The first interprovincial derby of the new season takes place at the Sportsground on Saturday night, with Connacht head coach Pat Lam getting his first taste of such a fixture and visitors Ulster keen to end their losing start to the RaboDirect PRO12.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, September 21
CONNACHT (7th) v ULSTER (10th), the Sportsground, 6.45pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named his side to face provincial rivals Ulster at the Sportsground on Saturday, and there are three changes to the starting line-up from last weekend’s loss in Cardiff.
New signing Craig Clarke will take his place in the second row for the first interprovincial derby clash of the RaboDirect PRO12 season. The 30-year-old debutant will start alongside skipper Michael Swift.
Clarke’s fellow New Zealander Jake Heenan will also make his first start for Connacht on Saturday. The 21-year-old former Baby Blacks captain comes into the back row at blindside flanker with John Muldoon moving to number 8.
There is just one change to the backs with Fionn Carr, who missed the game against the Cardiff Blues, returning to right wing.
Speaking about the team selection and the interpro derby, Lam said: “It’s a big boost for the team to have Craig available to start. It’s been a frustrating time for him with injury but he came through the week well and is raring to go.
“Jake made a big impact coming off the bench in the last two games and his selection gives us an energetic back row, while Fionn trained well this week and returns to the wing.
“We’re all really looking forward to the first interprovincial game where both the teams and supporters will bring a lot of passion to the Sportsground.”
While the Clan Terrace is now sold out for Connacht v Ulster, tickets for the Main Stand are available online from tickets.ie, from the Connacht Rugby office, and from Centra and SuperValu stores province-wide.
Tickets bought from the Connacht Rugby office are €;25 for adults and €;5 for children (aged 4 to 17). For a full list of ticket prices, please click here.
Meanwhile, Ulster boss Mark Anscombe has made three changes to the team that lost narrowly to Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill for Saturday’s eagerly-awaited trip to Galway.
All of the changes are in the pack where Tom Court replaces Callum Black at loosehead prop, Iain Henderson is named in the second row in place of Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry is selected at openside flanker instead of Sean Doyle.
Ireland winger Craig Gilroy has been included on the replacements bench and is in line to make his first appearance of the season, having recovered from the groin injury that has kept him out of rugby since April.
Commenting on his team selection, Anscombe said: “It is great to be able to welcome players like Tom, Iain and Chris back in. They are all Ireland internationals and their experience will be important for us this weekend against a very capable Connacht side.
“We were disappointed last weekend. However, we created more opportunities against Glasgow last Friday night than we did in four matches against them last season – we just didn’t take them. We need to be more clinical and we know that.
“This week we have trained well – the attitude has been really good and we are looking forward to this interprovincial match.”
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Swift (capt), Craig Clarke, Jake Heenan, Willie Faloon, John Muldoon.
Replacements: Sean Henry, Rodney Ah You, Ronan Loughney, Aly Muldowney, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Craig Ronaldson, Danie Poolman.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; David McIlwaine, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen; Paddy Jackson, Ian Porter; Tom Court, Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (capt), Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Niall Annett, Kyle McCall, Ricky Lutton, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, James McKinney, Craig Gilroy.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 2/1; Draw: 22/1; Ulster to win: 2/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “We know Ulster are definitely desperate after their two losses, so there is no issue about being fired up,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“There were positives (to take from the Cardiff defeat), but it was tough that we did a lot to win the game. Not once we felt threatened on our line and to hold them out was great. But we have to look at our discipline.
“We cannot control the penalty count, but what we can control are the subleties in our own game mainly around ball retention – like a dropped ball or a bad pass – and we need to tidy that up against Ulster.
“They have some big boys right across their team and we know that, but I suppose right from the little fellas, we have to make the tackles. For us it’s about making sure we can deal with that – mentally as well.”
Nick Williams (Ulster) – “Everybody wants to right the wrongs and we’ll be putting our heads down and just working away at it. Hopefully all those one percentagers will click this week and we can take our opportunities,” he told the Newsletter.
“You always measure yourself in these kind of games be it Connacht, Munster or Leinster, after the last two games a win at the Sportsground would be a good way to bounce back.
“It just clicked (when we had a bonus point win in Galway in April). We were playing confident rugby and everybody was high on confidence.
“With the game-plan we had we were allowed to throw the ball around and express ourselves and I don’t see any change this week.
“It is away from home, it is an interpro but we’re going down their to win and whether it’s four or five points we’ll be happy with whatever.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 15; Tries: Matt Healy 2; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 15; Tries: Roger Wilson 1
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 25, 2010 – Connacht 15 Ulster 15, the Sportsground
Friday, April 22, 2011 – Ulster 27 Connacht 16, Ravenhill
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
– Connacht’s only win in their last five RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures was 25-16 at home to Zebre in round 1 of the new season
– Connacht have been defeated in their last five encounters with fellow Irish provinces
– Ulster have lost their last three PRO12 games but have not lost four in-a-row in the competition since October 2011
– The Ulstermen have only once before begun a season with three straight defeats (in 2008/09)
– Connacht’s lone victory over Ulster in their last 14 contests since 2005 was 26-21 in Galway in April 2012