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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 26 March, 2019
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Connacht seek ruthless response on home turf after RDS heartbreak

The western province are bidding for a third straight win over Ulster for the first time since the 1950s tonight.

THE BIG GAMES come thick and fast, as Connacht and Ulster gear up for another high-stakes Guinness Pro14 inter-pro in front of a festive crowd under Friday night lights in Galway [KO 7.35pm,TG4/eir Sport].

Connacht’s agonising defeat to Leinster at the RDS before Christmas ended the province’s five-game winning run, and Andy Friend’s side will seek a ruthless response on home turf this evening.

Bundee Aki breaks free to score his side's third try Bundee Aki starts for Connacht tonight. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A famous win at Kingspan Stadium in October injected further momentum into Connacht’s campaign, and they’ve certainly hit their straps in the first half of the season, entering this derby fourth in Conference A but just three points behind second-placed Munster.

Connacht have won their last two meetings with Ulster and will be bidding to record three successive wins over the northern province for the first time since the 1950s, but Dan McFarland’s side travel west full of confidence.

Ulster’s only defeat in any competition in their last seven encounters was to Scarlets last month, and McFarland’s charges have built up a considerable head of steam coming into this festive period, as evidenced by last weekend’s win over Munster in Belfast.

Tonight will see McFarland — who makes four changes in personnel to his starting XV –return to the Sportsground where he spent 15 years as a player and then coach, before moving to Scotland and the Glasgow Warriors in 2015.

“I do not think, in Galway, a similar performance (to last week) would be good enough.” the Ulster head coach says.

“We have to show more physicality at the start of the game than we did against Munster.

“It is Christmas time at the Sportsground, the crowd will be up for it, the players will be loving it, we will have to try and dampen down their spirits, certainly with matching their physicality first of.”

One of McFarland’s four alterations was forced by the two-week suspension handed to young winger Robert Baloucoune, after his reckless and dangerous tackle on Darren Sweetnam inside the first 11 seconds last week. 

Three of the Ulster changes are in the backline as Johnny McPhillips, Angus Kernohan and Darren Cave are all handed starting berths, while Henry Speight will make his final appearance for the province before his return to Australia.

Nick Timoney is the final change, as he is drafted in to make up a powerful back row with Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee, although Ulster’s bench options look a little light with the likes of Jacob Stockdale, Rory Best and Luke Marshall given the weekend off.

Connacht, meanwhile, have also made four changes from their cruel last-gasp loss to Leinster, as Friend shuffles his pack with recalls for Quinn Roux and Sean O’Brien, while Shane Delahunt and Conor Carey are also promoted to the starting XV.

Dan McFarland Dan McFarland returns to the Sportsground. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The head-to-head battle between Tom Farrell and Will Addison looks particularly fascinating, while the presence of Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki and Jack Carty in the Connacht backline provides the hosts with a real attacking edge. 

The western province will be hoping to continue their strong home record with their last loss in Galway coming against Leinster back in September, while in the 93 meetings between the rivals, Ulster have won 73, Connacht 16 and four games have been drawn. 

“These inter-pro fixtures are massive occasions and when they take place over the Christmas period, they bring that increased level of excitement,” Friend commented. 

“We know there will be a big home crowd in the Sportsground and we will need to be up for the occasion with Ulster coming to town. This block of fixtures is hugely important in the context of our season, but we are not looking beyond Ulster on Friday evening.”

Connacht:

15. Darragh Leader
14. Cian Kelleher
13. Tom Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Kyle Godwin
10. Jack Carty
9. Caolin Blade

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Conor Carey
4. Gavin Thornbury
5. Quinn Roux
6. Sean O’Brien
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Jarrad Butler (captain)

Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17.Peter McCabe
18. Dominic Robertson McCoy
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Paul Boyle
21. James Mitchell
22, David Horwitz
23. Stephen Fitzgerald. 

Ulster:

15. Louis Ludik
14. Henry Speight
13. Will Addison
12. Darren Cave
11. Angus Kernohan
10. Johnny McPhillips
9. John Cooney

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rob Herring (captain)
3. Marty Moore
4. Ian Nagle
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Nick Timoney
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee

Replacements:

16. Adam McBurney
17. Tommy O’Hagan
18. Ross Kane
19. Clive Ross
20. Greg Jones
21. David Shanahan
22. Peter Nelson
23. Stuart McCloskey.

Referee: Marius Mitrea.

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne look back on a memorable year for Irish rugby.


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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