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Dublin: 10°C Thursday 13 May 2021
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Something has to give as Connacht patch themselves up for Ulster clash

Connacht have won seven straight on home turf, but have managed just one win in 18 against the northern province.

THERE ARE A few streaks running headlong into each other ahead of tomorrow’s inter-provincial derby between Connacht and Ulster (kick-off 18.00, TG4/BBC).

Ulster, of course, have turned their season back in the right direction with back-to-back wins over Toulouse and are going in search of their fourth win on the trot.

Denis Buckley and John Muldoon tackle by Chris Henry Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Despite that impressive showing in the south of France however, Les Kiss has taken over a team who continue to struggle outside of Belfast.

November’s hard-fought win over the Dragons was the province’s only away victory in the Pro12 this season and that road sickness has meant Ulster have not strung league wins together since a three-game winning run stretched across four weeks from Cardiff to Leinster. Sandwiched in between those two home wins, an away victory in Galway. The northern province have made a healthy habit of finding a way to beat Connacht. So much so that Pat Lam brought the ugly stat out into the open unprompted this week.

“Only one win in nine seasons,” says the head coach with a ‘but’ following swiftly behind. That’s 18 games with only a virtuoso display from Miah Nikora in 2012′s 26 – 21 home win to remember with any fondness.

Miah Nikora kicks a penalty Source: James Crombie/INPHO

However, Connacht are a different beast these days. Lam has managed to build a consistency in his side through a firm belief and adherence to the method. From there, the confidence to continue playing their game grows.

“For us,” Lam continues after delivering that ‘but’, “the main priority is to focus on the process of how we are going to beat this Ulster team.

Our win over Munster just reinforces the idea of focusing on the process and not the occasion. Of course there is emotion after the game because these derby games have an extra bite to them and its neighbours against neighbours so it means that bit more once the job is done.”

Unfortunately for Lam, his own week-to-week process has included a regular body count after games to assess the dwindling depth of his fit playing resources.

European registration rules coupled with the injury crisis meant he was only able to name 22 players for the Challenge Cup trip to Newcastle last weekend and that match laid low three more men.

Tomorrow, Lam can at least breathe a sigh of relief that eight of the 23 injured players have used the European window to get patched up and ready for battle against Ulster. Les Kiss has his own injury crisis to deal with, but his resources were always deeper and he now appears to be well and truly settled in to his new role after overcoming Toulouse in impressive fashion.

“We know we have to be extremely accurate or they will punish us,” notes Lam.

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Pat Lam and Rory Best speak to Nigel Owens at the start of the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Nailing our detail and being clinical for 80 minutes will be crucial. That focus started on Monday. We have to be so detailed in every training session and every meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page and in a position to execute the game plan we believe can win us the game.

Upset Ulster’s stranglehold in the fixture tomorrow and Connacht will have their own streak to celebrate: their 100% record on home turf would be stretched to eight games, and into 2016.

Connacht

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Bundee Aki
12. Craig Ronaldson
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Finlay Bealham
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Nathan White
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Aly Muldowney
6. John Muldoon (captain)
7. James Connolly
8. Eoghan Masterson

Replacements:

16. Shane Delahunt
17. Ronan Loughney
18. Rodney Ah You
19. Andrew Browne
20. Sean O’Brien
21. Ian Porter
22. AJ MacGinty
23. Rory Parata

Ulster

15. Louis Ludik
14. Andrew Trimble
13. Luke Marshall
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Rory Scholes
10. Paddy Jackson
9. Ruan Pienaar

1. Andy Warwick
2. Rob Herring (captain)
3. Wiehahn Herbst
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Franco van der Merwe
6. Robbie Diack
7. Sean Reidy
8. Nick Williams

Replacements:

16. John Andrew
17. Callum Black
18. Ricky Lutton
19. Stephen Mulholland
20. Roger Wilson
21. Paul Marshall
22. Ian Humphreys
23. Sammy Arnold

Referee: Peter Ferguson

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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