Aki, Marmion and Carty start as Connacht rotate for Challenge Cup quarter-final

CONNACHT BOSS ANDY Friend has named Ireland internationals Bundee Aki, Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion in his starting XV for tomorrow’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium [KO 7.45pm, BT Sport].

Carty starts after a stunning appearance off the bench last weekend against Benetton. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The western province have rotated their matchday 23 and while the returns of Aki, Carty and Marmion are a major boost, Friend has opted to leave the likes of Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Ultan Dillane, Colby Fainga’a at home for the trip to Manchester, while Jarrad Butler, Quinn Roux and Tiernan O’Halloran have been carrying knocks and miss out.

With crucial weeks in the Guinness Pro14 ahead, Friend has been tasked with pulling off a balancing act but Connacht will feel the team they have chosen for tomorrow’s clash with Sale is capable of securing an away win.

Hooker Tom McCartney comes into the team as captain, with Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy selected as the starting props. Gavin Thornbury starts in the second row alongside the retained James Cannon, while it’s an all-new back row of Eogan Masterson, James Connolly and Paul Boyle.

Marmion and Carty offer a strong starting halfback pairing, while Aki makes his first Connacht start since the Six Nations alongside Wallabies-capped centre Kyle Godwin.

The back row sees Darragh Leader shifting to fullback, as Niyi Adeolokun – making his first start since November – and Cian Kelleher come in on the wings.  

Robin Copeland, who featured for the Connacht Eagles on their recent trip to the US to play in the Cara Cup, is included on a bench that Friend will hope can deliver impact. 

Meanwhile, Sale have included fit-again Ireland native AJ MacGinty at out-half in their starting XV alongside Springboks scrum-half Faf de Klerk.

England openside Tom Curry will be a breakdown threat to Connacht, although Sharks are without Chris Ashton.


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15. Darragh Leader
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Kyle Godwin
12. Bundee Aki
11. Cian Kelleher
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Peter McCabe
2. Tom McCartney (captain)
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. James Cannon
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. James Connolly
8. Paul Boyle


16. Dave Heffernan
17. Denis Buckley
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Joe Maksymiw
20. Robin Copeland
21. Caolin Blade 
22. Tom Daly
23. Stephen Fitzgerald 

Sale Sharks:

15. Luke James
14. Denny Solomona
13. Sam James
12. Rohan Janse van Rensburg 
11. Byron McGuigan
10. AJ MacGinty
9. Faf de Klerk

1. Ross Harrison
2. Rob Webber
3. Joe Jones
4. Bryn Evans
5. James Phillips 
6. Jono Ross (captain)
7. Tom Curry
8. Josh Beaumont


16. Curtis Langdon
17. Tom Bristow
18. Alexandru Tarus
19. Josh Strauss
20. Ben Curry
21. Will Cliff
22. Cameron Redpath
23. Arron Reed

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [FFR].

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