Jump to main content


GUINNESS PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Connacht

GUINNESS PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Connacht

History is not on Connacht’s side as they venture north for this festive interprovincial clash at Kingspan Stadium, with Ulster having won all bar one of the provinces’ 16 meetings since 2005.

GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, December 26

ULSTER (5th) v CONNACHT (6th), Kingspan Stadium, 6.45pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

Team News: Ulster have made seven changes to their starting line-up for the sold-out GUINNESS PRO12 fixture against Connacht at Kingspan Stadium on Friday.

In the absence of Rory Best, who is rested along with fellow Ireland squad member Tommy Bowe, Roger Wilson will captain the side in what will be his 300th professional match.

There is a new half-back pairing with Paddy Jackson returning in place of Ian Humphreys at out-half and Paul Marshall deputising for Ruan Pienaar, who has failed to recover from a knee injury picked up against the Ospreys last weekend.

Wingers Craig Gilroy and Peter Nelson are the other new faces in the back-line, replacing Bowe and Michael Allen respectively.

Rob Herring starts at hooker in place of Best and is joined in an all-new front row by props Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst.

The remainder of the pack is unchanged from the defeat in Swansea, with Dan Tuohy and Franco van der Merwe continuing their second row partnership and Robbie Diack, Clive Ross and number 8 Wilson again combining in the back row.

Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy hooker John Andrew is named on the replacements bench and will earn his second cap if called upon, while Michael Heaney is the only other addition to the matchday squad from last week.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made six changes to the side that lost to Leinster in Dublin last week.

Darragh Leader, the sole squad member to have been involved in every game so far this season, starts at full-back. In the absence of Ireland international Robbie Henshaw, who is rested this week as part of the IRFU player welfare programme, Bundee Aki shifts to outside centre to allow November Player of the Month Dave McSharry fill the inside centre berth.

After making three PRO12 appearances from the bench, on-loan scrum half John Cooney gets his first start in Connacht colours, partnering Jack Carty at half-back.

Up front, the props are rotated with Ronan Loughney and Finlay Bealham starting this week with Tom McCartney at hooker.

Willie Faloon is named at openside flanker in a back row that also contains captain John Muldoon and George Naoupu, the scorer of Connacht’s try against Leinster.

The most notable inclusion among the replacements is Academy forward Eoghan Masterson. The 21-year-old Portlaoise man started six league games for the province last season. He is joined on the bench by Academy lock Ultan Dillane who made his Connacht debut at the RDS last weekend.

ULSTER: Louis Ludik; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Peter Nelson; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Roger Wilson (capt).

Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Declan Fitzpatrick, Alan O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Michael Heaney, Ian Humphreys, Stuart Olding.

CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Danie Poolman, Bundee Aki, Dave McSharry, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, John Cooney; Ronan Loughney, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, Aly Muldowney, John Muldoon (capt), Willie Faloon, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Ultan Dillane, Eoghan Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Craig Ronaldson, Mils Muliaina.

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Nigel Correll (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/5; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 10/3

Pre-Match Quotes: Roger Wilson (Ulster) – “It’s a nice milestone to reach. I suppose it just reminds you of how fortunate you are to be playing the sport that you love for so long, especially when you look at players like Stephen Ferris who have had to retire early. I’ve stayed relatively injury free and durability has probably been one of my strong points throughout my career.

“Once you get older you realise you have to work a bit harder to keep the body in shape. I want to go out on a high and not let my career drift away. I’m looking to stay within the first team and play my part in terms of getting some silverware.

“It will be tough (against Connacht), especially with us having won only one of our last four. Connacht seem to be improving year on year and they’re picking up scalps regularly in Europe now as well as in the league.

“We’ve been disappointing over the past month but we’ve got to make sure we’re firing on all cylinders on Friday night because we will have to be at our best to get the win.”

Pat Lam (Connacht) – “We always knew we would be without Robbie (Henshaw) for this game and would have to manage the other Ireland guys as well. This being a crucial period of games and with a number of injuries, we’ve made some changes to the starting team.

“It’s great for John (Cooney), Finlay (Bealham) and Dave (McSharry) to have the opportunity to start in such a big game.

“Eoghan Masterson’s growth in the Academy this season has been exceptional and I’m pleased to give him his first involvement of the season with the senior team after leading and playing well for the Eagles.

“We had a good session today (Wednesday) and will regroup on Friday for the long trip to Belfast. We’ve identified that it is going to be a high-pressure environment at a sold-out Kingspan stadium and that we need to manage that by staying focused on our roles individually and as a team.

“We know that history is against us winning there on Friday night, but we have a lot of belief in ourselves to get the job done and regain some momentum for our goal of a top six finish in the league.”

Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 81; Tries: Andrew Trimble 4; Connacht – Points: Jack Carty 27; Tries: Kieran Marmion, Eoin McKeon, Danie Poolman 2 each


Saturday, November 5, 2011 – Ulster 22 Connacht 3, Ravenhill
Saturday, April 14, 2012 – Connacht 26 Ulster 21, the Sportsground
Friday, October 5, 2012 – Ulster 25 Connacht 0, Ravenhill
Friday, April 19, 2013 – Connacht 18 Ulster 34, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 21, 2013 – Connacht 7 Ulster 18, the Sportsground
Friday, April 11, 2014 – Ulster 58 Connacht 12, Ravenhill


– Ulster have won just one of their last four contests in all competitions: 24-9 over the Scarlets at Kingspan Stadium in the European Champions Cup on December 6

– The Ulstermen have won all five previous GUINNESS PRO12 encounters played in Belfast this season

– Al three of Ulster’s defeats to a fellow Irish province at Kingspan Stadium since October 2010 have been inflicted by Leinster

– Connacht’s four-match winning run in all competions ended with their 21-11 defeat to Leinster in Dublin last Friday

– Connacht’s only win over an Irish province in their last 13 such encounters was 10-9 against Leinster in Galway in September

– Ulster’s only defeat to Connacht in their last 16 meetings since 2005 was 26-21 at the Sportsground in April 2012, while Connacht have not been victorious in Belfast since November 1960