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Magners Preview: Connacht v Ulster

Magners Preview: Connacht v Ulster

The battle for Heineken Cup qualification may be over but Connacht will still be eager to put one over on Ulster as they chase a hat-trick of home wins over the provinces this season. The visitors to Galway will be in no mood to lie down though, as they want a strong finish to the campaign and a respectable mid-table position.


CONNACHT (10th) v ULSTER (6th), The Sportsground, 7pm

Team News: Connacht have made three changes to their side ahead of their final Magners League home match of the season when they take on Ulster at the Sportsground.

In the back-line, Troy Nathan comes into the side at full-back with Ireland international Gavin Duffy reverting to inside centre.

Up front, Ronan Loughney returns to the front row and team captain John Muldoon starts again at number 8, while Ray Ofisa moves to the openside flank position.

Supporters should note that the RBS 6 Nations and Triple Crown trophies will be present at the Sportsground on match night.

The two pieces of prized silverware will be paraded at half-time and will be on view afterwards at the Days Hotel.

Meanwhile, Ulster coach Matt Williams has made five changes to the province’s starting line-up for their penultimate Magners League match against their close rivals Connacht.

Grand Slam squad member Tom Court will start at loosehead prop for Ulster, ahead of his fellow Ireland international Bryan Young who drops back to the replacements bench.

Ed O’Donoghue is back in the number 4 jersey, taking the place of Italian lock Carlo Del Fava.

Chris Henry, who continues to rack up senior appearances for the province, steps in as openside flanker for this week’s interprovincial tussle, in place of the sidelined David Pollock.

In the backs, Ian Whitten and Timoci Nagusa have been named at inside centre and on the left wing respectively, replacing Ireland duo Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble who were not considered due to injury.

After losing 11-9 at home to Cardiff last time out, Ulster need a return to form when they meet their provincial foes Connacht.

Williams will be hoping his side can achieve another bonus point win over Connacht and secure a mid-table finish in the league ahead of their final game of the campaign against the Scarlets.

CONNACHT: Troy Nathan; Fionn Carr, Gavin Duffy, Keith Matthews, Liam Bibo; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Andrew Farley, Andrew Browne, Ray Ofisa, John Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Brian McGovern, David Gannon, Colm Rigney, Conor O’Loughlin, Andy Dunne, Mel Deane.

ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Simon Danielli, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Timoci Nagusa; Niall O’Connor, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Bryan Young, Carlo Del Fava, Matt McCullough, Isaac Boss, Ian Humphreys, Rob Dewey.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Peter Roche (both Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 5/4; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 8/13

Say What: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “We’re looking forward to the match on the basis that we’ve a unique opportunity to have home victories over the three other irish provinces in the one season, a feat that Connacht rugby have not achieved in the professional era so far.

“Secondly, it is a momentus game for Andrew Farley in achieving his 153rd competitive cap for Connacht – his last home game – and at the same time it will be Michael Swift’s 150th cap for the province.

“When you take into consideration that Andrew is a few games off completing his sixth season with the club, it becomes even more noteworthy that he achieved the number of caps in such a short period of time and that we may not see it happen again in such a short timeframe.

“Earlier in the year when we played Ulster at Ravenhill we went up to the match with a lot of confidence due to our performances to date in the season, but due to the quality of the performance of Ulster and in particular their ability to take their chances when presented, they won the match.

“They got two tries directly from short lineouts and three tries immediately from Connacht turnovers.

“Ulster showed in that game that they can be very clinical and we must be wary of this fact when we play them on Friday night.”

Neil Doak (Ulster skills coach) – “We’ve had ourselves in some great positions but possibly through lack of experience, we’ve let games slip. We were always liable to lose games through making some fundamental mistakes.

“We got ourselves as high as fifth in the Magners League at one stage, so it’s vital we win our last two games.

“It’s all too easy to forget that we have a very young side with something like six of the squad aged 21 or under.

“And yet some of the mistakes we made were inexcusable. The one thing you need more than anything else at this level is consistency and that’s where we fell down far too often.

“We’re under no illusions of the task that lies ahead against Connacht, especially facing them in their own paddock.

“It would be a huge boost for them if they could put one over on us, having already seen off both Munster and Leinster. Forget about their league position for they have been brilliant for Irish rugby.

“They are tucked away in the west of Ireland away from the mainstream of rugby and yet they keep plugging away in often very difficult circumstances.

“It’s vital for Irish rugby that we have four provinces all vibrant and competitive and Connacht certainly do their bit in that regard.”

Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Connacht: Ian Keatley 113; Ulster: Ian Humphreys 72; Tries: Connacht: Fionn Carr 7; Ulster: Simon Danielli 5


Saturday, December 31, 2005 – Connacht 22 Ulster 12, The Sportsground
Friday, October 6, 2006 – Connacht 17 Ulster 24, The Sportsground
Tuesday, December 26, 2006 – Ulster 20 Connacht 10, Ravenhill
Friday, November 23, 2007 – Connacht 13 Ulster 30, The Sportsground
Friday, April 11, 2008 – Ulster 18 Connacht 6, Ravenhill
Friday, November 28, 2008 – Ulster 53 Connacht 13, Ravenhill


– Connacht are going for a clean sweep of home victories this season against fellow Irish provinces, having already beaten Leinster (19-18) and Munster (12-6) in Galway

– Connacht have won just one of their last eight games in the Magners League, a 39-17 success at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons on April 3

– Ulster’s only win in their last four Magners League encounters was a 20-19 triumph at Glasgow on April 17

– The Ulstermen’s only away win to a provincial rival since November 2007 was January’s stunning 37-11 victory at Munster

– Ulster have won their last five matches against Connacht, and have won on three of their last four visits to Galway