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Aki and Marmion back to boost Connacht for Challenge Cup quarter-final

The western province host Gloucester tomorrow afternoon.

Bundee is back.
Bundee is back.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

AS CONNACHT FACE into a season-defining Challenge Cup quarter-final, Kieran Keane has been boosted by the return of Grand Slam winners Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion for tomorrow’s visit of Gloucester [KO 1pm].

With their Guinness Pro14 form tailing off in recent weeks, and qualification for next season’s Champions Cup becoming increasingly unlikely via the league route, the Challenge Cup has taken on added significance for the western province.

After advancing to the knockout stages as pool winners, Connacht face familiar opposition in the form of David Humphreys’ Gloucester, with Aki and Marmion returning to Keane’s starting XV.

The Ireland duo will be joined by fellow internationals Tiernan O’Halloran, Finlay Bealham and Quinn Roux in a strong Connacht side while Ultan Dillane is named among the replacements.

The game will be a significant milestone for Jack Carty and Dave Heffernan as both are poised to make their 100th appearances for the province.

Aki partners Tom Farrell in the Connacht midfield with wingers Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy completing the back three alongside O’Halloran.

Speaking ahead of the game, Keane said: “We have had a really close look at them and how they have been playing. I think they have a very similar approach to the game as we do so it’s going to be a tough game for both sides and both teams will fancy their chances.”

“The home advantage will be big for us. Our supporters have been fantastic this season and have made the Sportsground a really difficult place to travel for away teams. I know they will give us another lift again tomorrow and the boys are determined to give them something to shout about.”

Meanwhile, former Ulster prop John Afoa will make his 100th appearance for Gloucester in Galway in a side which also sees the return of internationals Ben Morgan and Ross Moriarty to the back row.

In total, Humphreys has made six changes from the side which defeated London Irish last weekend, as Welsh international Owen Williams gets the nod at out-half ahead of Billy Burns, who is named amongst the replacements.

Connacht:

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Bundee Aki
12. Tom Farrell
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Denis Buckley
2. Tom McCartney
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Gavin Thornbury
5. Quinn Roux
6. Eoin McKeon
7. Jarrad Butler
8. John Muldoon (captain)

Replacements: 

16. Dave Heffernan
17. Peter McCabe
18. Conor Carey
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Eoghan Masterson
21. Caolin Blade
22. Craig Ronaldson
23. Darragh Leader.

Gloucester:

15. Jason Woodward
14. Charlie Sharples
13. Henry Trinder
12. Mark Atkinson
11. Tom Marshall
10. Owen Williams
9. Willi Heinz

1. Val Rapava Ruskin
2. James Hanson
3. John Afoa
4. Ed Slater
5. Jeremy Thrush
6. Ross Moriarty
7. Lewis Ludlow
8. Ben Morgan

Replacements:

16. Motu Matu’u
17. Josh Hohneck
18. Fraser Balmain
19. Tom Savage
20. Ruan Ackermann
21. Callum Braley
22. Billy Burns
23. Billy Twelvetrees.

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Ryan Bailey

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