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Celtic League: Preview: Connacht v Ulster

Celtic League: Preview: Connacht v Ulster

Connacht are hoping to end a nine-game losing streak in the Celtic League on Saturday. Third-placed Ulster are the visitors to the Sportsground.

…Connacht winger Ted Robinson is surrounded by replacement wing Tyrone Howe and full-back Bryn Cunningham during Ulster’s 36-10 Celtic League defeat of the westerners in October. Robinson is one of ten changes coach Michael Bradley has made to his Connacht side for Saturday’s clash in Galway…

Connacht are hoping to end a nine-game losing streak in the Celtic League on Saturday. Third-placed Ulster are the visitors to the Sportsground.

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CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, December 30

CONNACHT v ULSTER, The Sportsground, 2.00pm

Hopes had been high that former Ireland international Mark McHugh – who has been out of action since damaging his knee against Leicester in an August pre-season friendly – would make the Connacht squad for the derby tie with Ulster, but the 27-year-old will not be risked.

The westerners’ coach Michael Bradley, in sticking to his noted squad rotation policy, has made ten personnel changes to the side that lost 36-17 to league leaders Munster on Tuesday. Colm Rigney has recovered from the neck injury he sustained against Worcester before Christmas and will start at number eight.

The front row is completely altered with the trio of Ray Hogan, hooker John Fogarty and Stephen Knoop coming in for Dan McFarland, who made his 100th appearance in green against Munster, Joe Merrigan and Adrian Clarke. David Gannon makes way for Christian Short in the second row and Matt Lacey replaces Brendan O’Connor at openside flanker.

In the backs, John Hearty and Keith Matthews come in for Southern Hemisphere duo Gavin Williams and Andrew Mailei – New Zealander Williams drops out of the 22. Paul Warwick, who notched 12 points against Munster, is also benched, meaning David Slemen takes over to fly-half with Chris Keane coming in as his half-back partner.

Matt Mostyn reverts back to full back with Ted Robinson manning the right wing.

Mark McCall’s Ulster side will be looking to avoid a third successive defeat after losses to Saracens in the Heineken Cup and Leinster in the Celtic League in recent weeks.

McCall has made three changes to the side that lost 24-19 to Leinster last Monday for the trip to Galway. The New Zealand-rared Rowan Frost will make his first start since his suspension for a drugs-related offence in October – replacing the injured Matt McCullough (leg) in the second row.

Prop Justin Fitzpatrick comes in for Bryan Young, while Kieran Campbell takes the number 9 shirt back from Irish-qualified Kiwi Isaac Boss.

History is against the home side – Connacht have won only once in eleven encounters with Ulster since 1998 – that being a 31-20 victory in Galway in November 2003.

As an interesting aside, if Ulster wing Tommy Bowe scores a try at the Sportsground he will join Mike Mullins (v Caerphilly) and Derrick Lee (v Leinster) as the only players to have tallied five career tries in the Celtic League against a single opponent.

The 21-year-old Bowe scored against Connacht in October’s 36-10 win, in both of last season’s league meetings and on his senior Ulster debut in April 2004.

CONNACHT: Matt Mostyn; Ted Robinson, John Hearty, Keith Matthews, Conor McPhillips; David Slemen, Chris Keane; Ray Hogan, John Fogarty, Stephen Knoop, Christian Short, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Matt Lacey, Colm Rigney.

Replacements: Joe Merrigan, Adrian Clarke, Michael Swift, Brendan O’Connor, Tom Tierney, Paul Warwick, Andrew Mailei.

ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Tommy Bowe, Kevin Maggs, Andrew Trimble, Paul Steinmetz; David Humphreys, Kieran Campbell; Justin Fitzpatrick, Rory Best, Simon Best (capt), Justin Harrison, Rowan Frost, Neil Best, Neil McMillan, Roger Wilson.

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Bryan Young, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, Isaac Boss, Adam Larkin, James Topping.

Referee: Alan Lewis (IRFU); Touch Judges: Ger English, Paul Haycock (both IRFU)