Connacht have opted to rest Ireland trio Finlay Bealham, Dave Heffernan and Cian Prendergast for Saturday's Challenge Cup opener against Newcastle Falcons.

The Westerners can only play their Ireland internationals in five of their next seven matches in order to comply with the IRFU’s mandatory rest periods.

With crucial BKT United Rugby Championship games against Ulster, Leinster and the Cell C Sharks coming up later this month and in January, Connacht decided to sit the forward trio out for this weekend’s game at the Sportsground, although Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen could feature.

Cian Prendergast and the above pair can only play in five of Connacht's next seven fixtures

"There is healthy competition for selection," said Cullie Tucker, Connacht's scrum and contact coach. "We have a few internationals away on holiday as well. It does open things up to the squad, who have been training very hard.

"You’ve got to manage guys through the season. it’s something that maybe last year towards the end of the season, guys were pretty banged up, so we’re very focused this year in terms of managing loads on players.

"You’ll see some familiar faces out there mixed with some new ones, which is very positive for us."

Connacht returned to winning ways against Benetton last weekend

Connacht reached the Champions Cup knockout stages for the first time last season but find themselves back in Europe’s second tier, where they have been semi-finalists on three occasions.

Having overcome a torrid start to win four of their last six matches, Tucker wants Connacht to carry that form into Europe against Newcastle and Brive and progress to the latter stages of a competition that also includes the likes of three-time Champions Cup winners Toulon, Bristol Bears and Stade Francais.

"We know it’s not the Champions Cup but there are some absolutely brilliant sides still in it," said Tucker.

"We’re very excited to welcome Newcastle and to go to Brive next week. There are big names and big teams still in it.

"We went on a decent run in the URC over the past six weeks. This is a change in focus for us but it’s always exciting to play teams outside of the URC and test yourself against Premiership and Top 14 teams. We can’t wait to get out there on Saturday."