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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 23 May, 2018
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A first Connacht start for Ahki as two Ireland internationals return for Zebre clash

Kieran Keane’s side are looking to get back to winning ways this weekend.

Ahki came off the bench to make his Connacht debut last week.
Ahki came off the bench to make his Connacht debut last week.
Image: Kevin Barnes/INPHO

CONNACHT’S KIWI CENTRE Pita Ahki has been handed a first start by head coach Kieran Keane as the province look to get back to winning ways when they face Zebre on Saturday afternoon [KO 1.15pm, TG4].

Ahki, signed from the Hurricanes this month, came off the bench to make his first appearance for Connacht during the defeat to Cardiff Blues and is promoted to the starting XV for this week as one of nine changes made by Keane.

Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane both return from international duty to start but Connacht are without back-rowers Eoin McKeon and  Jake Heenan after the pair picked up hamstring and shoulder injuries in Wales last week.

Shane Delahunt is rewarded for his try-scoring cameo at the Arms Park with a start at hooker and is joined in the front row by Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham.

“While we were disappointed not to beat Cardiff last week, I was proud of the boys and the way they battled to take two points from the game,” Keane said.

“In this competition it is really important to do well against teams in our conference. We will face a big challenge against Zebre on Saturday. They have made it difficult against a lot of teams so far this season particularly when they are at home. We will need to be at our best to beat them.”

After nine rounds, Connacht sit fifth in Conference A of the Pro14 with three wins to their name.

Zebre, meanwhile, have been able to recall nine internationals for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, although Tommaso Castello missed out through injury.

Connacht:

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Cian Kelleher
13. Pita Ahki
12. Tom Farrell
11. Matt Healy
10. Steve Crosbie
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. James Cannon
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. James Connolly
8. John Muldoon (captain)

Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17. Peter McCabe
18. Conor Carey
19. Cillian Gallagher
20. Naulia Dawai
21. James Mitchell
22. Jack Carty
23. Eoin Griffin.

Zebre:

15. Matteo Minozzi
14. Mattia Bellini
13. Giulio Bisegni
12. Tommaso Boni
11. Giovanbattista Venditti
10. Carlo Canna
9. Marcello Violi

8. Renato Giammarioli
7. Johan Meyer
6. Maxime Mbandà
5. George Biagi (captain)
4. Leonard Krumov
3. Dario Chistolini
2. Oliviero Fabiani
1. Andrea Lovotti

Replacements:

16. Luhandre Luus
17. Cruze Ah-Nau
18. Eduardo Bello
19. David Sisi
20. Jacopo Sarto
21. Guglielmo Palazzani
22. Serafin Bordoli
23. Ciaran Gaffney

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Ryan Bailey

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