Credit; PA Images

Chris Ashton will make his long-awaited competitive Sale debut as the Sharks host Connacht in the European Challenge Cup at the AJ Bell on Saturday (KO 15:00 BST).

The winger returns from a seven-week suspension picked up for a tip-tackle in a pre-season game against Castres and comes into a Sale team looking to consolidate their spot at the top of Pool 3 following last Friday’s 41-24 victory over Perpignan.

Alongside the inclusion of Ashton, Steve Diamond has made a number of other changes as James O’Connor, Bryn Evans and Ben Curry all come into the Sharks XV.

Josh Beaumont, who started in the second row last week, moves to number eight.

Kieran Wilkinson will continue at fly-half, following the news AJ MacGinty will be out for the remainder of 2018 due to a shoulder injury.

Connacht have a couple of new faces in their team, as Conor Fitzgerald at fly-half and Colm De Buitléar on the wing are handed their first competitive starts, while scrum-half Caolin Blade will captain the side for the first time.

The Irish province also made a winning start to their Challenge Cup campaign with a 22-10 win over Bordeaux in Galway, a result which came after an impressive away performance in the Pro14 where they defeated Ulster.

They sit second in the Pool 3 table and will provide a stern test of the Sharks qualification credentials.

Steve Diamond told the club website: “Under Andy Friend, Connacht are a very competitive side. They arrive in the North West on the back of victories at Ulster and home to Bordeaux- Begles, and we’re taking their challenge very seriously.

“We served notice of intent with our performance at Perpignan, and want to progress through to the knockout stages of the competition.”

Sale Sharks: 15. Sam James; 14. Byron McGuigan, 13. James O’Connor, 12. Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11. Chris Ashton; 10. Kieran Wilkinson, 9. Faf De Klerk; 1. Ross Harrison, 2. Rob Webber, 3. WillGriff John, 4. Bryn Evans, 5. James Phillips, 6. Jono Ross (capt), 7. Ben Curry, 8. Josh Beaumont.

Replacements: 16. Curtis Langdon, 17. Tom Bristow, 18. Alexandru Tarus, 19. George Nott, 20. Tom Curry, 21. Will Cliff, 22. Luke James, 23. Arron Reed.

Connacht: 15. Tiernan O’Halloran; 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Tom Farrell, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. Colm De Buitléar, 10. Conor Fitzgerald, 9. Caolin Blade (capt), 8. Denis Buckley, 7. Shane Delahunt, 6. Conor Carey, 5. Ultan Dillane, 4. James Cannon, 3. Paul Boyle, 2. Colby Fainga’a, 1. Robin Copeland.

Replacements: 16. Tom McCartney, 17. Matthew Burke, 18. Conan O’Donnell, 19. Joe Maksymiw, 20. James Connolly, 21. James Mitchell, 22. David Horwitz, 23. Eoin Griffin.

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