Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’i make Connacht debuts

Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’i make Connacht debuts as part of 14 changes from the side that impressively saw off Ulster last weekend, with Andy Friend keen to give game-time to more players after a long absence due to COVID-19.

Among those starting is Sammy Arnold who makes his first Connacht appearance at outside-centre. The Irish international arrived in the summer and his debut comes against the side he joined from.

There’s also an inaugural start for powerful number 8 Abraham Papali’i. The New Zealander was signed from the Bay of Plenty and he forms a back row with Conor Oliver and Eoghan Masterson who is the only player retained from last week.

Quinn Roux captains the side having recovered from injury to take his place in the second row alongside Niall Murray, with Paddy McAllisterShane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson-McCoy completing the pack.

Sunday’s half-back pairing consists of Caolin Blade and Conor Fitzgerald, while Arnold will be partnered in the centre by Tom Daly.

The experienced Tiernan O’Halloran and Matt Healy are included in the back three, while there’s also a first appearance for Colm de Buitléar since January 2019. The winger from Carraroe played four times during 2018/19 while in the Connacht Academy, but hasn’t featured since suffering a serious achilles injury in the 2019/20 pre-season.

Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:

“Our key objective in these two games has always been to give players some much needed game-time while putting in two positive performances which reflects the work they’ve put in as a squad these past few months. Thankfully we’ve so far managed to do that after last week’s excellent result. Now is an opportunity for a new group of players to impress so I’m looking forward to seeing them in action.”

Regarding the game itself, Friend added:

“Interpros against our neighbours Munster are always keenly contested and Sunday will be no different. They have a Guinness PRO14 semi-final to clinch but we’ll be looking to end our 2019/20 campaign on a high. We’ve also got two players making their Connacht debuts in Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’i so it’ll be a special occasion for them.”

The Munster team to face Connacht in Sunday afternoon’s crunch Guinness PRO14 clash at the Aviva Stadium has been named by Head Coach Johann van Graan.

A win will secure Munster’s place in the semi-finals and it is the first ever meeting of Munster and Connacht at the Aviva Stadium/Lansdowne Road, with a 3pm kick-off.

The Munster backline is unchanged with five players coming into the pack.

Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Fineen Wycherley, Tadhg Beirne and Chris Cloete are all drafted into the side.

Beirne is in line to make his first appearance since sustaining an ankle fracture away to Saracens in December.

Shane Daly starts at full-back with last week’s try-scorers Andrew Conway and Keith Earls on either flank.

Damian de Allende and Chris Farrell pair up in the centres for the second time with Conor Murray and JJ Hanrahan in the half-backs.

Loughman, Niall Scannell and Ryan pack down in the front row with Wycherley and Beirne starting in the engine room together for the first time.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, Cloete and CJ Stander complete the starting XV.

Kevin O’Byrne, Liam O’Connor, Jack O’Donoghue and Jack O’Sullivan are named among the replacements and set to make their first appearances since the restart.

O’Donoghue sustained a concussion at training last week but has completed the return to play protocols.

Head Coach Johann van Graan said: “We have training this afternoon and hopefully that goes well
and all players selected come through that.

“Connacht really played well last Sunday against Ulster and it’s always a big battle facing them, we expect a very good game on Sunday afternoon.”

STARTING TEAMS

CONNACHT – 15. Tiernan O’Halloran, 14. Colm de Buitléar, 13. Sammy Arnold, 12. Tom Daly, 11. Matt Healy
10. Conor Fitzgerald, 9. Caolin Blade, 1. Paddy McAllister, 2. Shane Delahunt, 3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 4. Niall Murray, 5. Quinn Roux (C), 6. Eoghan Masterson, 7. Conor Oliver, 8. Abraham Papali’i.

16. Jonny Murphy, 17. Conor Kenny, 18. Matthew Burke, 19. Ultan Dillane, 20. Seán Masterson
21. Stephen Kerins, 22. Peter Robb, 23. Conor Dean

Munster: Shane Daly; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Fineen Wycherley, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (C), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Liam O’Connor, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Craig Casey, Rory Scannell, Jack O’Sullivan.