Bundee Aki will start for Connacht in their Challenge Cup quarter-final against Sale Sharks on Friday night, with Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion also in the first 15 for the Westerners. 

It's Aki’s first start for Connacht since reporting for Six Nations duty at the end of January.

Hooker Tom McCartney captains the visitors and will make his 100th appearance. Out-half Carty came off the bench in the defeat of Benetton Treviso last weekend and starts alongside  Marmion who also featured off the bench against the Italians.
 
Darragh Leader is named at full back with Cian Kelleher and Niyi Adeolokun on the wings. Adeolokun makes his first start since November, when he picked up an arm injury against the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Aki’s inclusion in the midfield sees him form a partnership with the versatile Kyle Godwin.

Up front, props Peter McCabe and Dominic Robertson-McCoy join McCartney in the front row. While in the second row Gavin Thornbury continues his return from injury alongside James Cannon.

In the back row Eoghan Masterson and James Connolly are named at blindside and openside respectively, with 22-year-old Paul Boyle at number 8.

"We said at the start of the season that we wanted to be in the business end of both the Challenge Cup and the Pro14," said head coach Andy Friend.

"We face a tough challenge away to Sale in the quarter-final on Friday night, but this is knockout rugby and we have picked a side to go and win the game.

"I am happy with how the squad has been performing over the past few weeks. We are seeing strong competition for places.

"There is a real intensity to our training, and we are seeing that in our performances on the pitch. We have played Sale twice this season, with both teams winning a game apiece, so I expect Friday night to be another tight affair."

Connacht: Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Cian Kelleher, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Peter McCabe, Tom McCartney (Capt), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, Robin Copeland, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald.