Preview: Connacht v Ulster

Date published: April 14 2012

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made 12 changes to his starting XV for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at the Sportsground.

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made 12 changes to his starting XV for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at the Sportsground.

The Ulster coach has decided to rest a number of players so fly-half Ian Humphreys, full-back Stefan Terblanche and prop Tom Court are the only player retained from the side that defeated Munster in last weekend's Heineken Cup quarter final.

In the backs, Paul Marshall deputises at scrum-half for Ruan Pienaar who starts as a substitute. There is a new centre combination with Ireland U20 captain Paddy Jackson partnering Nevin Spence. Adam D'Arcy and Ian Whitten replace Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy on the wings, with the latter dropping to the bench after his try of the season contender in Thomond Park.
Up front, Nigel Brady starts as hooker in place of Rory Best and takes over from Johann Muller as captain. Tom Court moves across the scrum to tighthead prop, with Paddy McAllister starting at loosehead. Lewis Stevenson and Neil McComb start together in the second row for the first time. Dynamic trio Mike McComish, Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack form an all new back row in place of Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg.

Twenty year old lock Iain Henderson is named on the bench and could make his senior debut if he enters the fray at any stage. His Phoenix Academy colleagues Ali Birch and Michael Allen are also included among the replacements.

The game is vital for Ulster's hopes of finishing in the top four of the RaboDirect PRO12 and a win could send them into second place. They currently occupy fifth spot in the table but are just three points adrift of second placed Ospreys.

If things go to plan for Ulster, it could be the longest season in the club's history so McLaughlin is aware that he needs to keep his players in peak physical condition.

“The Munster match was very physical and a lot of players are still carrying bumps and bruises, so we decided it was best to give some of them a break. It is crucial to look after the players with so many important games coming up before the end of the season. There are opportunities for us to test the water a bit with some of our squad players and it will be exciting to see how they perform.”
One such player is Paddy Jackson, who has been deployed at inside centre rather than his usual fly-half position.
“We know what Paddy is capable of and we thought this was a perfect chance to try him out at 12 and allow him to add another string to his bow,” said McLaughlin .

Meanwhile, the Connacht side remains largely unchanged from that which defeated the Dragons two weeks ago at Rodney Parade with just one change to the starting lineup.

George Naoupu will don the number eight jersey with John Muldoon moving back to his traditional position at blindside flanker.

The replacements see Johnny O'Connor return to the squad; he has been out of action since fracturing his eye-socket against Leinster on New Year's Day. Eoin Griffin also makes the bench having missed the Dragons match through a knee injury.

“Looking back on our last two performances we had a very good effort against Munster, just not the result we wanted, we had the same team out against the Dragons and to be fair to the boys they were excellent,” said Head Coach Eric Elwood.

“So there are not too many changes, on saying that there's one positional change and it's great to welcome George back for such an important game. He's been a big player for us all year so that's a big boost for us .It's great as well to have Johnny O'Connor and Eoin Griffin back for such an important derby match.”

Form: Connacht have lost two of their last five matches in the RaboDirect PRO12 and have lost just once in Galway in their last four games. Connacht have lost their last ten encounters with fellow Irish provinces since drawing with Ulster in September 2010. Ulster have won their last five matches in all competitions, and beaten fellow Irish opponents in three of their last four encounters. Connacht's most recent victory over Ulster was 22-12 at the Sportsground on 31 December 2005.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (C), 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Kyle Tonetti, 12 Henry Fa'afili, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Ethienne Reynecke, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Johnny O'Connor, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Eoin Griffin.

Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Nevin Spence, 12 Paddy Jackson, 11 Adam D'Arcy, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Mike McComish, 5 Neil McComb, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Tom Court, 2 Nigel Brady (capt), 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Andi Kyriacou, 17 Callum Black, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Ali Birch, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Craig Gilroy, 23 Michael Allen.

Date: Saturday, April 14
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 17.15 BST (16.15 GMT)
Referee: Dudley Phillips