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Connacht's crew of Ireland internationals available for massive test in Paris

Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, and Ultan Dillane are all set to play.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

CONNACHT BOSS ANDY Friend has confirmed that the province’s Ireland internationals are all available for selection for Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 in Paris.

Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, and Ultan Dillane are back in the fold after Ireland’s autumn campaign and are set to feature at the Paris La Défense Arena as the western province look to pull off a shock result against last season’s European runners-up.

The return of talismanic centre Aki is a major lift, Marmion provides another strong option at scrum-half, while Heffernan, Bealham, Roux, and Dillane – who played last weekend against Benetton – mean Friend and co. are boosted up front as well.

“We’ve got all the boys back, so they’re available for selection,” said Friend. “We’ve got a reasonably healthy squad anyway and we’ve got an Eagles game against Leinster A this weekend as well.

“We’ve got 46 players who are going to tog out this weekend, whereas this time last year we didn’t have 23 players to train. The squad is in a healthy position and there is excitement.”

Connacht face a massive test of their quality in Paris, given the strength of Racing’s squad.

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Friend’s men are 20-point underdogs and it will take something special to win away from home, but the Connacht head coach insists his players believe they can do it. 

“It was Pete Wilkins our defence coach who said that if you look at all the names on their team sheet and you let them play, you know they’re going to be good,” said Friend.

“But if you say it’s just another 15 bodies out there and we actually attack it, we don’t give them the time and space… we say to the players, ‘Do you think we can beat Racing?’

“They say, ‘Yeah, we think we can’ so that’s sweet and we focus on doing that. It’s making sure we go into this week with that in mind.

“We do believe we can beat them so let’s go over there and give it a shot.”

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