Friend: We are trying to build depth of squad

Connacht coach Andy Friend is using today’s clash at Thomond Park to blood more players as they keep an eye on next weekend’s PRO14 quarter-final showdown with Ulster.

Connacht can’t improve on their league position and having wrapped up a knockout spot and Heineken Champions Cup rugby for next season, Friend has made a dozen chances.

Academy player Conor Dean has been handed the out-half slot as Friend continues to try out more players in his first season in charge.

His men will today be looking for only their second ever win at Thomond Park in the professional era in a game which will be refereed by former Munster and Connacht scrum-half Frank Murphy.

Munster beat Connacht 31-24 at the Sportsground earlier this season but since then Friend has turned things around at the Sportsground.

Their 29-22 victory at home to Cardiff Blues two weeks ago secured Champions Cup rugby for next season.

That also ensured a PRO14 play-off away to an Ulster side next weekend who are coached by former Connacht prop Dan McFarland.

And after a break last weekend, Friend has rested many of his front-liners with 12 changes as he keeps his eyes firmly on next weekend’s showdown in Belfast.

The 21-year-old rookie Dean will be partnered by Irish international Kieran Marmion at half-back.

There are three further changes in the backline with former Munster winger Stephen Fitzgerald starting on the left flank, Niyi Adeolokun is on the opposite side with Tom Daly in the centre alongside Bundee Aki.

Captain Jarrad Butler is the only forward to retain his place.

Academy loosehead Matthew Burke starts alongside Tom McCartney and returning Ireland prop Finlay Bealham, who is back from a gruesome hand injury.

Joe Maksymiw and James Cannon make up the second row with Eoin McKeon and former Munster No 8 Robin Copeland moving into the back row.

“Momentum at this time of the year for both teams is important,” said Connacht head coach Friend.

“But sometimes you have got to roll that dice.

We are trying to build the depth of the squad and the only way you can do that is to give opportunities.

“We don’t have to win this match but it is an inter-pro, it’s Munster, it’s a chance for us to stay in that third position of the Irish teams and fourth overall.

“There is still a lot for us to play for.”

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