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Magners Preview: Ulster v Connacht

Magners Preview: Ulster v Connacht

With Ulster having secured their Heineken Cup berth, both sides only have pride to play for. But Connacht do have the carrot of closing out Michael Bradley’s reign on a winning note, while Ulster will not want to end Brian McLaughlin’s first season in charge with an interprovincial defeat.


ULSTER (8th) v CONNACHT (10th), Ravenhill, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)

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Team News: Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named the team and replacements to face Connacht in Friday’s Magners League derby clash at Ravenhill.

Only two changes have been made to the Ulster team that gained a bonus point 37-25 victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield last time out.

In the pack, Chris Henry replaces the injured Stephen Ferris (fractured cheekbone) as blindside flanker.

In the backs, Ian Humphreys, who scored Ulster’s bonus point try against Edinburgh, starts at out-half, with Niall O’Connor dropping to the replacements bench for the province’s last match of the campaign.

Commenting on the interprovincial derby, Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin said: “We will be looking for a win first and foremost, that is the most important thing for us.

“We want to build on our performance against Edinburgh and achieve back-to-back wins to end the season on a high.

“We have all talked about our disappointment this season, mainly that after the Bath game (in January) we didn’t kick on and achieve what we are capable of.

“But, we did have a smashing performance last time out and want a strong positive win at Ravenhill, on Friday, to end the season for both ourselves and our supporters.

“Connacht are coming here full of confidence and it is Michael Bradley’s last game in charge, so they will also be chasing the win. It will be a really tough game of rugby, and an exciting finish.”

The selected Connacht team shows four changes from the side which played Toulon in last weekend’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final.

Brian Tuohy takes over on the right wing, Ronan Loughney starts at loosehead prop, Bernie Upton returns in the second row and Mike McComish will start at openside flanker.

Connacht lost 30-6 to Ulster when the sides met at the Sportsground in September, with out-half Ian Keatley kicking two penalties for the hosts.

Connacht’s most recent trip to Ravenhill – back in November 2008 – resulted in a 53-13 defeat.

Commenting on his reign at the Sportsground, departing coach Michael Bradley said: “When I came to Connacht first seven years ago we would have had 800 spectators at a match. We’ve finished off having 7,000 to 8,000 here (for the Toulon game). For me, that’s a great statement going forward.

“I’m delighted with the lads, they are in a very good mental state. They’re totally committed to what they are doing on the pitch and to the colours. You can’t ask any more.

“The future is bright once the direction is agreed between Connacht and the IRFU, and you can look forward to more days like last Friday’s semi-final (against Toulon), which I think is fantastic.”

ULSTER: Jamie Smith; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.

Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Ryan Caldwell, Thomas Anderson, Isaac Boss, Niall O’Connor, Timoci Nagusa.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Brian Tuohy, Niva Ta’auso, Aidan Wynne, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Ronan Loughney, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Mike McCarthy, Bernie Upton, John Muldoon (capt), Mike McComish, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Robbie Morris, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Conor O’Loughlin, Miah Nikora, Troy Nathan.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/6; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 4/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Ian Whitten (Ulster) – “If we hadn’t got the win against Edinburgh, there would be a lot of pressure on us. There’s still pressure on us anyway, it’s an interprovincial and they’re always big games.

“Whether it’s Leinster, Connacht or Munster, there’s something a bit extra about an interpro and it’ll be great to be out there on Friday night.

“I think it’ll be a big physical battle. We have to front up in the first 20 minutes and try to get the edge there.

“They’ve got strong runners such as Sean Cronin and John Muldoon, so they’re going to really come at us. We’ve got to make our big tackles and cross the gain-line early when we have the ball.

“It’ll be great to be out on the pitch on Friday night, you always get a great vocal support at Ravenhill.

“Things haven’t gone well since January, but the supporters have stuck by us. It’d be great to finish the season well and give them something to cheer about.”

Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “Ulster played very well when they came to the Sportsground back in September. They took their chances and we will be looking to put the record straight and finish our season on a high.

“We still see Ulster as a yardstick to measure our season against, even though there’s nothing to play for in terms of qualifying for the Heineken Cup.

“Our focus remains at improving our away form and getting a result at Ravenhill.”

Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 120; Tries: Simon Danielli 7; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 133; Tries: Fionn Carr 7


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
Friday, May 8, 2009 – Connacht 12 Ulster 14, the Sportsground
Friday, September 25, 2009 – Connacht 6 Ulster 30, the Sportsground


– Ulster’s five-match losing run came to an end last time out when they beat Edinburgh 37-25 at Murrayfield

– Ulster are winless in their last three games at Ravenhill since beating Edinburgh 21-13 there in the Heineken Cup on January 15

– Connacht have slipped to 17 straight defeats away from home in the Magners League since beating the Newport Gwent Dragons 13-11 at Rodney Parade in April 2008

– Ulster have won their last seven clashes with Connacht. The westerners have not won in Belfast since November 1960