Dave Heffernan (right) is a welcome addition to the Connacht team, along with fellow Irish internationals Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane, for the PRO14 clash against Cardiff Blues. Photo: Sportsfile

Irish international trio drafted into Connacht team for Cardiff Blues test

The Irish international trio of Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Mayo's Dave Heffernan will all start for Connacht in tomorrow’s crucial Guinness PRO14 inter-conference clash with Cardiff Blues at The Sportsground (k.o. 7.35 p.m).

With six points separating the two sides between second and third in Conference B, the Connacht management team have drafted the trio straight into the starting team.

Jarrad Butler returns to captain the side from openside flanker, with Eoghan Masterson and Paul Boyle forming the rest of the back row. Dillane is partnered by Gavin Thornbury in the second row, while Heffernan is joined by props Jordan Duggan and Finlay Bealham to complete the pack.

Duggan will make his first start for the province, with his seven previous appearances coming off the bench.

Caolin Blade and Jack Carty start at 9 and 10 respectively, while Bundee Aki forms an exciting centre partnership with Tom Daly. John Porch continues his run of starting every game this season, forming a back three with wingers Matt Healy and Alex Wootton.

Tiernan O’Halloran, who picked up some game-time for the Connacht Eagles last week, is named among the replacements having last played against Ulster during the Christmas interpros.

This week all Connacht players and management returned negative results in the latest round of PCR testing.

Commenting on his team selection, head coach Andy Friend said: “It’s great to welcome Dave, Ultan and Bundee back into the fold, and they’re re-joining an already healthy group of players. We had tough news for Quinn Roux and Peter Robb this week but overall we’re in a good spot and that’s allowed us to pick a squad based on form.”

Regarding the game itself, Friend added: “Tomorrow marks the start of a block of games that will ultimately define our season. We have a great opportunity to keep the pressure on Munster at the top while opening some daylight between ourselves and the chasing pack. We know our home form isn’t where it should be so this is our opportunity to put that right.”

The game will be broadcast live on TG4 from The Sportsgrounds, with coverage starting at 7.15 p.m. Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill will present the show, with Garry Mac Donncha providing all the commentary alongside Eoghan Ó Neachtain.

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