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Connacht team news: Bundee Aki makes long-awaited return as Westerners look to tame Tigers


Bundee Aki is back in the Connacht side. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Bundee Aki is back in the Connacht side. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Bundee Aki is back in the Connacht side. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Bundee Aki is set to start his first Connacht game in over two months, as the Ireland and Lions centre returns to the team for Sunday's tough test in Welford Road.

Connacht will aim to down Leicester, the unbeaten Premiership leaders, and having Aki back significantly enhances the Westerners' chances of pulling off an upset.

Andy Friend has made six changes from the side who saw off Stade Francais last weekend, and crucially, every returning player is an Ireland international.

Tiernan O'Halloran returns at full-back, with Kieran Marmion promoted to the starting XV to partner captain Jack Carty at half-back.

Up front, Ireland trio hooker Dave Heffernan, prop Finlay Bealham and lock Ultan Dillane are drafted into the pack.

A powerful looking bench includes the likes of Tietie Tuimauga, who is set to make his debut, as well as Leva Fifita and Abraham Papali’i.

“We’re under no illusions we face one of the biggest challenges in European rugby on Sunday, but it’s also very exciting and exactly the kind of occasion you want to play in,” Friends said.

We’ve brought in a lot of experience which will stand to us for a game like this, and there’s some powerful options on the bench as well. Tietie Tuimauga has settled in very well so Sunday will be a great stage for him to make his debut if called upon.”

Leicester will be without their in-form out-half George Ford, with Freddie Burns starting in his place, while powerful Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo and Harry Potter also miss out.

Former Ireland U-20s centre Dan Kelly, who has since changed his allegiances to England, will come against Aki in midfield in what is set to be a ferocious battle.

Leicester Tigers: B Hegarty; F Steward, M Scott, D Kelly, H Saumaki; F Burns, B Youngs (capt); N Leatigaga, N Dolly, J Heyes; H Wells, E Snyman; G Martin, T Reffell, J Wiese. Reps: J Montoya, J Whitcombe, D Cole, C Green, O Chessum, M van Staden, J van Poortvliet, G Porter.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; J Porch, S Arnold, B Aki, A Wootton; J Carty (capt), K Marmion; M Burke, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, N Murray; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler. Reps: S Delahunt, T Tuimauga, J Aungier, L Fifita, A Papali'i, C Blade, C Fitzgerald, D Kilgallen.

Referee: M Raynal (France)

Leinster Tigers v Connacht, Welford Road, Sunday, 1.0, Live on BT Sport

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