row, Jake Cooper-Woolley starts at tighthead alongside Tommy Taylor and Matt Mullan, with Marty Moore part of a strong bench primed to make an impact.
Ahead of the trip to Galway, Young knows the job is far from completed: “As we said after last Sunday’s win, this is very much half-time in the fixture.
“We are well aware of the huge challenge ahead of us, against a quality side, at a very difficult place to play. Connacht Rugby have a really passionate set of supporters and we are expecting it to be a fantastic atmosphere, as it always is at the Sportsground. We also expect the weather conditions to be as testing as they normally are in December, so we will need to be efficient with possession and any opportunities that come our way.
“We were really pleased to pick up five points last weekend and I’m sure Connacht were disappointed not to come away with anything. However, I imagine they left confident that they will be able to get something out of this Saturday’s game, having caused us plenty of problems last week. We can’t give them as much ball as we did at the Ricoh Arena.
“We’ll need to secure more possession and cause them more problems ball in hand than we did then. We know we’ll need to be better than we were last week if we’re to get a result, but we’re confident we’re capable of doing that.”
Form: Wasps are top of Pool 2 having racked up 134 points in the Champions Cup this season – more than any other club in the competition. They claimed a 32-17 victory over Connacht in the corresponding fixture last weekend. Prior to that, they beat Zebre 82-14 at home and drew away at Toulouse. Connacht are close behind them in the standings as they trail Wasps by just three points. A win in Galway could see them leapfrog the Premiership heavyweights at the top of the pool. The PRO12 champions registered a narrow win in their first game against Toulose before notching a half century of points against Zebre but lost at Wasps last weekend.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Rory Parata, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Danie Poolman, 23 Naulia Dawai
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Alex Rieder, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Marty Moore, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Alapati Leiua 23 Frank Halai
Date: Saturday, December 17
Venue: The Sportsground
Kick-off: 17:30 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Sébastien Cloute (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)