Connacht head coach Kieran Keane has made seven personnel changes and two positional switches for Saturday’s GUINNESS PRO14 showdown with Ulster at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm).
Tomorrow’s derby match against Ulster is the first in a series of festival interprovincial clashes which also include trips to Leinster and Munster on New Year’s Day and January 6 respectively.
Tiernan O’Halloran, who has signed a two-year contract extension with Connacht, is back in the side at full-back. He links up in the back-three with Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy, who scored four tries in Connacht’s European win over Brive last weekend. Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion form the half-back pairing.
Up front, Denis Coulson comes in at loosehead prop in place of the injured Denis Buckley. He is joined in the front row by hooker Shane Delahunt and Finlay Bealham at tighthead. In a notable inclusion in the back row, flanker Jarrad Butler returns from the knee injury he picked up in the victory over Munster in October.
Connacht have installed additional terracing at the Sportsground to accommodate the ticket demand for the Christmas fixture, and Kieran Keane says he expects the home crowd will be have a bearing on the game. “The crowd have been massive for us so far this season and the place will be in festive spirit on Saturday. That has a huge impact on players. That can create an eight or 10-point turnaround,” he said.
“Just look how the players responded last week (against Brive in the Challenge Cup) and the night we played Munster (in October). We want to recreate that atmosphere and that performance again on Saturday night.”
CONNACHT (v Ulster): Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeleokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Coulson, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Naulia Dawai, James Mitchell, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader.