Ireland internationals Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan have returned to the Connacht starting team to face Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground on Saturday.
Ballina native Heffernan comes into a front row alongside props Paddy McAllister and Finlay Bealham.
Dillane’s inclusion sees him line up alongside the impressive Gavin Thornbury in the second row with Quinn Roux still unavailable through injury.
“The break over the past few weeks has come at a good time for the squad. It allowed time for a few injuries to clear up and gave some recovery time to others that had played a lot of minutes over the 13 week block of games.”
“The boys are ready to go now and know the importance of the next three games in the context of our season”.
“With Connacht and Cardiff in the same conference this game becomes even more important. A win in this game last season ultimately qualified us for the knockout stages of the Pro14 and for a spot in the Champions Cup.”
“I’m sure they will be keen to turn the tables this season so we face a huge battle on Saturday” added Friend.
In the back row, Captain Jarrad Butler starts at number 8 with Paul Boyle and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively.
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue as the half back pairing with Caolin Blade and Conor Fitzgerald available off the bench.
With Bundee Aki still unavailable due to international duty, Peter Robb and Kyle Godwin are selected as the midfield partnership. In the back three Tiernan O’Halloran is selected at full back with Matt Healy and John Porch on the wings.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly
Connacht V Cardiff Blues
Saturday 15 Feb