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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Connacht

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Connacht

It is back to fortress Ravenhill for the Ulstermen as they look to maintain their winning form before thoughts turn to the Heineken Cup. Tonight’s visitors Connacht will be in no mood to roll over though, especially as it is 52 years since they last won at the Belfast venue.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, October 5

ULSTER (1st) v CONNACHT (8th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTÉ Two)

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Team News: Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has made four changes to the starting team for Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 derby match against Connacht at Ravenhill.

It promises to be an emotional occasion as it will mark Ulster’s first home game since the tragic passing of young centre Nevin Spence.

The interprovincial fixture will also see Ireland international Tommy Bowe lining out for Ulster in Ravenhill for the first time in four years, following his successful spell in Wales with the Ospreys.

Ireland hooker Rory Best has returned to fitness and will play for the province for the first time since the Heineken Cup final in May.

Fit-again captain Johann Muller, Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace have also been drafted in the starting line-up to face the westerners.

Best is joined in the front row by Tom Court and John Afoa. The New Zealander is a late inclusion at tighthead prop after Declan Fitzpatrick aggravated a medial ligament injury in training on Thursday morning.

Muller is back to partner Dan Tuohy in the second row, and Ferris will feature alongside Chris Henry and Nick Williams in an impressive-looking back row.

Centre Michael Allen has been ruled out after suffering an ankle injury in the process of scoring against the Cardiff Blues last weekend. Darren Cave will move to outside centre in his place, allowing Wallace to slot in at inside centre.

Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson will continue their half-back partnership, while the back-three of Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne is also unchanged.

Over 8,000 tickets have been sold for the Ulster v Connacht clash, but there is still availability in all areas of the ground. Please call 02890493222 or visit www.ulsterrugby.com for further details.

Ulster Rugby is appealing to supporters to be mindful of local residents and to avoid parking in the immediate vicinity of the Ravenhill grounds on match nights. Park ‘n’ Ride will be in operation from Pirrie Park and along Montgomery Road.

Meanwhile, Friday night marks the second installment of back-to-back interprovincial ties for Connacht as they travel to Ravenhill to take on current RaboDirect PRO12 leaders Ulster.

Head coach Eric Elwood has made four changes to his starting line-up following Connacht’s rousing bonus point victory over Leinster last Friday.

Up front, Denis Buckley makes way for Brett Wilkinson at loosehead prop and Ronan Loughney, who last week was called up to the Ireland training squad, returns to the tighthead prop position.

Elsewhere in the pack, David Gannon replaces Eoin McKeon at blindside flanker. Gannon is joined in the back row by former Ulster flanker Willie Faloon, who will captain Connacht in Belfast.

There are no changes to the westerners’ back-line with Dan Parks making his second appearance for the province at out-half.

Try scorers from the Leinster game, Tiernan O’Halloran and Fetu’u Vainikolo, start again on the wings while the centre partnership of Eoin Griffin and David McSharry remains in place.

Along with long-term absentees Frank Murphy and Dave Nolan, team captain Gavin Duffy remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Andrew Browne, Matt Healy, Matthew Jarvis, Eoin McKeon, Brian Murphy, Paul O’Donohoe, Danie Poolman and Kyle Tonetti are also unavailable for selection at present.

ULSTER: Jared Payne; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Michael Heaney, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy.

CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, David Gannon, Willie Faloon (capt), George Naoupu.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Denis Buckley, Nathan White, John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor, David Moore, Miah Nikora, Mata Fifita.

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/14; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 7/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Neil Doak (Ulster) – “I think we would taken that (four wins from four) especially when you look at who the opposition were going to be when the fixtures were announced.

“In the first couple of games we wanted to get a bit more fluidity into our game and that slightly cam to the fore last week against Cardiff. We were pretty clinical with the opportunities we got.

“However, Connacht had a good win last week over Leinster and will no doubt want to come up here and turn over another Irish province particularly leading into Europe. Everyone involved this week knows it will be a tough assignment.”

Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “I think we’re evolving. We’re learning. Remember, we’re playing against teams that are often stacked with internationals. We’re asking young guys to produce against more experienced individuals and teams.

“But part of their development process is that steep learning curve. We beat Zebre with a team that had a total of less than 30 international caps while they had something like 380 caps.

“Even at that level, we don’t make excuses for it. We love that challenge but they are the facts and we’re going up to Ulster against a team with goodness knows how many caps. That experience tends to help win tight games.

“That experience, that physicality can eventually wear you down but to date with our young players and the changes we’ve made, we have been okay. It’s about building on what we did the last day (against Leinster).”

Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 36; Tries: Michael Allen, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Nick Williams 2 each; Connacht – Points: Miah Nikora 32; Tries: George Naoupu, Tiernan O’Halloran 2 each


Friday, September 25, 2009 – Connacht 6 Ulster 30, the Sportsground
Friday, May 7, 2010 – Ulster 41 Connacht 10, Ravenhill
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


– Ulster top the RaboDirect PRO12 table and still have a game in hand over all their rivals, having won four from four so far to make their best ever start to a league campaign

– The Ulstermen’s only defeat at Ravenhill since last October was to Leinster on April 20

– Connacht achieved their biggest ever victory over Leinster last Friday night and are now seeking a third successive victory over their fellow Irish provinces for the first time since 1956

– Connacht’s only win in this competition over a rival province in their own backyard came against Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002

– Connacht are going for back-to-back victories over Ulster for the first time since the 1997/98 season, but have not won at Ravenhill since November 16, 1960