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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Connacht

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Connacht

With Ulster pressing for a league play-off place and Connacht battling to qualify for the newly-announced European Rugby Champions Cup, there is plenty riding on tonight’s RaboDirect PRO12 derby at Ravenhill.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, April 11

ULSTER (3rd) v CONNACHT (8th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)

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Team News: Tommy Bowe will start at outside centre for Ulster as the province return to RaboDirect PRO12 action against Connacht at Ravenhill on Friday.

Bowe, the two-time British & Irish Lion, is joined in midfield by fellow Ireland international Luke Marshall, who will make his 50th appearance for Ulster in the game.

Ricky Andrew replaces the suspended Jared Payne at full-back with Craig Gilroy starting on the left wing.

Andrew Trimble, who suffered concussion against Saracens, has followed the necessary return-to-play protocols and starts the interprovincial derby on the right wing. Paul Marshall is selected at scrum half alongside Paddy Jackson.

Up front, Andrew Warwick makes his first start for Ulster with Rob Herring named at hooker and Ricky Lutton selected at tighthead prop.

Captain Johann Muller is joined by Iain Henderson in the second row, while Robbie Diack starts at blindside flanker with Nick Williams selected at number 8 and Chris Henry continuing at openside.

There are five forwards on the replacements bench with Niall Annett, Tom Court, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson and Sean Doyle joined by backs Michael Heaney, James McKinney and Stuart McCloskey.

Darren Cave and Stephen Ferris, two more of the province’s Ireland international contingent, have been rested for the round 19 game which is now completely sold-out.

An extra 1,200 tickets went on sale on Monday morning due to the opening of additional space in the West Terrace for this fixture and these tickets have now been sold.

Meanwhile,  head coach Pat Lam has named an unchanged Connacht side for the fourth game in-a-row with the team traveling to take on Ulster in Belfast.

Michael Kearney will earn his 50th Connacht cap at the age of 23, starting in the second row with Aly Muldowney.

The only change on the bench comes in the forwards with Academy prop Finlay Bealham replacing the injured Nathan White.

Connacht’s longest-serving player, Michael Swift, is in line to make his 180th league appearance off the bench.

ULSTER: Ricky Andrew; Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Ricky Lutton, Johann Muller (capt), Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Niall Annett, Tom Court, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Sean Doyle, Michael Heaney, James McKinney, Stuart McCloskey.

CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fionn Carr; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright, Rodney Ah You, Aly Muldowney, Michael Kearney, John Muldoon (capt), Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: David Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, Finlay Bealham, Michael Swift, Andrew Browne, Frank Murphy, Miah Nikora, Darragh Leader.

Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/9; Draw: 33/1; Connacht to win: 11/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Luke Marshall (Ulster) – “We can either sit back and feel sorry for ourselves or we can go out and try to win the Rabo.

“We haven’t won the Rabo in its current format and losing to Leinster in the final last year was pretty hard to take. But we’re focused and getting back on the horse.

“It (an interprovincial match) is always about trying to get one up on your opposite number for the Irish side so it’s added motivation.

“We’ve lost five or six boys through injury but it gives guys who are probably playing second fiddle an opportunity to come in to and stake a claim.

“The players coming in will be a great help as they will be looking to make a claim for the jersey.

“I think with losing guys (at the end of the season) you’re not just losing their influence on the pitch but off the pitch as well with their leadership abilities, especially Johann (Muller).

“It’s going to be tough but with the belief in the squad, we can replace them and continue to play at a similar standard.”

Pat Lam (Connacht) – “When you consider the frontliners we’ve been missing these last few months – (Brett) Wilkinson, (Sean) Henry, (Nathan) White, (Craig) Clarke, (Willie) Faloon and (Jake) Heenan – the guys who have played in the last five games have put in an outstanding effort.

“The performances have shown that, and so we go up to Belfast with the same group of guys.

“Willie Faloon made an impressive return from injury and we were planning to give him a start this week but he pulled up with a tight hamstring in the last training run yesterday.

“It’s unfortunate but we don’t want to risk him so soon after his return. We’ll hopefully see him next week at the Sportsground.

“Young Eoghan Masterson from the Academy will get his sixth start at openside where he is playing out of position but showing time and time again his ability to adapt and slot into an experienced back row.

“Nathan White also pulled up with a calf injury so we’re traveling with Finlay (Bealham) this week who has impressed in training and the two games he’s been called upon for.

“Ulster have, of course, suffered some injuries to their frontliners as well but they have such strength in depth with the option to replace one international with another and we don’t anticipate any dip in performance.

“They are a well-coached side and last week they put in a magnificent effort against Saracens with 14 men for 75 minutes.

“But what that performance showed is the quality they have and the team spirit they possess. No doubt it has been a hard week for them but we are under no illusions.

“We expect them to come out even stronger with the passionate Ravenhill crowd behind them.

“We haven’t won at Ravenhill in 54 year so this is our chance to make history. We know it’s going to take a massive team effort on Friday but it’s exciting. This is what we play rugby for, to go up against it and beat the odds.”

Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 129; Tries: Darren Cave 5; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 99; Tries: Fionn Carr, Kieran Marmion 5 each


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
Saturday, September 21, 2013 – Connacht 7 Ulster 18, the Sportsground


– Ulster’s six-match winning run in the RaboDirect PRO12 ended when they were defeated 28-23 in Cardiff in round 18

– The Ulstermen have lost just once at Ravenhill in the competition in their last 14 matches: 13-12 to Glasgow Warriors on September 13

– Ulster have won their last four home games against fellow Irish provinces

– Connacht’s four-match winning run in the PRO12 ended in Llanelli on March 30

– Connacht have lost their last nine contests with fellow Irish provinces, and have not beaten a province on their own soil since a trip to Donnybrook in September 2002

– Connacht’s only victory over Ulster in their last 15 fixtures was 26-21 in Galway in April 2012, while the westerners have not won at Ravenhill since November 1960